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Jacqueline Franjou. Sustainability, nutrition and balance: growing with women’s ideas

Culture / -

Orietta Varnelli. We need a cultural change if we want to achieve gender equality

Culture / -

Orietta Varnelli

The President of ActionAid Italia, Orietta Varnelli, has taken part in the Women’s Weeks in order to place emphasis on female empowerment and women’s rights. Looking towards the September event in New York, with the adoption of new Sustainable Development Goals.

In 1995 in Beijing, the first United Nations Commission on women’s status was held. 20 years later, one of the Sustainable Development Goals to be discussed in September in New York (the fifth) concerns Gender Equality and Empowering Women. What successes have you achieved so far?
This year of 2015 is an outstandingly important year, because a whole series of crucial international events is happening. As far as women’s rights go, things have changed radically from a legislative point of view since 1995. The principles of gender equality and equal opportunity have been established in many countries. But there are still massive stereotypes, cultural resistances which impede the concrete everyday application of the principles laid down by law. So, the path is still long, but Expo Milano 2015 is a fundamental bridge between Beijing and New York… a place for discussing the challenges we still face.
 
What should you aim at in order to be fully satisfied by what is established in September in terms of gender equality?
The themes of agriculture and the right to food, the themes of Expo Milano 2015, are crucial for ActionAid, but they are also closely linked to female empowerment. This is a sector where women play an extremely active role, but their rights are often denied. The efforts and achievements made by women in this field are not rewarded by a corresponding control of the land and its resources. Agriculture is a sector where equal rights have not been applied, and this exposes women more acutely to poverty. The message which is being transmitted here, through WE-Women for Expo, must also be taken up and continued in the September negotiations.
 
Can an alliance like WE-Women for Expo, which tries to invest in, and aim towards, female governance possibilities all over the world, be useful?
Alliances are always useful. An alliance between women, which has rarely been fully tried, could certainly help to overcome the problems which still remain, not only during the six months of Expo Milano 2015 but also thinking about the Dubai Expo in 2020 which – very likely – will face us with new and different problems to resolve. Women’s rights are an absolute necessity, and the hope is that all the results which all too often are achieved only on paper will become concrete realities. We have to make sure they do not remain only as good intentions.
 
WE-Women for Expo would appear to have all the right credentials for becoming one of the Milan Expo’s most important legacies. What do you think?
The project is already a legacy, it has already reached towards the future and already achieved concrete results. Women who hold important roles in society in many countries have met up and established the basis for a permanent work table. But men must also sit at this table, because if we really want to bring about the necessary cultural changes – and this is the biggest obstacle, and the most difficult to overcome – their contribution is indispensable. We need complementarity between genders.
 

Lella Costa: Humor is a sign of dignity, even when it comes to food

Culture / -

Lella Costa
© Samuele Pellecchia

A look from a female perspective at nutrition, food, and our relationship with the planet. WE-Women for Expo’s Ambassador and spokesperson, Lella Costa talks about women, awareness... and soup.

A mistress of wit, Lella Costa likes to quote writer Romain Gary to define this figure of speech that is also a way of life: "Humor is an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of man's superiority to all that befalls him”. Here she explains why humor also has a place when discussing important issues such as nutrition, waste, and world hunger.

In what sense is the female perspective important for getting us to eat heathily?
It’s not just a matter of healthy eating, but about our relationship with food. Motherhood, with the feeding of a newborn child, immediately causes us to have an intimate relationship with the management of the food, and for us women, the fight against waste is fairly innate, as well as natural. I believe that the female perspective in general, and women’s talents in particular, offer an invaluable contribution and one that not only Expo Milano 2015, but also the planet in general, can benefit from right now.
 
In your book Che bello essere noi (Isn’t it Wonderful Being Us), you discuss femininity and women's ability to work as a team, and be a "we". Often women feel inadequate, not least in their relationship with food. What does this mean for them, and what can they do to become a "we", also in connection to food and nutrition?
These are complex and delicate questions. I would say that, the more we talk about them, downplay them, and demystify them, and make them part of our common heritage, the more we will be able to achieve. For sure we have internalized behavioral patterns related to female stereotypes, including the idea that being thin is an ethical, a moral value. We have done this on a very deep level and have done so unquestioningly, in a way that is completely unblameworthy.
 
This causes us not to respect our bodies enough, and forces us to adapt to the dictates of the market economy. This seems to me to be very much in line with the themes of Expo Milano 2015: It’s about protecting something precious.
 
Pope Francis reminded us recently that, "You do not own the land, you are just taking care of it". I think we should apply the same principle to ourselves. We must learn to take better care of ourselves, and learn to pass this awareness on to our children. We must have this proud sense of belonging, of being women.
 
In your work as an actress and communicator, you have used humor to raise awareness, in both men and women, on the status of women in today’s world. You have shown on stage how women think, and you have exorcised fears and concerns through the use of humor. Would you also employ humor when talking about other issues, such as food waste and world hunger?
I think that humor is a fundamental tool, and can be used to talk about anything. The more important and the more heavyweight a topic is, the more the lightness of touch inherent in humor can provide an alternative to the standard approach. Alternatively, it can prompt us to think of something in a different way. Humor is, at the end of the day, a less weighty, and therefore easier, way to communicate important ideas.

In the book Come una specie di sorriso (Like a Kind of Smile) you include a quotation from writer Romain Gary that links humor to dignity. Could humor be a way of reaffirming the dignity of food?
Absolutely! Romain Gary wrote that: “Humor is an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of man's superiority to all that befalls him.” To choose how to produce, what to produce, how to feed ourselves is an extraordinary affirmation of dignity that affects not only humankind, but also nature, through an original, essential, and fundamental relationship to which, perhaps, we don’t pay enough attention.
 
You wrote Minestrine for the Slow Food organization’s literary project, which was part of the Piccola biblioteca di cucina letteraria series. What does soup represent for you?
For me, soup is like Proust's madeleine. It is the food that I link most closely with the idea of home. I find it both comforting and easy to make. It’s the first food that we normally eat after breast milk in the form of purée. Soup has a primoridial flavor. In a world in which, as Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food, says, food porn is increasingly prevalent, simple soup may be a way of getting back to appreciating the value of our common heritage.
 
In your work, you are often on tour. Is there a food that is etched on your memory and that you often think about?
I must say that I'm an omnivore, and I am really curious so, for me, cooking is a shared relationship. It’s not a question of one type of food, or dish but, that, through food, we tell and reveal much about ourselves. Thus it’s one of the best ways to break down inter-cultural, as well as local barriers, helping us to share both knowledge and pleasure.
 
Lella Costa is Ambassador and spokesperson for WE-Women for Expo. Read her biography and interview on the website. For Women's Weeks of Expo Milano 2015, Lella Costa will be reading "Il pranzo di Babette" (Babette's Feast) on July 1 at 21:00 in the Auditorium of Cascina Triulza.
 

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