According to the parliamentary inquiry on Misery of 1954, in the second half of the last century, 50% of Italian families ate meat not more than two or three times a month. Moreover, sugar was considered a luxury product and bread with onions was often the only meal in the countryside. A nightmare of the past? Or maybe the starting point of a progressive positive trend? Not exactly. Indeed, food poverty still is a reality today. With the crisis, this phenomenon has significantly spread in the peripheries of the rich old continent and around 11% of EU citizens live in such conditions. In Italy, figures are close to 12,6% but reach 19% in large families. Even more worrying, our country saw one of the major increase in food poverty between 2006 and 2014: more than six percentage points.
What does it mean, according to Eurostat, to live in food poverty conditions? Similarly as in the fifties, the measuring index is related to food quality and to the frequency of certain products’ consumption. Today, people that cannot afford to eat meals based on fish or meat (or the vegetarian equivalent) every two days are said to be in this particular condition. In Italy, this still happens to a fifth of the children born in large families. This is a figure that raises serious questions. Not only for the sad nutritional and social consequences but especially because it is an easily avoidable phenomenon. A little more redistribution would suffice – let’s say around a half GDP point – to permit people at the bottom to receive sufficient resources. We don’t have to forget that food is a fundamental right, officially enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 25.). Cutting unnecessary wastes and making sure that all commodities are rightly redistributed would help significantly. In Europe, more than a hundred tonnes of food are destroyed every year.
The recent volume “Food Poverty in Italy: Second welfare’s answers” confronts the phenomenon of food poverty in our country as part of a more general welfare crisis. In the occasion of Expo Milan 2015 – which focused on the theme of food and nutrition – the authors of the book have launched a project of empirical research on this inconvenient and hidden problem. The aim is to underline the perverse dynamics that fuel food poverty (particularly linked to recurrent weaknesses of our welfare model) but also to illustrate attempts to contrast it. The roadmap for eradicating food poverty is raising the living standard by publicly guaranteeing sufficient resources. A task that Italy rarely fulfills.
Nonetheless, there are other possible options that governments could opt for. These are Second welfare measures, focused on civil society and founded by non-public resources. In their research, Maino, Bandera and Lodi Rizzini have focused their analysis on two experiences: the food bank and the social market. Moreover, the book introduces us to the new world of ethical purchasing groups, to experiments of urban agriculture and to local policies on food. A multi-faceted world, in which the answer to an old but persistent necessity is accompanied by the experimentation of new social ties and new modes of collective action.
Even though they recognize the important effects of Second Welfare measures, the authors do not idealize them. They highlight how spontaneity and associations have precise limits: they represent, at the same time, both an opportunity and a risk. But they are also pragmatic and realist. If, unbelievably, first welfare is not able to reach vulnerable people, it is right to sustain and enhance second welfare measures. If at Expo 2015 scientists and experts have explained us how to “feed the planet”, in many areas of our cities, from North to South, second welfare subjects have worked hard to ensure resources (and dignity) to those people for whom everyday access to food still is a problem. Available in bookstores from the 28th of April, this book aims at informing, interpreting and criticising Italian system’s shortcomings but more importantly, proposes solutions. As social scientists but more importantly, as citizens.