We told you in a previous post about the potential that Macambo seeds (a cousin of cacao) have to become a nutritious and delicious food that the Ecuadorian Amazon can share with the world (read the article Macambo as a solution. Chapter 1: The proposal).
We are not talking about just any superfood, but about one that supports the economic activity of a group of indigenous farmers of the Kichwa nationality who cultivate in a respectful way (within ancestral agroforestry systems) for their own consumption (and for sale) while conserving the local ecosystems and thus protecting the Amazon.
This type of agriculture can represent an alternative to mining, intensive agriculture or logging.
We also told you that we are trying to connect these producers with a group of consumers who support the annual purchase of 200 Kg of dry macambo seeds that justify the import by sea from Ecuador to Italy once a year after the harvest. We thought that perhaps chefs attentive to these arguments might be interested in embracing and valuing macambo, a rich and nutritious product with identity and positive social and environmental impact.
This proposal began to take shape after my meeting with Sara Nicolosi and Cinzia De Lauri, two chefs from the vegetarian bistró AlTatto in Milan. Their cooking philosophy highlights vegetables, quality, seasonality and where food comes from. They loved the idea of valuing a product belonging to the culture of the Kichwa indigenous people of the Amazon region of Ecuador. They gave me the contact of some colleagues who they thought might be interested in creating a community, to discover and make this Amazonian seed and its history known to the people of Milan.
After some meetings, calls and a little time, on Monday, October 2, AlTatto opened its doors to welcome the culture behind Macambo. The cooking philosophies of 6 chefs, Simon Press (Contraste), Denis Lovatel (Denis pizza de montaña), Francesco Costanzo (Pasta Madre), Aurora Zancanaro (micro panificio Le Polveri), Mutty and Sara and Cinzia (AlTatto), praised this distant guest.
The event began with a short introduction of the project followed by a reinterpretation of “chucula”, a delicious drink made with ripe plantain served with ice. Meanwhile, people asked questions, read about the project and saw the photos that told this and other stories of indigenous communities from the Ecuadorian Amazon and their fight to conserve this magical place full of life.
The story of Nemonte Menquino, indigenous leader of the Waorani nationality, tells how together with her people, they defend their ancestral territory, culture and way of living. The story goes on to talk about how in 2019, they obtained a historic victory against the Ecuadorian government to protect half a million acres of primary Amazon rainforest from oil exploitation, setting a precedent for the rights of indigenous people throughout the region (more information).
Another story was the long fight to protect the Yasuní National Park, one of the places with the greatest biodiversity on the planet and home to various indigenous communities, including groups that live in voluntary isolation, Tagaeri and Taromenane. In 2007, the Yasuní ITT initiative proposed to the governments of several rich (polluting) countries to grant compensation of 360 billion dollars over 10 years for leaving Yasuní oil underground (half of the expected profit from sales). The proposal did not materialize and oil exploitation began in 2013. After 10 years, in the referendum of July 23, 2023, the citizens of Ecuador decided to suspend oil extraction in the Yasuní within a period of 1 year, a unique precedent in the world (more information).
Little by little, small tastings with the chefs’ creations arrived in the room: Sara and Cinzia decided to respect the purity of the macambo seed in its essence, consistency and aesthetics. They toasted it lightly and added two flavor enhancers: caramel flavored with fig leaves and salt. Delicate and delicious!
Francesco proposed a macambo crumble with goat cheese and fresh seasonal figs. The crumble was made using the Sicilian tradition (Francesco’s region of origin) which normally uses almonds. He hydrated the macambo and then made a cream with it. Latter he added only rice flour and oats to prepare the crumble, no animal fat! Sicily embraces and welcomes macambo, a delight!
Aurora prepared a delicious puff pastry with salted macambo frangipane. Frangipane is a cream made from almond flour. Aurora uses flours that come from small artisanal mills in Italy and she seeks to rescue old cereals abandoned over time to rediscover lost tastes… and discover newones with the same attention.
Simón explores a lot with the memory of taste in his cuisine. But aware that macambo taste is unknown to both him and the Italian public, he decided to play with geographically familiar flavors. Thus he used black corn, guajillo chili, passion fruit and cocoa beans in its creation. To create a flavor contrast, he added a product of Italian tradition, mullet roe. Very good and interesting!
Mutty made a Mediterranean-style macambo canapé by blending the macambo seeds with eggplant, tomatoes and basil. On top of this she placed a bean cream and fermented lemon, this last one to create a contrast of flavors. Finally, it was sprinkled with dried blueberries (mirtilli) and mint powder. A delicious Mediterranean welcome for macambo!
Denis proposed a semi-integral pizza-focaccia with “fior di latte” (a kind of mozzarella), mountain herbs, chutney with berries (forest fruits), granulated toasted macambo, misticanza (meadow) salad and a green apple vinaigrette to cleanse the mouth in the end. This pizza is a journey through mountain flavors. The crunchiness and final taste are given by the macambo.
His idea was not only to play with consistencies and flavors but to unite two distant communities with similar philosophies of life: the forest of the Italian alpine mountain of Bergamo and the Amazon rainforest. Both are small communities, circumscribed (isolated) within a specific ecosystem, with lifestyles and rhythms different from those of the city. They are both places where food is grown for self-subsistence, where food is harvested respecting nature rhythms, where food conservation methods are important to survive and where resources are used efficiently (avoiding waste).
In the end, Rosa Linda Yangora Pichama, a Shuar indigenous woman (another indigenous nationality from the Ecuadorian Amazon), told us a little about her culture and what the rainforest means to the Shuar people, reminding ushow important it is to conserve cultures that live in harmony and respect with nature.
We have not yet met the 200 Kg demand target that guarantees the efforts to import macambo this year. Our deadline to make the first import is October 27, 2023. If this happens, macambo will leave Ecuador in November and will arrive in Italy after 6-7 weeks. If you are a chef in Italy and are interested in purchasing at least 10 Kg of macambo, please contact us ([email protected])!
The transport of small volumes (<300 kg) by sea appears to be uncommon. If we manage to activate the import we will tell you what the process is like to import Macambo in Italy. Stay tuned!
In June we had the opportunity to spend 10 days in Siena, a beautiful city full of traditions in Tuscany (Italy).
Looking for a place to stay, we found a small apartment inside a very old farmhouse in the hills outside of Siena. A community farming project was mentioned in the site description. We thought this looked interesting and so we booked it!
Not just a country house
Upon arrival, we entered the property through a small path lined with pointed cypresses (typical of Tuscany), olive trees and some fruit trees. At the top of the hill, we found a large, very old brick building.
We were greeted by Pietro, who, before taking us to the apartment, showed us the “oven room” on the ground floor. He informed us that Andrea comes three days a week in the morning to prepare bread for the cooperative and that if we see smoke we should not worry; the oven room becomes a bakery.
I love making bread, so I would not leave without meeting Andrea.
Before leaving, Pietro invited us to stop by the orchard that is at the base of the hill any day of our stay and, if we were interested, he would tell us about the project he is working on.
When we asked him for some vegetables to cook in the following days, he told us that the vegetables were collective and therefore to get them we would have to go to the cooperative store. How curious, right?
The next day, at the cooperative store, we bought vegetables from the orchard (delicious!) and in the evening we visited it (in Siena in June it gets dark after 9:30 p.m.).
The orchard is cultivated in an area of 1.5 hectares (107,639 square feet) and is home to 2 retired horses, one of which passed away during our stay (RIP).
Pietro lives on the property together with his partner, their young son, and some chickens and goats. The goats help to keep the grass down.
He told us that in addition to the orchard, the cooperative has planted fruit trees and that they have bees, the latter cared for by members of the cooperative.
The property is large and next to the orchard there are crops of wheat and olive trees (given in concession to third parties).
When we arrived, Pietro was leaving so we agreed to have dinner together another day. We would still have to wait to find out about the project and the famous cooperative.
A baker in the house
In the following days, we met Andrea the baker, a young man from around Siena who, seeing our interest in his bread, invited us to come at 5 in the morning the day after.
When I arrived, it was after 7 o’clock and Andrea was cutting the already leavened dough to prepare about thirty one-kilogram loaves for the members of the cooperative. He was very worried because the bread was not the right shape; it was a bit flattened.
To make bread you need: flour (various types of wheat or other cereals), water, yeast and salt. There are two types of yeast used to make bread:
• brewer’s yeast bought on the market is a monoculture of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and, • sourdough yeast, which is a symbiotic culture of yeasts naturally present in the environment. Contrary to commercial yeast, the amount of sourdough necessary to prepare a certain amount of bread must be cultivated prior to its preparation.
The process of making bread is relatively simple. You mix the flour with the water, then add the sourdough and, at the end, the salt. The mixture is then kneaded for a certain time, left to leaven (or ferment)* for a set time at a certain temperature and at the end it is baked at the appropriate temperature and time.
*During the fermentation of the bread, the yeasts consume the gluten that is the protein of the flour and release carbon dioxide (CO2); yes, the same gas that we exhale during respiration. When we knead the bread dough, we create a gluten mesh that retains the CO2 that, trying to get out, causes the bread to inflate, or rise.
To obtain good quality bread, one needs to control the raw materials (flour, yeast, salt and water), temperature and time. Just a few variables, right? It cannot be that hard. In reality yes, mastering them requires the skills and knowledge of a specialized craftsman.
Andrea was very worried about the bread, so we made a “checklist” together.
Not just any bread
Andrea told me that the flour he uses comes from a farm that is growing cereals from an “evolutionary” population, meaning, made up of seeds of different varieties, mostly indigenous, that aresown and allowed to grow together.
The idea is that over time, the varieties that have best adapted to the climatic conditions of the soil in which they are found will prosper. Thus, the composition of the population that survives will be resistant to changes in climate and capable of sustaining high levels of productivity without the need for chemical products that are harmful to the soil.
The cooperative buys all the production of “resistant wheat,” which this year will be doubled. FYI, the evolutionary population of cereals is carried out together with the University of Siena.
Andrea used the same flour before the problem appeared, so the problem could not be the flour.
The knead is done manually by him, so it should not be it.
The laboratory where he works (the oven room) does not have an air conditioning system and the wood-fired oven is inside… additionally room temperature those days was high. It had to be the temperature that was influencing the growth of the yeasts.
Andrea was controlling the temperature all the time and reducing time of leaven to compensate for the higher temperature, but the bread was still flat…
Andrea is young and loves making bread. Surely with time, study and automating some variables, he will be able to obtain resilient bread even in the hot summer months. Yes, the bread was a bit fat but it was delicious!
Finally “the cooperative”
A few days before leaving, we met Piero who, during dinner, told us about his famous MondoMangione Cooperative Society, of which the orchard and the bread are part.
MondoMangione is a cooperative of conscious consumers that was born in Siena in 2004. It has created a small organized distribution of local, organic and fair trade products. The cooperative has the objective of establishing an economy based on the direct and transparent relationship between producer and consumer, respecting the territory, the environment and peoples work.
In 2019, they started with the OrtoMangione project, a collective orchard structured as a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) that has recovered 1.5 hectares of abandoned land. In 2021, the Il Pane dell’Orto (bread in the orchard) started as a collective baking project, also structured as a CSA.
The CSA model is practiced in Japan, United States, Canada, England, Italy, Germany, Austria and other places.
In Italy, there are three CSAs:Arvaia In Bologna (9 years of activity, almost 500 partners, 7 working partners, 47 hectares), Semele in Florence (70 partners) and OrtoMangione (the most recent).
In this type of agricultural cooperative, all resources (installation costs, equipment costs, labor costs, management costs) are provided by a group of people, who, in compensation, receive a part of what the orchard produces every week. They cultivate using natural methods.
The CSA model presupposes an active and participatory community.
In the case of OrtoMangione, production is organized on the basis of business risk sharing, respect for food, waste reduction and support for worker members (Pietro and his colleague’s salary).
The “co-producer partners” (around 70 members) pay an initial fee of €75 as a contribution to the cost of setting up the orchard (75% as a donation and 25% as an association fee) and an annual fee of €750 (single payment or in 4 installments). They use the donations to finance necessary supplies, for example they plan to use the donations raised in 2021/2022 to fund a greenhouse and a new chicken house.
With the annual membership fee, partners receive a 5.5 kg box of vegetables (designed for a family of 2-3 people, with at least 5 varieties per week and 30 varieties of vegetables per year) for 45 of the 52 weeks of the year, and have the possibility of participating in the different activities of the orchard.
This cost may seem high, but for the economy of an average Italian family, considering that we are talking about healthy vegetables which are regenerating soil and generating jobs, it is an affordable price (€19 for a box a week). Costs have to be adapted to local realities.
As it is an active community, the partners commit to carry out at least one of the following activities:
• work in the garden (harvesting, planting, storage, maintenance of outdoor spaces, etc.) once a month for a minimum of 2 hours • participation in the committee (1 meeting per month) or in working groups (administration, communication, events, etc. • help with the distribution of vegetables on harvest days (minimum 2 hours per month).
What about the bread?
In a similar way for the bread, a group of people with an annual subscription pre-finance the preparation of a 1 Kg bread that they will receive once a week. In this way, the members guarantee the maintenance of an artisanal activity (Andrea’s salary) and the use of the wood oven.
The “co-baker partners” collaborate in the management and evolution of the project, and can participate in activities to share and learn how bread is made. Thus, the oven is open to all members, even to bake a mold of biscuits or a good cake using the oven that is still hot.
Projects like “the orchard” and “the orchard’s bread” give the opportunity to be part of a group of people who collectively care for a piece of land, create resilience and support tradition.
Pietro told me during the first year of production there was a fungal infection due to an error in the management of the greenhouse that compromised the entire tomato production. A lot of work and resources were at risk of being lost!
Due to the magnitude of the problem, the advised solution was to use a fungicide. The partners of the cooperative got together and decided that if the plants were sick, they had to be cured and thus they used the fungicide.
When tomatoes were ready, partners were informed about the previous fungicide treatment and people had the choice to take or refuse the tomatoes; some people refused the tomatoes.
By telling me this story, Pietro wanted to point out that we shall not blind ourselves on preconception.
Being part of a community can help us to stay open-minded, to understand the problems faced by our farmers and artisans and to be open to solutions to solve those issues.
Let’s create or be part of a community that stimulates exchange between people who live in the same place, producing essential goods, generating jobs, human relations and a redistribution system that eliminates waste and allows us to be informed!
Let us be part of a citizenship that actively creates the community in which we want to live!
Wheat is a very ancient cereal that was first cultivated in the fertile crescent located in the regions between the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, more than 9,000 years before Christ.
In 2020, wheat was the third most produced plant species in the world after sugar cane and corn (closely followed by rice).1
Did you know that 75%of the world’s food is generated from only 12 species of plants and 5 species of animals?2 Among them, wheat.
Bread, empanadas, noodles and many foods that we eat every day are made with flour that comes from wheat.
Not all wheat flours are the same. The quality depends on the production chain, meaning, the type of seed, the type of agriculture with which it is grown, the health of the soil and the way the grain is milled.3
Wheat, known in Latin as Triticum, is a plant from the same family as rice, rye, barley, and oats.
In Italy where I live, about 2,000 varieties of wheat are known; but only a few are cultivated on a large scale. 4
On the market, there are two types of wheat: soft and hard. Most soft wheat comes from the species Triticum aestivum e and most hard wheat comes from the species Triticum durum.5
Soft and hard wheats are very similar on a structural level but different from a nutritional point of view and uses. They grow in different environments; hard wheat tolerates hot, sunny arid soils while soft wheat prefers a fresh and more humid climate. Hard wheat flour contains more proteins and gluten than soft wheat flour and has a greater water absorption capacity. Products prepared with hard wheat flour have better conservation and a lower glycemic index.6
The soft wheat grain breaks easily and is opaque, rounded and crumbly. The flour obtained from the grinding of soft wheat has a good extensibility and a medium-low toughness. It is usually used in the production of bread, leavened products (cakes, biscuits, pizzas) and fresh pasta.6
On the other hand, hard wheat grain is really “hard”, has a slightly more elongated shape and is almost translucent. The flour obtained from hard wheat is rough and is yellow-amber in color. The dough obtained from hard flour has a lower extensibility than the soft flour but a high tenacity, which makes it good both for making bread and for the production of pasta.6
Do you know how many varieties of wheat are grown in your country? Is enough wheat grown to meet your country’s flour needs? Is wheat imported? Is flour imported? From where?
Now that we know a bit more about wheat, I will tell you a story of a seed that became pasta.
From the seed to the noodles Part 1: Seeding
Everything starts from the seed, which in the case of wheat is part of the plant’s fruit.
The seed is the baby of the plant and to grow healthy and strong it needs a living soil rich in nutrients (see article V.I. S. ((Very Important Soil)), water and clean air.
For the sowing we use the soft grain that comes from Cascine Orsine, a farm in the province of Pavia (approximately 30 km away from the Segantini park in Milan) that cultivates using biodynamic agriculture. Andrea, the owner of SoulFood, the restaurant close to the park where we did the Macambo event (see article Macambo as a solution. Chapter 1: The proposal), got me the seeds for this experiment.
Wheat likes cold weather. In northern Italy, it is advisable to sow it 6 weeks before the first hard frost. We sowed in mid-November.
We planted the wheat in 2 beds measuring 5 x 5 meters (total 50 square meters (m2)) in Segantini Park, a park in the city of Milan in Italy. In the first bed, clover, a plant that fertilizes the soil, has previously been planted. In the second bed, we decided to make an mixture of both wheat and broad beans.
Before seeding, we prepared the soil; we removed weeds and fertilized one of the beds with compost and a little manure.
We sowed approximately 30 g of seeds at a distance of about 12-13 cm, making shallow holes to introduce the seeds. The recommended depth is twice the size of the seed so that it can come out without problems but at the same time is protected.
We put 4 seeds in each hole because we were not sure how many plants would sprout.
Finally, we watered gently (similar to a light rain) so as not to disturb the soil and waited for germination 🙂
In the following days, we controlled the ground humidity (so that it would not dry out) and the temperature. During this time, we followed two important actions; if it was very dry, we watered it and if it was very cold, we covered the ground.
In both beds the wheat grew very well and in June it was ready to be harvested.
In April, with great care not to damage the wheat, the broad beans were harvested. Interestingly, in the bed where the clover was, a lot of poppies grew.
Part 2: The wheat harvest
The manual harvestingof wheat is called reaping. Using a sickle, we cut the base of the wheat stalks with fast and determined movements.
Then, we cut the spikes from the stems and put them in a cotton bag.
To free the grains, we hit the bag against the table and rubbed the spikes inside the bag using our hands. Then, with the help of a fan, we separated the bran from the wheat grains.
The process of loosening the edible part of grain (or other crop) from the straw to which it is attached is known as threshing. Did you know that in ancient times animals like horses were made to run over the ears of wheat to release the grains? Here you can see a video showing it.
This may seem like very hard work, but if it is done in company, it is fun!
Part 3: Grain milling
To grain the wheat grains we used a small electric stone mill. Little by little, preventing the mill from overheating, we transformed almost 1.5 Kg of grain into flour.
Using a sieve, we started by separating the bran from the flour but later decided that we would only have a whole wheat flour. We only removed the very big pieces.
Part 4: Preparation of the noodles (pasta)
Italy is famous for its fresh pasta, so with friends from the park, we decided to prepare a dish of pasta with tomatoes puree, eggplant and goat cheese.
To prepare the fresh pasta, we used 1 egg (or the liquid equivalent of 1 egg) for every 100 g of flour.
We prepared 700 g of flour using 7 eggs donated by Claudio’s hens. Then, we kneaded the mixture creating a homogeneous dough. As the dough was too dry, we needed to add more water.
We let the dough rest for an hour (an essential step in the preparation of the pasta).
Then, using a pasta making machine, we made tagliatelle (wide flat spaghetti) that we cooked in abundant salt water.
For the garnish, the aubergines were first dehydrated with plenty of salt. Then they were washed, passed in flour and fried in abundant hot oil.
The tomatoes were cooked and then passed through a manual tomato press where the skin and seeds were removed (it can also be blended).
At the end, when the pasta was ready (al dente), the fried aubergines, olive oil and grated goat ricotta were added. A treat!
If you are wondering if it was worth all the hard work to eat a plate of fresh pasta, the answer is YES!! All the steps were fun and the taste was delicious!
I cannot say that the taste is better than other fresh pastas made with quality raw materials found on the market or eaten in restaurants that value the origin of the products. But I am sure that seeing the wheat grow, process it and prepare the pasta is an experience that gives the dish an important additional value also in terms of flavor. If you can, give it a try!
Part 5: A tradition begins?
The experience of making pasta starting from the seed was a complete success! We decided to seed wheat again this year, this time at the end of October. Who knows, maybe it will become a park tradition?
It is discouraging to see how the Amazon is being destroyed due to the need for the governments of the Amazonian countries to obtain money to improve the quality of life of their population by creating services such as education, health, work, transportation, industry, etc.
The Amazon region is one of the places with the greatest biodiversity on the planet. It is also the source of raw materials (oil, minerals, wood) and the space to raise cattle and produce soy.
In today’s world where money allows people to live (buy food, clothing, housing, transportation, education, etc.) it is not very evident that the most essential human needs are: air, water and then food.
Air and water are natural resources or services that we get from nature. And yes, food is also a natural resource. If we think about it, we live thanks to the living beings that nourish us (plants, animals, fungi, algae, bacteria) and the interactions that these have within the different natural ecosystems that keep air, water, soil and living beings healthy.
Healthy jungles and forests not only produce oxygen and store carbon dioxide (CO2) but also maintain a balance that even purifies water. In the Amazon region flows the largest river on Earth, the “flying river“, that regulates the climate of our planet.
But, in the Amazon region, there is not only diversity of life but also a diversity of human cultures that live in harmony with nature.
This fragile ecosystem is in danger and preserving it is a task that concerns all the inhabitants of the planet.
In Ecuador, there are more than three thousand species of trees, 658 species of amphibians (307 of which are endemic or only present in Ecuador), 460 species of mammals (54 endemic), 498 species of reptiles, more than ten thousand species of birds1 and 13 indigenous ethnic groups that in Ecuador are known as nationalities because they have their own language and social organization and live in a defined territory. Eight of these nationalities live in the Amazon region2.
I had the opportunity to get to know Canopy Bridge many years ago. Canopy Bridge is a global network that helps suppliers and buyers of sustainable crops and wild products find each other, build relationships and learn more about natural products and the people behind them. One of their wild products in macambo.
Macambo (Theobroma bicolor) is the fruit of a tree related to cacao (Theobroma cacao). It is grown traditionally in diversified agricultural systems (or agroforestery) by associations of indigenous Kichwa producers from the Ecuadorian Amazon in chakras or family gardens. Its seeds are very nutritious (high in protein, fiber and omega-9) and, when toasted, acquire a delicious caramel flavor and a crunchy, unique texture.
The Amazonian population traditionally consumes macambo and shares its tradition with us.
All Amazon countries such as Ecuador live from export of raw materials and this happens because there is a global demand, especially from industrialized countries. Perhaps this globalized system could become a solution, right?
For Ecuador, the export of products coming from “Perennial forests” (perennial= which lasts forever or a long time) could represent a concrete solution to conservation because they are a sources of income that in the future could replace extractive activities and intensive agriculture.
I have lived in Milan, Italy for almost six years. I thought that perhaps the people of Milan might be interested in buying macambo once a year (during the harvest) and thus actively contribute to the protection and regeneration of the Amazon rainforest.
If we buy a constant volume of macambo every year making sure that this macambo comes from diversified family farming systems characteristic of indigenous communities, we will be able to guarantee the economic sustenance of the families that carry out this activity. This could motivate other families of producers and create jobs that respect the cultural identity of the ancestral peoples (creating a positive social impact) thus protecting the Amazon rainforest (creating a positive environmental impact). An Amazon taste for culture and biodiversity.
Italy is a country that is both rich in culinary tradition and also boasts the greatest biodiversity in Europe. Here, food is at the center of family and cultural life. Thanks to its lifestyle, it is one of the longest-lived countries in the world.
Italy is considered a developed country, one of the richest in the world and although is only slightly larger than Ecuador, 3.4 times as many people live here.*3
Throughout history, Italy, and the entire European continent have welcomed and integrated food. For example, corn, tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins, arrived after the “European discovery” of the American continent. And yes, its reception and integration was not always immediate; for example, corn in Italy is known as “Turkish grain” because the Italians of that time would not have used it so easily if they knew it came from America.4 Today, polenta, made with cornmeal, is a traditional dish from northern Italy.
But Italy has not only welcomed foods that grow in its territory and are now part of its tradition, but also welcomes within its culture other products that grow in countries like Ecuador such as coffee, cocoa (with which chocolate is made) and the banana.
Recently, UNESCO is considering to declare espresso coffee culture in Italy as cultural human heritage.5 Fascinating, no?
Macambo could help to conserve a small part of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle. Here we have a delicious and nutritious product along with a network of producers who are sharing a seed that is part of their culture and that grows in their chakras in a respectful way.
Will Italian consumers be interested in accepting this proposal?
Step 1: Tasting
With this in mind, I brought in my suitcase from Quito to Milan 8 kilograms of macambo so that the people can try it. I organized two dinners:
The first with the friends of the Segantini Park Association (about 25 people). It was a beautiful summer night where, together with the fantastic Gabriela, Laura and Melani, we cooked a delicious pasta prepared with vegetables from the orchards. On the menu was 3 types of zucchini (raw and blanched (or boiled for a few minutes)), blanched green beans (or vanitas), basil and a little garlic. The pasta was seasoned with saffron, Parmesan cheese, salt, olive oil and lots of love. The crispy touch of the pasta was given by the macambo.
The second dinner was organized together with Soul Food, a small gastronomy south of Milan in the Navigli area. Soul Food is a small business managed by Andrea, a person who is very attentive to the origin and method of production of the food he sells and a place where the work of producers who respect nature is valued.
Lucia, the cook for this dinner, prepared a menu considering the different flavors of which macambo reminded her …”a little chestnut… a little natural and roasted peanut… a little hazelnut”… Taking this into account, she prepared 3 plates.
In the first course, we were able to enjoy mashed and toasted macambo serve on the top of a pumpkin cream.
For the second course, Lucia turned the macambo into flour to prepare, together with a small amount of chestnut flour, grapes, pine nuts and rosemary, the macambo version of the “castagnaccio” (typical Tuscan chestnut cake). The macambaccio was served with kale-type kale chips.
The last course was dessert. Here Lucía made two preparations, the first was a vegan cake with 78% chocolate and macambo crumble, and the second was a decomposed “cheesecake” based on ricotta mousse and caramelized pears accompanied by a cream based on toasted macambo.
Both dinners were really delicious.
One of the things highlighted by the guests was the crisp and notoriously nice texture of the dishes. Macambo lends itself as the perfect addition because it does not overpower the dish. It provides a humble yet nutritious component to these culinary treats.
Macambo was not only tasted within elaborate dishes but also intact in one of its three available presentations (natural, salty and chocolate). About 70 people tried macambo and 47 of them gave their opinion.
Regarding taste, the majority (51%) of people consider the macambo itself (natural, salty and/or chocolate) “good”, 20% find the taste “indifferent”, 14% find it ” delicious” and 14% “did not like it”.
Almost all participants considered it is important: to increase the diversity of foods in the diet, that macambo is nutritious, that it has a positive social impact and that it promotes fair trade and the conservation of the Amazon forest.
In conclusion, they like the taste, they like the proposal but… nobody is crazy about buying it.
Step 2: How to make macambo popular?
I had the opportunity to meet the chefs of the AlTatto restaurant in Milan. Sara Nicolosi and Cinzia De Lauri are two fantastic women who cook at this small bistro where vegetables, quality, origin of food and seasonality are valued. They offer a delicious sensorial experience. If you live or come to Milan, don’t miss it!
After trying the macambo and knowing the proposal, Sara and Cinzia are betting on the project! They proposed to activate their network and invite 3 of their colleagues in order to make a purchase that merits the importation of macambo in Italy. They believe in the importance of directly supporting projects that have the potential to safeguard the environment. Also, they love the idea of being able to value a product belonging to the culture of one of the indigenous groups living in the Amazon region.
The idea is that these 5 chefs cook and experiment together with the macambo to discover and introduce this Amazonian seed and its history to the people of Milan.
The third step is to find out the modes and costs of transportation, the import requirements and what is necessary to bring the macambo to Italy. The idea is also to be transparent with the price and the necessary steps to make this project possible. I will keep you updated.
Stay tuned!*In 20193: 1) life expectation in Italy was 83 years old while in Ecuador it was 71 years old; 2) gross domestic product (GDP) in Italy is 2.009 trillion US dollars while in Ecuador it is 108 trillion; 3) in Italy almost 60 million people lived while in Ecuador around 17 million people. The Italian territory is only 17.780 Km² bigger than the Ecuadorian territory (an area similar to the province of Sucumbíos (18.084 km²)).
After oxygen and water, food is what keeps us living and healthy however, some types of foods are better than others with the best type being “true food”.
But which are the true foods?
True foods are those that grow in NATURE, minimally processed (transformed/preserved in a traditional or innovative way; fewer additives, better and much better if all of them are natural), SUSTAINABLE (produced in healthy soil using clean water, respecting the environment and biodiversity) AND ETHICALLY PRODUCED (towards humans, animals and all living beings involved).
This definition points out two fundamental concepts: NATURE and SUSTAINABILITY that includes ethical production.
What is nature?
Nature is all living and inanimate beings that make up the earth and that interact with each other in a balance where matter and energy circulate. Nature follows its own order and is governed by constant laws that human beings can know but cannot modify.
Many humans (Homo sapiens) think that we are superior to all living beings, despite being one of the youngest species on earth and not knowing if we will ever live as long as bacteria or plants. We are also a very small part of life on Earth.
A study published in 2018 that quantifies life on Earth in terms of carbon (C), a common element of all living beings, shows that plants are the most abundant living forms representing 82.5%. Then we find the tiny bacteria that represents 14.2% of the life on Earth and after the fungi representing 2.2%. Bacteria and fungi are everywhere including IN and ON us influencing our health (see post on the Microbiome). Then there are the algae that represent 0.7% and finally the animals, the group to which we belong which represents 0.4% of life on earth.1
it means that human beings cannot live: more than 4 minutes without breathing proper air, more than 4 days without proper water, more than 42 days without nourishment and for all this to be possible the Earth must be covered with at least 60% of Forest, of green, including the plankton that lives in water of the oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, etc. This is the only way to maintain a proper atmospheric dynamic that allows human life or 78.1% nitrogen (N2), 20.9% oxygen (O2), 0.9% argon (Ar) and very little other gases including carbon dioxide (CO2, 0.04%).
The oxygen (O2) from the air that we need to live is produced by green beings thanks to a substance called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll reacts with CO2 in the presence of sunlight. These green beings are plants as well as bacteria and algae that feed on dead matter previously transformed by fungi, bacteria or animals such as worms. Respiration produces CO2 which is essential in the production of oxygen and sugars. Part of these sugars are stored in roots that feed bacteria and fungi from soil. Some fungi associate with the roots of plants forming mycorrhiza (myco=fungus and rhiza=root), a beneficial symbiosis for both organisms. Together they can travel big distances to get water and nutrients they need to live. Mycorrhizae connect with each other and at the same time interact with bacteria and some animals forming a very efficient communication and exchange system known as “Wood Wide Web”.
There is a complex and perfect balance between life and death and life and life. The community we are part of is fascinating!
The Amisacho collective in the Ecuadorian Amazon is producing short videos. The concepts transmitted allow a clear understanding of how the Amazon rainforest works, the cycles of nature, how they influence the planet’s climate and individual and collective solutions to live in a respectful way.
If we zoom in on the group of animals, we will note that the largest segment is represented by fish (30%) and that all together arthropods, mollusks, nematodes, annelids and cnidarians represent 63.6% of all animals. Humans represent 2.5% of animals while birds and wild mammals together represent only 0.4% and cattle 4.2%.1 This means that in terms of carbon (C) there are 5 times more humane than all wild birds and mammals combined, and nearly twice as many livestock as humans.
It is evident that we have NOT been paying attention to our environment and that our activities are impacting biodiversity.
Sustainability concerns us and our activities and deals with three elements: the environment, society and the economy. Of these 3, the economy is not part of nature, however, the narrative about the importance of money that first appeared about 5,000 years ago with the appearance of the first coins is so strong that today we cannot perceive the economy outside of the human context.
All human economic activity depends on nature. It is estimated that globally, nature provides services worth approximately US 125 trillion annually.2
The human activity dedicated to food production is agriculture that first appeared about 12,000 years ago. Agriculture deals with domestication of plants and animals.
Farmers have domesticated some living beings learning from them and from nature, observing and experimenting, a very interesting and important job that has allowed the development of humanity. After the Second World War, the green revolution began in which agriculture was industrialized. This industrialization or dehumanization together with large-scale global trade has contributed to the current social, environmental and economic imbalances.
Agriculture is against nature but it can be respectful if it respects nature as is done by agroecological and regenerative farmers around the world.
Today there are many problems related with food: overweight and malnutrition, waste, environment destruction and loss of biodiversity. Even though small farmers who produce in an area below 2 hectares of the worlds food and protect food diversity, many of them live in extreme poverty. Let’s do what we can to help these farmers be successful and in turn, we will all prosper!
What can we do?
First of all, let’s inform ourselves because knowledge is essential.
Let’s be smart consumers and remember that our demand and our everyday actions can generate positive changes. Let’s buy local, seasonal, socially and environmentally responsible products and let’s support farmers who work respecting nature locally and globally.
Let’s practice urban agriculture respecting nature and learning from nature, thus building resilient, green, inclusive and sustainable cities. One pot at a time – remembering that to be a respectful farmer we must learn many things and be open to new ideas.
Let’s cook more often using local, seasonal, socially and environmentally responsible products to know, taste and experience new flavors. Let’s not be afraid to use unusual vegetables, “ugly” produce that may not be the perfect specimen of what we are used to seeing in the grocery store, try wild products that we are not use to eating and become aware of the importance of dietary diversity. Let’s not forget that cooking is an act of love towards ourselves and the people for whom we cook!
I highly recommend the Radio Semilla podcast (only available in Spanish) of the Red de Guardianes de Semillas who, with a relaxed vibe and broad vision, speak of social, environmental and economic regeneration with local solutions. With a different approach, the podcast Food Talks (only available in English), is also worth a listen. Both are fantastic, informative and fun!
To improve the food system, changes are needed from the production to the table, from those who grow food to those who eat it, and all those who move the food in between! Remember that food is directly connected with the farmers, the land, the watersheds and the climate; and that our health is a reflection of the quality and quantity of the food we consume. In the end, it is all – and we are all – interconnected! Let’s take care of one another!
A curious man enters one of the orchards of the Segantini Park and finds Sergio and Luca. He’s Junior, a young man who is passionate about the land and eager to know how we grow plants in the park, and why? He also works the land there and, because of the pandemic, he has been trying to do it for a living since last year. He tells us that he has not studied agriculture, that he learned the basics in his native Cuba where all the children and young people cultivate the land after school, “I work hard for a child,” he tells us.
Sergio and Luca show Junior our worm compost that has been working for the past two years. Depending on the time of year, the compost is made in a period between 3 and 6 months. Junior tells us that it could be more efficient and, if we want, he can show us how to do it. Salomé, who is very interested in home composting, gets involved and immediately organizes a visit to Gaggiano where Junior works.
To Gaggiano by bike to make earth
It was a Sunday with good weather at the beginning of May when 5 people, Francesca, Nicolò, Enrico, Ivana and Salomé, arrived by bike at the garden center where Junior works.
We met Junior, who welcomed us with enthusiasm and immediately showed us how the orchard/plant garden works. In the orchard, Junior grows a wide variety of vegetables that are disappearing. Due to globalization, food diversity is in danger. Fortunately, there are people like Junior working to recover it.
His way of cultivating not only has a practical approach, a synergistic garden in full respect for nature and relationships with various organisms, but it is also a philosophy of life! His garden highlights the importance of mother earth as well as a non-consumeristic lifestyle that values relationships.
Junior told us that when he arrived in Lombardy, he wondered what he could offer that land and that particular place. He saw that in the vicinity there were rice fields and a rice factory that produced the bran of the grains as a waste product. As he later pointed out, bran is an important ingredient in his compost. Also nearby, Junior has access to cows from which he takes manure as well as pieces of wood from the trees that border the vivarium, both of which are the ideal substrates for decomposing microorganisms.
Another way to compost
Let’s get to work, first we collect all the ingredients we would need:
molasses (water saturated with sugar, about half a liter)
freshly cut grass
pieces of bark with microorganisms (branches with bark)*
* The microorganisms can be found at the base of large trees, just below the first layer of soil. They are like thin white cobwebs. In the absence of these, you can find pre-packed, ready-to-use microorganisms for purchase. In Italy, for example, there is a product called Top Crop from Microvita.
When we went to collect the ingredients, we observed the land around the garden center. Many rice fields were not yet productive but instead were dry land waiting to be fertilized and irrigated.
We start by making a small fire that will be completely covered with the rice bran and will slowly burn until it becomes active black carbon (charcoal), rich in minerals. The bran burns slowly and, little by little, we add more bran that strangely does not produce a flame, but instead, a delicious smell.
He explains that the combustion process (the burning) helps to release minerals. As a result of the combustion process, charcoal is formed. (Charcoal can can also be purchased). Any straw that decomposes easily and does not need to be burned could also be used in place of charcoal.
Meanwhile, on the ground, we draw a circle of 1 meter in diameter. Junior explained that a good compost should be as high as the circumference of its base (1 meter).
While we waited for the rice bran to burn, we went to eat a delicious barbecue with friends.
When we return, we proceed to arrange the layers to create the compost pile:
We start with the straw, then the shredded grass, then the pieces of bark with microorganisms, a little cow manure (NB: for a compost in the city, raw leftovers found in the kitchen can also be used (just remember not to use meat products as this may attract rats and/or other rodents) and a good stream of water.
The proportion of ingredients is 3 (parts of dry matter: straw and bark pieces) to 1 (part of wet matter: grass, manure). The dry matter adds carbon (C) while the wet adds nitrogen (N).
One could also add a little finished compost (as is done in the Segantini park) as an inoculator (due to the presence of worms).
We add straw again, then grass, microorganisms from the envelope (commercially available), molasses, pieces of branches, grass and then water.
The sequence should be as follows: dry, wet, dry, wet … and in between the microorganisms and water. With all this good “food” for the soil, Junior tells us that earthworms will come too.
We continue like this until the pile reaches one meter in height.
At that point, we return to our rice bran, which has meanwhile been turned into charcoal. We extinguish the fire using a lot of cold water and spread the finished charcoal on top of the compost pile. The wet rice bran will regulate the moisture and release the minerals.
The pile is covered with a black plastic to increase the rate of the decomposition process (it helps to keep it warm and humid). The compost pile will reach a very high temperature of up to 70 degrees Celsius(158 degrees Fahrenheit) during the first few days! This allows pathogens to be eliminated.
After about 5 days, Junior will turn the compost with a pitchfork, reconstituting the pile, a process that introduces air (most importantly oxygen) and will cover it again. The compost pile will be turned the same way a total of 5 times (about every 5 days).
Compost transformation will occur in approximately 1 month. If left uncovered, it would take much longer.
When the compost is ready it will be reduced by about half its initial size.
Coincidentally, that Sunday was May 9, Mother’s Day. Junior makes us notice that together we celebrate our “pacha mama” (mother earth) by making her a cake.
We bike back home, happy with a new perspective on compost, microorganisms, rice waste, and respect for the earth.
It’s a Monday in late March, it’s warm. In the Segantini Park, among the trees within the naturalist area, green with the first shoots of spring, a group of volunteers closely follows Luciano Mazzola who has brought four beehives.
Two families will produce honey, and the other two will also serve to monitor air quality, which will be carried out thanks to the collaboration with researchers from the Catholic University of Piacenza.
The Project is call BeeResponsible and is financed by Dyson, a company that has found a smart way of doing corporate social activity.
A small group of interested people will follow a course with Luciano and will accompany him during the care visits to the hives. If everything goes well, at the end of this experimentation year, the hives will stay at the Segantini park. Here, it will be possible to taste the honey from the flowers of the park and also from the balconies of the Milanese people.
Bees feed on flowers within a radius of 3 km, so anyone with a flower on their balcony can help feed these fascinating creatures that, in addition to producing honey, pollinate plants better than any other insect.
Once the hives have been moved, the group moves under the pergola of one of the vegetable gardens within the park to listen to the first of a series of lessons on the life of bees and the management of a hive. The age of the people in the audience is diverse. There is even a child who ask his mother whenever he does not understand. He feels that something important is being talked about.
Did you know, for example, that in 2018 Europe banned neonicotinoids pesticides widely used in agriculture that also kill bees? Therefore, we hope to see more beehives in the Po Valley.
Luciano explains that during their evolutionary path, bees have learned to communicate to their mates the location of the flowers thanks to a “dance” in which they explain the direction and distance of the feast. Bees are orientated with the position of the sun. You can find many videos on YouTube that explain and interpret this “dance”.
We also discovered that, in their two months of life, the bees carry out a rotation of the work of the hive: in the first weeks, they perform domestic tasks of cleaning and caring for the eggs, then the guard of the door, and finally, when they are mature and well trained to smells, they go out to look for nectar from flower to flower.
The queen, on the other hand, lives up to five years and, after the nuptial flight in which she is impregnated by a dozen drones (who die after the act), she lays eggs throughout her life.
People that have sweet tooth for honey will be interested to know that some jars sold at very low prices may contain something other than honey. In fact, for honey to be considered as such, must be produced by bees that pass the nectar from mouth to mouth in a practice called trophallaxis that enriches the nectar with enzymes that also allow bees that do not leave the hive to feed.
Other fan bees will help reduce the moisture of the nectar below 18% to turn it into honey, a food that can be stored for a long time.
In other parts of the world, it is allowed to collect nectar from hives and transform it into honey in factories with the addition of sugar, which for obvious reasons produces a much less nutritious and balanced food.
The subspecies raised in Italy is called the ligusticabee and is known around the world for being gentle and non-aggressive, so don’t be afraid of them.
Before leaving us, Luciano recommended a book: “The Buzz about Bees” by Jürgen Tautz that combines a practical approach with a more philosophical one accompanied by beautiful photos.
The meeting is over. It is sunset and we leave with a feeling of harmony and interconnection between us, the bees and the flowers. Tonight at home we will look at the flower on the balcony with new eyes. We will know that we are involved in the world of bees and that we collaborate with them in the dissemination of plants and the health of the planet.
This is the first of a series of posts where we will talk about bees, stay tuned!
As we saw in post 2, to produce food, natural resources (air, water, soil, biodiversity) and energy are needed. Food production is just one of the many human activities that have an impact on the planet’s limited resources.
Regarding food, are we consuming more that the earth produces? Is there enough food to feed everyone?
Today we produce food to feed10 billion people1 for a planet which is currently home to around 7.7 billion.2 No wonder every year we waste ca. 1/3 of the food produced (post 3)) and 1.9 billion people are overweight!3. And still, there are 821 million undernourished people!4
To understand why this happens, it is important to learn about two concepts which are key for sustainability: Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint.
Earths Biocapacity is a quantitative way of measuring the natural resources that the earth produces each year (in global hectares or gha) to allow human life (clean water and air, biodiversity, healthy soils, shelter and medicines).5,6,7
It refers to the amount of productive area that is available to generate natural resources and to absorb the waste (ecosystem services).5-7.
The calculated Biocapacity for year 2007 was 1.8 gha.5-7
The Human Ecological Footprint is a quantitative way of measuring the demand that human activity puts on nature. It refers to the consumption of productive land (resources in gha) of each person (biologically productive land and water area required to produce all the resources an individual, population, or activity consumes, and to absorb the waste they generate).5-7
The calculated world average Ecological Footprint for year 2007 was 2.7 gha.5-7
At the individual level, the Ecological Footprint refers to: the food we eat (energy, land, water, biodiversity), the water we use and the energy we consume (at home, to move around, to work, to live!).
Biocapacity, Ecological Footprint and Population
From the numbers above, it becomes evident that in 2007, our global consumption (Ecological Footprint: 2.7 gha) is much higher than the earth’s capacity to recover (Biocapacity: 1.8 gha).
To live sustainably, our Ecological Footprint (that of all humanity) should never exceed the Biocapacity of the earth.
The figure below shows the Ecological footprint and Biocapacity from 1960 to 2010 and the population growth up until 2019.
In 2007, humanity used resources equivalent to one and a half planets. If the trend continues, by 2050, 2 planets will be needed.5-7
Humanity is already using more resources than the earth can regenerate. This is known as overshoot, and each year this occurs, the biological debt increases with extreme consequences such as the loss of diversity (biological and cultural), migration and climate change. And the population keeps growing…
Are we all using resources in the same way?
Well, the Biocapacity and the Ecological Footprint are not the same for all people in all nations. The Global Footprint Network provides online data clearly showing the situation of all countries in the world. Let’s take, as an example, the year 2016. In 2016, the Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint in the United States were 3.6 and 8.1 gha (-4.5, deficit), in Italy 0.9 and 4.4 gha (-3.5, deficit), in China 1.0 and 3.6 gha (-2.6, deficit), in Brazil 8.7 and 2.8 gha (+5.9, reserve), and in Gabon 22.1 and 2.3 gha (+19.8, reserve).
This means that from these 5 countries, only Gabon and Brazil would have natural reserves to consume what they do and more. However, in a global scale, Gabon and Brazil are unwillingly using their resources to maintain the lifestyles of overconsumption of USA, Italy and China.
In 2007, the 5 countries with the highest Ecological Footprint were: United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium and United States, while the countries with the highest Biocapacity were: Gabon, Bolivia, Mongolia, Canada and Australia.7
Learn more about the global situation and find out about the situation in your own country using the interactive online platform of the Global Footprint Network. It’s really worth checking out!
With all this information, it seems that Ecological Footprint is related to human wellbeing, wouldn’t you agree?
Human Development and the Ecological Footprint:
Human Development can be ranked using the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a number calculated based on life expectancy, education and per capita income of a person in a country.
The United Nation Development Program defines a high level of development with HDI scores of 0.8 or greater.7
Considering again the data from 2007, in an ideal economic, social and environmental planet, all countries should have a HDI equal or higher to 0.8 and an Environmental Footprint that would not exceed 1.8 gha (or the earths biocapacity).7
No country on earth meets both conditions.
Interestingly, low-income countries which have abundant natural resources (high Biocapacity) have too small Ecological Footprints to meet the basic needs of food, shelter, health and sanitation of their populations.
Humanity faces two big challenges:
for highly developed countries, to maintain peoples well-being reducing the demand on nature and
for developing nations, to guarantee the well-being of society without increasing Ecological Footprints.
Every person on the planet has the right to live better. However, the well-being of human societies depends of biological capital (Biocapacity) and therefore, human comforts (security, material needs, health, social relations, etc.). We must consider effective long-term resource management in order to address and reverse ecological degradation.7
To delve deeper into this topic, we recommend that you read our post that talks about Environmental Justice.
But, how can we explain that resources from low-income biologically-rich countries are being used to satisfy other countries’ demands? Is this land grabbing?
Land grabbing is a process (usually violent) in which fertile agricultural land is privatized, usually for food corporation and mining companies. The GRAIN organization alerts that this global land grab could represent the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in many places around the world.8
Using the data of GRAIN, Baveye et al., have published a map of the worlds land grab in 2008 which shows that China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other countries own vast amounts of land abroad. For example, China in 2008 owned ca. 2 million hectares distributed in Philippines, Laos, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Uganda and Tanzania.9
It would be useful to see what is going on today. To learn more about this argument, check out the publications from GRAIN. They are well worth a read!
If the land no longer belongs to the people living there, or even the country, what happens with the rights of those people and with their well-being? What happens with the land and the ecological services nature provides?
Human well-being and natural resource
Human well-being depends on biodiversity (species richness and rarity, biomass density, primary productivity and genetic diversity) and the services that a healthy ecosystem provides (food, water, fiber, medicine, energy, spiritual, ethic, climate regulation, energy and matter exchange, etc.). 7
All human economic activity depends on nature. It’s estimated that, globally, nature provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year.6
Unluckily, biological diversity is being lost. For example, the loss of animal diversity, measured using Living Planet Index between 1970 and 2014, shows that the overall species population of vertebrates has declined 60% (89% loss in South and Central America). The loss of fresh water species was 89%.6
For more information on endangered species, have a look the website of the IUCN Red List, which is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity.
A healthy planet has enabled development of modern human society. Would it be possible to continue human development without healthy natural systems (biodiversity)?
The answer depends on us and on our capacity to change, adapt and create!
We are the first generation that has a clearer picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it.6
And why not begin with the understanding of our own personal situation!
Personal Ecological Footprint
The Ecological Footprint is different for every person. It is related to individual actions. Even within a nation, the Ecological Footprint is not the same for all.
People that buy food from abroad and travel a lot by car and plane have a higher Environmental Footprint than people consuming locally produce food, preferring moving by bike/public transport/walking and rarely flying.
There are online platforms that help to calculate our personal Ecological Footprint. However, we recommend that you search for a local platform within your city or country as they might include local parameters (energy, water, transportation and waste). Give it a try!!
Let’s calculate our personal Ecological Footprint together
We found a very interesting study from Legambiente, an environmental Italian association, analysing the ecological footprint of the city of Padua.10 This study provides a Table for a first calculation of the personal ecological footprint in a month in area (hectares, ha) from kilograms (Kg) of food consumed, kilowatts (KWh) of energy used at home and kilometres used in transport (Km).
We have reproduced the excel sheet from this study (download here). If you wish to help us, please download the sheet and send the completed version with your personal results via email ([email protected]) sharing with us your name and country from where you are sending it. If we reach a significant number, we will share the results in a post!
This global problem is not new. In 2015, 193 countries belonging the United Nations countries, together with 150 leaders around the world, have agreed upon 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be met by year 2030. These goals aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.11
Sustainable Development Goals
As shown in the figure bellow, the 17 goals put at the base, the importance of protecting nature to build a healthy society that will support a fair economy.
If we work together to achieve these goals, things will start to improve. Let’s give it a try!!
Importantly, all of these goals can be achieved by improving the food system. Food can be a good starting point to make changes. We all eat and our food choices have a direct impact on economy, society and the environment.
To better understand the impact of food on sustainability, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition has created a Food Sustainability Index. Data from 67 countries regarding food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges were analyzed and scored. The top 3 performing countries having policies and showing best practices in 2018 were France, the Netherlands and Canada. It is possible to check out the results and the scores of the participating countries – maybe yours is on the list!
BBC Mundo has published a very interesting article regarding this topic which includes an online calculator showing the environmental impact of 34 common foods and beverages. They remark that the Ecological Footprint depends not only on the food, but also specifically how and where it was produced. This is really worth checking out!
Human well-being will not be possible without preserving nature (ecological resources and services) which sustain economy and life.
However, as natural resources become scarcer than money, prosperity will depend on resource accounts (biocapacity) as much as it depends on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other financial values.
A new way of thinking and revaluing nature (healthy ecosystems) and the services they provide should be considered. It is amazing how many new business opportunities are being created valuing all resources of the ecosystem and being respectful with nature and with people.
And of course, now that you know all of these things, try to make an effort to more thoughtfully choose what you eat, how you move and how much energy and water you use. Our interest, creativity and willingness to make little changes can and will improve things. Let’s give it a try:)
Everybody likes to talk about sustainability, nowadays. But, what does it mean, sustainability?
In very broad terms, the sustainability discourse builds on the assumption that we live in a closed environment and that, due mainly to human activities, environmental “goods” – that are services (such as clean air/water and rich soil) and resources (such as food and biodiversity) that we get from the natural environment – are limited.
Because our existence depends upon such a closed environment and natural resources are being increasingly depleted, ensuring that the resources we need to live are not exhausted becomes crucial.
So, in simple words, sustainability means that there is enough for everyone to survive today and in the future.
But, how do we reach sustainability?
In fact, nowadays it has become dramatically evident that the ability of some to fulfill their needs “here and now” may undermine the ability of others to fulfill their needs “there and then”.
For this reason, it’s very important – and indeed a matter of justice – to balance access to contested resources equitably between competing appropriators, today and tomorrow.
So, what does sustainability have to do with justice?
As was mentioned above, conflicting interests over natural resources and, more broadly, environmental goods oppose present from future generations, rural from urban communities, developing from developed countries, least developed countries and more climate change vulnerable countries from larger developing economies.
There exist different notions of sustainability and they all intersect, among others, with distributive justice concerns.
For instance, rural communities have an interest in preserving soil quality and biodiversity for agricultural purposes which competes with urban communities’ conflicting interest in increasing the availability of biofuels. Some developed countries – most notably, the European Union countries – have recently grown concerns about carbon emissions’ impact on the climate and have subsequently committed to reduce emissions levels. On the contrary, developing countries affirm their “right to growth” by emitting as much as developed countries have done so far.
In this respect, environmental protection is very much related to the problem of access to environmental goods which are limited in number and highly exhaustible (considering, for instance, soil in the example above).
In this sense, environmental protection is also very much related to a distributive justice discourse, as one of the purposes of distributive justice is adjudicating competing claims by giving a fair share to everyone. Meaning that the way natural resources are distributed among people should be fair to everyone.
Sustainability is a matter of environmental justice.
From an inter-generational perspective (which looks at the relationship between current and future generations), justice considerations recommend that thecurrent human development does not deplete the Earth resources, such as water, nourishing food and clean air, to such an extent that future generations will not be able to satisfy their needs.
Some sustain though that it is hard to tell what the future generations’ needs will be.
Depending on what notion of sustainability we choose, it may be deemed fair that present generations commit themselves, not only to avoid depletion beyond a certain extent, but also to actively preserve the integrity of the natural environment as they have inherited it.
After all, all approaches to sustainability are to some extent concerned about the well-being of future generations.
However, as said, the answer to the question what specifically should be the posterity’s inheritance may vary a lot.
In the nineteen seventies, economists and shallow environmentalists sustained that future generations should (just) be ensured the means to satisfy their needs: hence they assume that technology will ensure that there will always be enough resources to meet human needs.
In the nineteen nineties, by contrast, ecological sustainability theorists argued that future generations will require well-functioning ecosystems and sufficient resources.
From an intra-generational perspective (which looks at the relationship between people from different social backgrounds, geographical regions and communities in the present generation), justice considerations aim at ensuring equal access to environmental resources such as safe food produce and equal protection from environmental damage for all in the present generation.
While inter-generational justice sets the content of the obligations of present generations towards the future, intra-generational justice aims at sharing the responsibilities for the fulfillment of such obligations among those who are more responsible than others for moral degradation.
But what does this all mean?
Inter- and intra-generational justice
Let me explain these concepts with some good examples of combined inter- and intra-generational…injustice.
Environmental justice prescribes that environmental wrongs, such as waste, water discharges or air emissions,are borne by the communities who determined them: polluter pays.
So, for instance, in Italy, waste law prescribes that urban waste which cannot be recycled is disposed of (e.g. landfilled)in the same region where it was produced. There are not such constraints when urban waste is being recovered in waste recycling facilities or in waste-to-energy incineration plants: however, because in southern Italy there is just one such incinerator, northern Italy citizens often blame their public administrations as they grant permits for the construction of new incinerators that are believed to burn waste that was largely produced in the south.
This is not just a NIMBY phenomenon (Not In My Back Yard): differential waste-related exposure is in fact seen as a form of environmental inequality.
Likewise, waste dumping across national boundaries, notably from the industrialized world to emerging economies, is perceived as an environmental inequality. As a matter of fact, in the past twenty years, industrialized countries’ pollution control regimes have become stricter, costs associated with compliance with environmental obligations have significantly increased and notably waste treatment services have subsequently become more expensive.
As a result, less developed countries have been sometimes targeted by some more developed countries as “dumping grounds”, although these countries do not often have the technologies required to treat and dispose of wastes in a safe manner.
Today the landfill of Agbogbloshie (Accra) in Ghana is one of the largest landfill sites in the world. Assuming that the type of waste it assembles originated in Ghana would be blind optimism.
However, the environmental wrongs produced by this landfill – such as methane emissions, groundwater contamination, landscape intrusion – are, and will be, unfairly borne by current and future Ghanaian communities living nearby.
In both examples, communities living near these waste treatment facilities bear the consequences of waste produced by someone else, today and for the years to come. This is unfair both under an inter- and intra-generational perspective.
Another interesting example embodying both perspectives is provided by the implementation of a principle known at the international level as “common but differentiated responsibilities” and introduced by the Kyoto Protocol. This principle imposes different climate change mitigation responsibilities upon developed, on one side, and developing countries, on the other side, on the assumption that, given their longer industrialization history, developed countries have contributed to climate change to a larger extend than developing countries.
However, some developing countries’ carbon emissions levels have significantly grown in the past ten years and the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” has subsequently started to shake, together with the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC’s COP system (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties).
I hope it is clear now that sustainability is a matter of environmental justice and different perceptions about what is fair and just for present and for future generations shape different notions of sustainability.
Access to environmental resources, such as water, genuine food and clean air, was not felt by these communities as being fairly distributed between people of different ethnicity, income and class.
It is worthwhile to recall in this regard that one of the first actions that the Black Panthers movement took was serving free breakfast to black children before they went to school in Kansas City in 1969. Meaning that food is an environmental resource that should be provided to all equally!
Nowadays, the Fridays for Future movement, the IPCC reports, some piece of environmental legislation introduced, for instance, by the European Union all show that environmental justice is slowly discarding the former social justice approach (which, to be honest, sometimes could be just perceived as “the peripheries’ NIMBY”), to pursue broader ecological priorities.
We acquired more information about the many different impacts of our activities on the environment. We acknowledged that environmental problems are fundamentally rooted in human activities.
All human activities, due notably to the current patterns of economic development and the way human populations produce, consume and organize to satisfy their needs, have an impact on nature.
Hence, it is fair and just to ensure the long-term integrity of the natural environmenttoday and tomorrow and, in order to do this, access to, and use of natural resources need to be equitably regulated.
In the next post, I will discuss some examples that help to exhibit this move from the social focus to the ecological focus in Lombardia (northern Italy) and Milan, the region and city where I live. Stay tuned!
Recently, knowledge about the importance of human interaction with microorganisms is questioning the lifestyle of many societies while recognizing the importance of biodiversity in every way.
We had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Clelia Peano, a researcher of the Institute of Genetic and Biomedical Research CNR and Head of Genomic Unit at Humanitas Clinical Center in Milan, Italy. Clelia is part of a group of researchers studying the intestinal microbiome with an aim to understand the functions of microorganisms and their impacts on human health.
It is worth mentioning that the importance of the microbiome is recently recognized by the scientific community. Only since the year 2000, the interactions of microorganisms with their host (animals (humans), plants, soil, water) are known to be relevant to the sustainability, balance and overall health of all constituents within the ecosystem.
But now, let’s allow Clelia to explain it to us:
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome is composed of all microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, etc.) that colonize an environment. It constitutes an ecosystem.
What is the human microbiome and why is it important?
The human microbiome refers to all microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi) that live within our body.
Inside the human body, the skin and the intestine are the organs that are colonized by the largest diversity of bacterial species (more than one thousand species), followed by the oral and pharyngeal tract (more than six hundred spices).
The microbiome is important because our body is dominated by bacteria. As a matter of fact, the bacterial cells colonizing our body are 10 times more abundant than are our human cells.
Inside the intestine, microorganisms exert very important functions such as extracting energy from food, producing vitamins and regulating the immune system, glucose level and metabolism.
How does the microbiome control these body functions?
The microbiome produces metabolites that can contribute to maintain a systemic state of equilibrium or, in some cases, can cause diseases.
The alteration of the correct balance between the microbiome and the immune system is known as dysbiosis, and it can be correlated with the occurrence of diseases such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, liver disease, depression, heart disease, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
What is the difference between a healthy microbiota and a sick microbiome?
An important difference is related to the relative abundance between different kinds of bacteria. For example, a sick or dysbiotic microbiome has a higher ratio between femicutes/bacteroidetes, and can lead to a systemic inflammation, while a healthy microbiome exhibits a higher bacteroidetes/fermicutes ratio that may be correlated with the maintenance of low levels of inflammation.
What factors influence the microbiome composition?
First of all, the microbiome is an ecosystem that responds and continuously adapts to the organism that hosts it; in this case to our body and lifestyle.
The factors that influence the microbiome composition are:
food: a diet poor in fiber, high amounts of processed foods and high levels of sugars, predisposes to gut microbiome dysbiosis;
lifestyle: poor physical activity and excessive/use of drugs can compromise the balance of our microbiome. For example, excessive use of opioids can slow down the digestive process, antipsychotics can have a direct antibacterial effect, gastroprotectors can cause gastric cancer;
genetic predisposition: our genes play an important role in shaping our intestinal microbiome, this was demonstrated in a study in which from the analysis of 416 pairs of twins, it was observed that identical twins (homozygotes) have a microbiome more similar to each other than different twins (heterozygous).
Two stories to better understand how the intestinal microbiome evolves and transforms, adapting itself over the course of human lives:
1. Comparison between the intestinal microbiome of Hazda and Italians:
We compared the microbiome of two very different populations: the Hazda, and the Italians.
The Hadza are a nomadic population living in Africa (Tanzania). They are the last Human hunters and gatherers living on Earth. They have a lifestyle similar to that of the people who lived in the Paleolithic era which occurred more than 10,000 years ago. They have never experienced either agriculture or farming.
Italians, on the other hand, are a settle/civilized population living in Europe. They have a western lifestyle and live in urbanized environments.
The Hadza microbiome is dominated by bacteria that serve to degrade fibers while the microbiome of Italians is specialized in the degradation of carbohydrates. Since the diets of these two peoples have a very different composition, the diet of the Hadza is much more diversified and involves the consumption of large quantities of fiber and protein, while the diet of Italians is made up of more than 50% of carbohydrates.
In the Hadza microbiome, there are no Bifidobacteria, which are present in the microbiome of all other human beings. Their microbiome is different from that of all other peoples: Africans, Europeans and Americans.
The Italian Microbiome is rich in bacteria that perform functions to metabolize drugs, antibiotics and pollutants. These functions are totally absent in the Hadza microbiome.
Genes for antibiotic resistance in the Hadza intestine are derived from soil bacteria, which are antibiotic producers, and give an advantage to them.
Genes for antibiotic resistance in the intestines of Italians derive from the excessive use of these drugs and are a disadvantage for us.
2.Comparison between the intestinal microbiome of newborns and centenarians:
To understand how the microbiome develops and transforms itself over the course of our life, we compared the microbiome of individuals of very different ages: newborns and centenarians.
The microbiome of infants is dominated by Bifidobacteria, which are essential for the digestion of oligosaccharides (sugars polymers) contained in breast milk and for the correct development of the immune system.
The interruption of breastfeeding allows the complete maturation of the intestinal microbiome of the newborn.
The species and bacterial strains found in the microbiome of newborns derive from the mother’s microbiome. The mother is the main source.
The microbiome is essential for the correct development of the immune system in newborns.
The intestinal microbiome of centenarians and ultra-centenarians is different from the microbiome that colonizes human bodies during the rest of life.
In Centenarians and ultra-centenarians, the microbiome is essential for maintaining the state of health and balance within the immune system. Their microbiome is characterized by the presence of the bacterial genus Christensenellaceae.
What are the advantages of the clinical study of the intestinal microbiome?
The study of the intestinal microbiome can be fundamental for prevention, early diagnosis and therapy and can help to successfully integrate drug therapies while utilizing a personalized diet.
What awaits us in the future?
Once reliable markers associated with the intestinal microbiome dysbiosis in relation to the onset of pathologies is established and validated, it will be possible to integrate microbiome analysis (from fecal samples) with other non-invasive analysis (urine, blood and saliva samples) to combine different clinical parameters and thus obtain a complete diagnosis that can allow us to identify personalized therapies that include the correct and personalized prescription of drugs and diet.
In addition, information about genes and metabolites can help doctors to provide a more effective, comprehensive and personalized health care plan for each individual in the future.
Our lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, drug intake) affects our health. The quality of the food we eat, the quantity and the diversity in our diet influences the balance of our microbiome and, consequently, our health.
Biodiversity and integration: Biodiversity is always positive both in the environment and within our gut. Let’s respect and improve biodiversity by all means!
Another important point to consider is that the excessive use of antibiotics (in humans, animals and plants) not only affects the microbiome but also causes resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a major problem today! To get an idea, watch this video that illustrates the problem and, for more information, check out the World Health Organization webpage dedicated to this topic. We will develop more on this topic in future posts. Stay tuned!