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Stefano Marras. Street food in future will be high quality, organic and zero kilometer

Lifestyle / -

CF intervista Roberto Marras

This is the forecast offered by Stefano Marras, research fellow of the Department of Economics and Sociology at the University of Milan-Bicocca, who was commissioned by his University and by Expo Milano 2015 to carry out a research project in order to supply the Universal Exposition with high quality research information on this growing food trend.

In cooperation with an Expo Milano 2015 team, Stefano Marras began his research in 2011. For three and a half months he toured all the main Capitals of South America, stopping for roughly two weeks in each one, accompanied by experts from local Universities, or else on his own.
 
When you were researching in South America and Italy, you talked with many of the street food vendors we see in the documentary Esta es mi comida. Was it difficult to make contact with them?
I contacted them myself, or else through the universities. I stopped to chat with them, asked them if they’d be willing to be filmed during their day. Some of them even invited me to film them cooking their food in their homes in the morning, loading the food onto their trollies or barrows, and travelling to their stall or selling point. None of them objected, on the contrary. Maybe they were partly flattered to be filmed for Expo Milano 2015, and partly just polite.
 
Were some of their personal stories particularly striking?
Lots. In the documentary, everyone has a story to tell. All sincere, often moving. One woman earned enough from selling home-made bread to buy a new gas cooker. One man, specialized in Italian pasta with his own home-made sauces, whom I saw on the roadside, then he appeared on TV and became famous. Often the vendors have to deal with bans by local authorities, but if they become well-known they tend to be tacitly tolerated.
 
Another vendor was called Pelado, or Baldy, and sold a delicious sandwich with a meat filling: I got to know him because I took a photo of him in his rickety little stall, and he practically took three days to tell me the entire history of Argentina. Bear in mind that street food in South America is a major factor, important from a cultural, economic and even political viewpoint. Just think, about ten years ago the municipal government of Bogotà passed from the right wing to the left wing, the main factor being the votes of the street vendors, who are numerous enough to be politically important.
 
Many people steer clear of street food for hygienic reasons, because there are no controls. Are these legitimate worries?
I think you have to distinguish between the quality of the ingredients and the hygienic conditions of the food. As far as quality goes, it’s up to the vendor to sell fresh products, bought in local markets, maybe even organically grown. But on the sanitary and hygiene side, especially in developing countries, these worries may be legitimate. Most vendors prepare their food at home, but live in poor or extremely poor conditions, often in shantytowns with no drinking water, and this can be a risk factor.
 
Various studies have been conducted on samples of street food in South America, Asia and Africa, and found significant levels of microbiological contamination, but no studies have demonstrated that this contamination has caused illness. Remember, with street food, everything is visible, and many products are fried… and we all know that frying kills any bacteria. Plus, these people may be poor, but I’ve never seen such care taken over what they sell, and over cleaning their work surfaces: this is their only means of survival, so they have every incentive to keep their customers happy.
 
You say that these products are sustainable. Can you explain why?
You have to bear in mind three considerations: the small-scale of operations, that all vendors concentrate on just a few dishes, and the time-space flexibility inherent in the vans which can travel to wherever the markets are. This all means that the vendor has to calculate carefully and precisely the amount of food they need for the day, without waste or leftovers. It’s also advantageous from a hygienic viewpoint, because foods have necessarily to be fresh.
 
In developing countries, street vendors are generally people “excluded” from the formal market, while in the West, the crisis has produced new street food businessmen, including experienced professionals but also young people who have invented a job by investing in a truck. Why is this sector so attractive today?
The new food truck development started in the United States and has certain precise features. Firstly, they offer gourmet dishes, fusion cooking, made with organic foods, locally bought, and they use social media to publicize themselves, they have special logos, personalized and well-equipped trucks. In the US this phenomena was set off by the 2008-2009 crisis, and immediately produced spectacular results for many vendors. In the animated infograph I showed during Sunday’s encounter at Slow Food, there was the real story of Koghi bbq, who made 2 million dollars in his first year, has 137,000 Twitter followers, and has been voted among the ten best chefs in Los Angeles.
 
A success story which will certainly have inspired other vendors, but also a recent film, called “Chef. The perfect recipe”, which tells precisely that story: a well-known chef who loses his job because he insults a famous food critic, opens his own food truck and becomes a hit thanks to Twitter. In Italy, street food is less of a phenomenon.
 
Still, the various Festivals attracted between 500,000 and 750,000 customers in a year and a half, averaging 15 euros per customer. These Festivals generate significant turnover and profits. Currently there are 8,500 food and drink licenses, and an annual growth of 7% from 2009 to today. This is major growth, and there’s an exponential growth in press articles written about street food. I think that what has happened is this: at a certain point there was a street Gourmet Food trend which caught the eye of food journalists and bloggers, and this started the ball rolling. Remember, that of the 8,500 licenses today, only about 100 relate to Gourmet Food.
 
What will the street food of the future be like? How do you imagine it?
The fashion for high quality street food is bound to raise the level of ordinary street food. It will become increasingly organic, high quality and zero kilometers. Gradually the average palate will become more demanding and even the hot dog stalls outside discos will have to adapt to more refined tastes. Rather like what happened with pistachio flavored ice cream in Italy: in the 1980s it was insipid, unnatural and fluorescent green… if an ice cream vendor sold something like that today, they’d be out of business in a month.
 
In which country did you find the most extravagant versions of street food?
In South America they all seemed pretty extravagant, but especially in Bolivia, where I was fascinated by the story of the anticuchos, skewers of beef heart and potatoes, really small potatoes from the Andes, cooked on grills with really high flames and sold by typical Indian women with hats and colored scarves. The history of this recipe stretches back to the Incas, who used to eat this dish, but also during the period of Spanish colonialization, when the white men ate it with better cuts of meat, but the slaves continued to use the traditional ingredients. In Italy I was interested to eat Florentine lampredotto for the first time, the bread with spleen they sell in Palermo, and the intestine wrapped on skewers and then grilled.
 
And the most delicious?
The acarajè in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, a kind of giant falafel made of crushed cowpeas fried in palm oil and filled with shrimp and jellied vegetable sauce.
 
The most ecological?
All the street food I tasted was made with local ingredients.
 
In Expo Milano 2015, have you been particularly impressed by any of the street food stalls?
I had some really excellent cheese panini in the Dutch Pavilion.
 

Fanni Weisz. The model who opens a bar to help deaf-mute people

Culture / -

The Hungarian model and activist Fanni Weisz launches a strong message that reaches absolutely everyone. Deaf since birth, Fanni explains the importance of sign language in opening the minds of the people who can hear and of giving deaf people a chance. Her projects have included opening a bar managed by deaf people, to show that we are not different, combat marginalisation and publicize sign language.

Cristina Scocchia. Through meritocracy women can flourish and attain top roles in the world of employment

Economy / -

Cristina Scocchia intervista img rif

Cristina Scocchia, CEO L’Oréal Italy, took part in the Women’s Weeks.

Cristina Scocchia, CEO L’Oréal Italy, took part in the Women’s Weeks. “Women find themselves having to face gender prejudices as well as managing a more complex daily life. We must promote the introduction of organizational solutions that allow for a better trade-off between work and other commitments. Smartwork is one of these”.

Ms. Scocchia, you have certainly broken the glass ceiling – not to mention in a country where it is quite difficult. In your opinion, why are there still so few women at the top, even in advanced countries like Italy, and how can we radically change this? In other words, what will be the game changer?
Having a career is, objectively speaking, still harder for women. Women find themselves having to face gender prejudices as well as managing a more complex daily life. If we look at Italy, for instance, we have the highest percentage in Europe (after Malta) of women who do not access the job market or who give it up. Of course this is because of cultural reasons. But it is also true that the level of services offered is lower in Italy than in other countries. Nursery school places are available only to 6.5% of 0-3 year-olds, against a 33% required by the EU, and even this percentage varies greatly across the nation with decidedly lower percentages in the south of Italy. Moreover, only 33% of children have access to full-time state primary school. Additionally our country is aging and this demographic change will mean facing the challenge of care for the elderly which, given the limited number of available structures, is traditionally left to women. In this context we must act on two levels. Firstly at a cultural level we must ensure that gender prejudices are eliminated by promoting a more equal distribution of responsibilities within the family. Secondly we must contribute to increasing welfare services. Businesses have a fundamental role in this too. On the one hand we must support the concept of merit, because talent is equally distributed between men and women and hence through meritocracy women can flourish and attain top roles in the world of employement. On the other hand we must promote the introduction of organisational solutions that allow for better trade-off between work and other commitments. Smartwork is one of these. In L’Oréal Italia we introduced smartwork in September 2014. Most of our employees can work from home (or from wherever they prefer) for over a month a year. It is a way of facilitating work and family requirements for everyone, women in particular.
 
ActionAid has estimated that the cost of inequality in women’s work is $9 trillion – in developing countries alone. It is an impressive number due to unequal wages and less access than men to paid jobs. It’s interesting to imagine how individual lives would change if there were no gender gap – especially concerning poverty and hunger. What are your thoughts on this?
The problem of underuse of female talent implies, even before being an ethical problem, an economic problem. We cannot afford to not use half of the world’s available talent. This is something that affects industrialised nations but that is even more important in developing nations. Because of this, L’Oréal has launched projects worldwide to promote access to the job market to women from vulnerable social and personal backgrounds. It’s a project called “Beauty for a better life”. From India to Lebanon, Indonesia to Nigeria, from Maghreb countries to Brazil. Across the globe thousands of women are being given the opportunity to help their communities by accessing the job market in the beauty industry.

You have been invited to speak at The Aspen Forum at Expo on “Women, Science and Sustainable Development”. Could you share your core message with us?
Science and innovation have never been so important for improving the quality of life, but also for promoting economic growth and the progress of humanity. I’m convinced that in the scientific field, just as in others, it is talent that makes the difference and it is therefore inconceivable that we should deprive ourselves of the talent of half of humanity: now, more than ever, science needs women. Particularly in consideration of the fact that we are going through a genuine crisis in the scientific field: by 2020 we will need a further 300,000 researchers at all levels, even in countries with greater scientific resources. And 300,000 is precisely the number of women that could undertake a PHD in scientific research if we were to reach gender equality. The ultimate aim of our actions must therefore be that of motivating, supporting and rewarding women who undertake a scientific career. A socially responsible undertaking such as ours has the duty of being committed to this cause for the benefit of all. In 17 years the “L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science” programme has supported over 200 young female scientists in 115 countries who have contributed in someway to all aspects of scientific research.

WE has created a Women’s Alliance on the theme of empowering women in agriculture and reducing food waste and losses to fight hunger and malnutrition. It is made up of female leaders from various sectors from around the world. Do you think this can bring added value to the fight against hunger?
Unfortunately there are still millions of women worldwide who face a daily fight to feed their children. In rural areas women produce between 60% and 80% of food, but earn only 10% of revenue and own 1% of the land. If women had the same access as men do to resources, world poverty would drop to 17% and we could save 150 million lives (OXFAM data). I am convinced that to win such complex battles it is vital that everyone contributes, women in particular. Our determination, pragmatism and perhaps greater sensitivity towards these issues will undoubtedly help build a better future for the next generations.

You may have heard that the leaders of WE would like make Women for Expo a permanent fixture of all universal expositions. What would you like to see as the legacy of the project?
The WE legacy is important. Indeed this experience serves to pinpoint the guidelines of an overall commitment that can be picked up on in next Universal Expositions. Because the theme of women’s empowerment is itself a universal theme and gender equality is an issue on which much of the future development of our planet depends on. Women’s access to employment, their social safeguarding, equal pay and career opportunities are undoubtedly the basis for sustainable development.

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