Cities play an increasingly important role in promoting production and consumption of healthy sustainable food. The City of Bergamo has committed to demonstrate how it is possible to leverage public procurement in order to improve food consumption among the population, particularly school-age children of local seasonal and organic food. The development of food procurement policy in school canteens can also provide significant opportunities for increased organic consumption and production. Through the “La Buona Mensa” initiative, funded by the H2020 Food Trails project, the City of Bergamo is seeking to promote food literacy and increased access to local, seasonal, organic plant-rich food among primary school children in Bergamo.
Food matters. What we put on our plate impacts our health and the health of our Planet. Childhood is a critical time to promote healthy eating as this is the time when food preferences and eating patterns are developed. The early years of life – mostly spent at school – are essential for the setting of healthy and sustainable eating habits, and increasing availability and accessibility of better food in schools, along with food and nutrition education, has the potential to build the foundation for healthy eating habits later in life. Additionally, today’s food systems account for 21-37% of total greenhouse gases and are a primary cause of environmental degradation, socio-economic and health inequalities. Since thousands of school-age children consume at least one of the daily main meals at school, schools are key places to leverage the multiple health, environmental and social benefits of serving better food. For this reason, school public procurement offers an extraordinary opportunity for supporting healthy and sustainable behaviours, while supporting a system-wide food systems transition. Whether it is public health, organic agriculture, animal welfare, social considerations or proximity food economy, school public procurement of sustainable and healthy food represents a strategic means to achieve these goals.
Based on these considerations, “La Buona Mensa” is an initiative developed by the Bergamo City Council to promote food literacy and increased access to local, seasonal, organic plant-rich food among primary school children in Bergamo. The initiative receives funding from the “Food Trails” project, under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, whose goal is to speed up food system innovation and support the development of urban food policies to help ensure that all EU citizens have access to affordable, balanced and healthy food. Food Trails will enable the shared design of 11 pilot activities in as many European cities in order to better co-create urban food policy.
The “La Buona Mensa” initiative will kick off on September, and aims at engaging elementary school students, parents and teachers in food and nutrition education activities designed to train, raise awareness and educate them to responsibly consume healthy, safe, culturally appropriate, sustainable food that is produced and distributed with respect for human rights and the environment. Moreover, the initiative seeks to foster the creation of an enabling school food environment that facilitates the transition to healthy and sustainable diets. Specifically, it will innovate school food menus in line with the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with less meat and dairy products, and more plant protein, beans, nuts and fresh local produce. Plant-based culinary training will also be launched, equipping cooks with the knowledge, skills and inspiration they need to develop delicious and nutritious plant-based dishes and securing a healthy food culture is realised in and around schools. Finally, the initiative aims to identify and implement food waste minimization practices, by educating students and changing their everyday habits, measuring and reducing waste in canteens and kitchens, and by bringing together all players in the school catering value chain to drive down food waste and reassert the value of food.
All this comes at a time when the City of Bergamo supplies more than 95 percent of organic food in school canteens. Such a staggering figure has been possible thanks to the dual effort of both the Education Department responsible for the tender writing process, and the catering company which committed to further increase supply of quality organic ingredients, mostly local and seasonal. Under this administration, “La Buona Mensa” will seek to further increase the amount of organic food sourced locally, as part of its territorial strategy to stimulate conversion and reinforce the entire local value chain.
To conclude, there's still a long way to go for the transition to more sustainable food systems. However, Bergamo is right on track and ready for action.