Gisela Mir Viader from Spain came to the Menu for Change International Forum 2018 as one of our honoured guests and speakers. Professionally, she focuses mainly on organic gardening and permaculture. She is a teacher and a designer, having her own vegetable garden, orchard and the so called forest garden or food forest, back home. Gisela teaches mainly adults, but partly also students at secondary level, working with them at their school gardens. She also participates in an organisation that preserves heritage seeds from the local area. The topic of seeds is very important for her, as she says, because it’s crucial for preserving our agrobiodiversity. So, in this organisation they are trying to find the best ways how to effectively preserve the seeds, expand the knowledge and communicate the advantages of heritage varieties to the broader public. For those reasons they established a seed bank, organise fairs, work with schools and also with local restaurants to motivate them to incorporate these heritage varieties into their recipes.
At the Forum Gisela led a seed saving workshop, giving the participants very concrete and practical information about how to save their own seeds. They also had the opportunity to play a game where they were trying to identify botanic families of vegetables, just by looking at the seeds. By this game, Gisela was showing to the participants a system how teachers could in a playful way introduce the topic of seeds and botanical families to their students.
As the Forum was a huge melting pot of ideas and visions, we’ve asked Gisela and all the other speakers one crucial question: „What do you think should be changed in our current food system to make it more sustainable?“ We wanted to know their answers in both personal and systemic point of view… So, here is Gisela’s answer.
„At the personal level, even if you achieve only one thing – to make people more informed – it’s already a good thing to do. To get more information about food and make small efforts to change our production and consumption in the right direction. Of course, you can’t change everything at once. But you can start with little steps. For example, to inform yourself where to get more local food, how to get vegetables from a local farmer or if there already exist some consumers groups or cooperatives in your town (like the community supported agriculture systems) and try to collaborate with them. Or simply a shop where you can buy local produce. So, in my opinion it’s important to try to get involved at least a bit in these concepts and start to buy locally and seasonally. This would be a nice starting point. And maybe another thing to consider is reducing the consumption of meat. But it’s not at all necessary to become a vegetarian, even a small reduction will help the planet a lot.“
And what would she change at the political level?
„What I consider a huge problem is that the policy makers themselves are not very well informed. In my point of view, the same things I was mentioning at the personal level could be applied in the bigger sense. To show one example – it is quite unfair that the organic farmers have to pay for getting a label to prove they are really organic. This makes the organic products even more expensive, because conventional farmers don’t need to pay this price. Which is kind of a contradiction. You should be able to get the label simply by showing that you are doing the things right, not by paying. And the people that are doing the things in an environmentally unfriendly way should be the ones paying – for example in the form of taxes.”
“Other little thing that could be done is decentralisation of the political decisions, which would help on many levels. For example, imagine that there are schools that would like to have a kitchen where they cook organic food. When the school system is too centralised, this decisions are not taken by the school. One example from my personal experience, the Catalonian government decided that all the schools in Catalonia will have to meet certain conditions. This means that many little, local enterprises that could be cooking in the school, are automatically out of the game. Because they don’t have the capacity to cook at national level. In general, too much bureaucracy stops small initiatives. So, more decentralisation, more decisions taken at the base level, would make the micro projects possible. Which, in my opinion, is a good step, because I believe in a world where people are employed in small but interesting and productive local activities. Better than world where everybody is employed in a big enterprise that has no personal connection with them.“