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Everybody pauses for a moment of prayer, for food

Culture / -

Preghiera per il cibo
© Lindsay Hebberd/Corbis

Every culture in the world and every religious tradition have formulas and moments for giving thanks for the food on our table, as a sign of our union with our fellow diners. The event ‘Food for the spirit’ at Expo Milano 2015 reiterated a message of brotherhood and reconciliation, in full respect of the differences which exist between the various religions on our Planet.

When travelling all over the world, it is possible to encounter populations that are very different, in terms of their traditions and lifestyles. Some of them have not even discovered writing yet, while others are hyper-connected and constantly wired up to technology. Some are ultra-rich, others are desperately poor. However they all have one thing in common: at least once in their histories they have been used to pausing for a moment before eating their meal to bless their food, saying a prayer or even just remain silent for a few seconds. 

Gratitude for food, an inter-religious sentiment 
A short pause, but one that embodies a deep meaning: gratitude for the food that we need to survive. 

Sometimes it is a religious habit; in other cases it is a small gesture of the lay person that simply acknowledges the food. Even pronounced atheists have their own rituals (for instance they may stop for a few seconds before taking their knife and fork). 
In each case, regardless of the words that are said (if indeed any are said), this is a moment we need if we are to regain consciousness of what we are doing, and avoid trivializing a daily practice that should never be taken for granted. 

Wealthier populations appear to have lost this habit: when food appears directly on the tables of those accustomed to more, after being cultivated, farmed, processed and delivered by someone else, it is much easier to forget just how valuable it is. 

‘The food for the spirit’ in the Charter of Milan 
During the inter-religious meeting held on May 21 to mark the UN Day of cultural diversity, those in attendance experienced a symbolic moment charged with strong emotion: each representative blessed the food with a prayer chosen from their own religious tradition. And then this same “superfood” was eaten by all the participants. The Jewish rabbi ate the food blessed by the Islamic imam and by the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest ate the food also blessed by the Hindu and Protestant traditions… and so on for all the attendees, including the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, a non-believer, but nonetheless touched as were his fellow diners.

April 22, Earth Day. An American event that's gone global

Sustainability / -

Gaylord Nelson
© Bettmann/Corbis

Why are we celebrating the Earth today? Why are concerts, conferences and events being held around the world to celebrate the importance of respecting the ecological balance? It all started during the era of Kennedy, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. This date marking an event organized in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson is now an occasion for reflection.

He accompanied President John F. Kennedy in 1962, during a trip to eleven US states to see for themselves the state of the environment and nature. With President Lyndon B. Johnson, he supported the civil rights laws and the War on Poverty. This is the story of Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.
 
The tumult over Vietnam and the oil spill in California
Senator Nelson, starting in the sixties, began to travel around the United States, taking into account how environmental degradation was spreading and yet was not always realized by local administrators. In the summer of 1969 two major factors contributed to the birth of an idea. There was a wave of dissension taking place in a number of universities, due to the war in Vietnam. And then there was a big oil spill in beautiful Santa Barbara, California. To create awareness in the political classes, Gaylord Nelson announced in September that in the spring there would be a great environmental teach-in to be held on April 22, 1970, one that would take place nationwide.
 
The response was amazing: from coast to coast the word spread quickly, thousands of letters, telegrams and phone calls criss-crossed the country, involving ever-increasing numbers of people who finally had a clear starting point.
 
April 22, 1970 – the first Earth Day in America
It was thanks to the masses that the first Earth Day was a success, with 20 million Americans in different cities, who gathered in streets, parks and auditoriums, together with thousands of schools and local communities. According to some, it was this unexpected success that led to the emergence of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
 
In 1990 a group of environmental organizations joined together with environmental activist and coordinator of the first Earth Day, Denis Hayes, to plan, for the first time, an event on an international scale. So it became a global day, with 200 million people in 140 countries. Today, Earth Day involves 175 countries around the world and has also been embraced by the UN.
 
"Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing that is not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit."
 
The extraordinary modernity of Gaylord Nelson’s words still stands today, half a century later.
 

The fight against desertification is man’s greatest environmental challenge

Sustainability / -

 
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Lybia.
© Michel Gounot/Godong/Corbis
Egypt.
© Ron Watts/Corbis
Siwa oasis, Egypt.
© Pavel Gospodinov/Loop Images/Corbis
Libya, White Desert.
© René Mattes/Hemis/Corbis
China, Gansu.
© Wang Zhiheng/Xinhua Press/Corbis
Ethiopia.
© Ton Koene/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis
China, Gansu.
© Michael Reynolds/epa/Corbis
Kenya, Wajir.
© epa/Corbis
Tanzania.
© Guillaume Bonn/Corbis

Soil degradation, drought, wasted water resources. Human activities, including climate change, are contributing to the expansion of one of the least productive ecosystems in the world. Nature itself provides us with solution.
 
Defining desertification
The term desertification is defined by the Convention (article. 1) as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, caused by various factors," such as climate change and human activities: deforestation, cultivation and farming, land grabbing and abuse of water resources. These causes will have consequences on mankind and will force entire populations to migrate in the coming years. UNCDD experts predict that by 2020 about 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will have left and started a new life in North Africa and Europe.
 
Desertification is also the source of numerous civil conflicts like the one that has persisted for years in countries of the Horn of Africa or in the eastern regions of the Asian continent, increasingly affected by sandstorms. In these areas, continuing conflicts over land have seen food crises emerge as the main consequences of this process. Price increases in grains and other commodities limit the access of the poorest to nutritious and easily accessible food. According to a study on the economic costs of desertification commissioned by UNCCD in 2013, the annual economic value lost from the agricultural sector globally due to the degradation of the soil is equal to 5 percent of the total.
 
 
UNCCD - World Day to Combat Desertification 2014
In addition to a decade devoted to combating desertification, the United Nations has celebrated every year since 1994, the World Day on June 17. Its aim is to sensitize public opinion, governments and global organizations on the negative effects of irresponsible exploitation of natural resources (water, agriculture and forestry) and to promote projects that combat the advance of desertification. The theme for 2014 is dedicated to the development of adaptation activities to climate change in arid areas; because a community that can respond to extreme weather events and exploit and satisfy the strength of ecosystems to return to normal, is a safer community that looks to the future.
 
Advances have been made to address the difficulties faced by those who grow crops in arid parts of the world but the lack of water and the impact of climate change need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. These themes will be illustrated at Expo Milano 2015 in the Agriculture and Nutrition in the Arid Zones Cluster, to promote a better quality of life in the future for those peoples affected so that they can continue growing food and contribute to their countries’ economies.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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