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Archbishop Paglia: Food waste is a "source of immense shame"

Speaking at the FAO headquarters for Latin America in Santiago, Chile, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life highlights the necessity to move beyond market logics to implement concrete actions against hunger as a "fraternal human family."

By Edoardo Giribaldi

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, joined Chilean Minister of Agriculture Dr. Esteban Valenzuela and FAO Chief Economist Dr. Máximo Torero at the United Nations agency headquarters for Latin America in Santiago, Chile, to deliver his address on the topic: "Prevent and reduce food losses and waste in the context of food and nutrition security. An intersectoral challenge."

The event is part of Archbishop Paglia's trip to Latin America, specifically Chile and Argentina, focusing on social vulnerability issues from August 23 to August 31.

Discarding of people is intolerable

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life introduced the topic by recalling Pope Francis' words to the European Federation of Food Banks on May 18, 2019: "Discarding food means discarding people."

“This discarding of people, not food, is intolerable, unbearable, execrable, a source of immense shame. And we are responsible for it before God and history.”

Archbishop Paglia focused on Latin America's situation, whose food waste covers only 6% of the global waste. An apparently positive data, which, however, "becomes tragic if we stop thinking about food to look at people."

He referred to the "47 million undernourished people" in Latin America, a rising rate that brought concrete and dramatic consequences, for example, in Haiti.

"I visited the slums of Port au Prince, I met people bloated with junk food or fleshed out by chronic undernourishment," the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life remembered. "How is it possible to continue to look the other way, to endure, to do nothing?"

Paradigm shifts

Archbishop Paglia proposed a shift in the way people should look at the problem: "From the waste of food to the waste of human lives."

He also invited the audience to contemplate a second paradigm shift: "We can no longer afford to approach the issue of food in a purely economic and market logic."

The economic structure at the base of food production and distribution should not be "regarded as the ultimate end but as a means to serve people's lives and the building of a just society."

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life recollected Pope Francis' words in his Food Day Message 2021, where he claimed how "the fight against hunger demands that we overcome the cold logic of the market, focused greedily on mere economic benefit and on reducing food to just another commodity, and strengthen the logic of solidarity."

Building a fraternal human family

"Beware," Archbishop Paglia warned, "solidarity is not simply a feeling of benevolence and care for those who are weaker and disadvantaged."

Instead, it alludes to the fact that all human experience, including the economic one, is grafted onto and cooperates in the building of a fraternal human family, as underlined by the Holy Father in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

“We will only seriously address food waste when we recognize that it cannot be traced back to a single market issue, to something that can be defined and measured in tables, statistics and performance. Human lives exceed all this.”

Calling up one more time Pope Francis' address to the European Federation of Food Banks, Archbishop Paglia noted how: "Fighting the terrible scourge of hunger also means fighting waste."

“Waste is the crudest expression of discarding. I am reminded of when Jesus, after distributing the loaves to the crowd, asked to collect the leftover pieces so that nothing would be lost (Jn. 6:12). Gather to redistribute, not produce to disperse.”

Everyting on Earth is good

"The logic of discarding is as far from the Gospel message as it exists," the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life affirmed, highlighting how "from the very first page, the Bible says that everything on Earth is good."

A concept that found his concrete manifestation in "Jesus' actions and teaching, where everyone is welcomed and loved, valued and cherished, even when useless, on the margins, even rotten."

Jesus discards no one, and his disciples, of all times, even with all weaknesses, are called to strongly reiterate his teaching: nothing is wasted, no one is discarded, there is no reason, no reason at all! to leave anyone behind."

"There must be room for everyone," Archbishop Paglia stated, tracing a parallel with "the parable of poor Lazarus and the rich man," which "sternly denounces all marginalization."

A culture of resignation

Throughout his address, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life also focused on the fight against a culture of "resignation," contemplated in the "mere mercantile approach," where "losses, returns and waste products" are put "in the bill" since the beginning.

“Everyone says food waste is bad and announces measures to that effect; but then the actions are bland, 'you do what you can, you know we can never completely eliminate waste.'”

"Can we be resigned to the 47 million undernourished people in Latin America?" Archbishop Paglia asked. "Can we treat with superficiality the fact that FAO reminds us that with the 69 kilograms of food wasted annually by each inhabitant of this continent, we could contribute significantly to the nutrition of 30 million of these people?"

Three areas of action

At the conclusion of his speech, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life proposed three concrete action areas.

First, the implementation of food waste data in the Latin American continent, where "the least data are available on the phenomenon of food waste," in order to feel "the real weight of this scandal."

Not only mere data but "numbers that indicate the social weight of this phenomenon," such as "the number of person-hours wasted or the energy cost of such activities not brought to their end are not insignificant."

From macro scenarios to individual stories

Secondly, Archbishop Paglia expressed the necessity for all the parts involved in the so-called food chain to come together to solve the scourge of food waste.

"When you absolutize one responsibility over the others," he affirmed, "you risk de-emphasizing the system, you are always waiting for someone else to do something, and condemning the whole process to failure."

“We need to hold together macro scenarios and individual stories, the large organized distribution of supermarkets and informal markets along the streets, the finest technologies and the oldest peasant wisdom.”

A responsible and spiritual approach

The third and final field of intervention requires a different cultural approach. Food "is the life of people and society," said the President of the Pontifical Academy, calling for a "responsible, even spiritual approach."

This passage is crucial when considering how "studies show that one of the key steps in reducing food waste is education that enables change in otherwise deleterious household practices."

“If a person is aware of the dignity and goodness of himself, his loved ones, and the goods he has at his disposal, then he wastes less, makes eating a deeply human act, the table and cooking, and takes on new responsibilities.”

God's dream for mankind

Archbishop Paglia concluded his address by quoting a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah, recounting "God's dream for humankind: a banquet of fat food and delicious wine to which all the peoples of the earth can have access. Good and abundant food for all. Perhaps the most beautiful and true picture of Heaven."

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24 August 2023, 21:00