The fireplace evening at the German St. Paul Parish in Brussels is a popular opportunity to discuss in a relaxed atmosphere once a month a topic of major importance for society.

The organisers had invited Cornelia E Nauen of Mundus maris to speak on 24 September about how each individual can contribute towards restraining the tremendous waste of food and also towards adapting consumer behaviour to sustainability principles. The announcement already outlined the challenge:

In Europe, about 40% of all food on offer does not reach the table to be eaten, but will rather be destroyed, not least because of the indication of a recommended consumption date, which is often misunderstood as an expiration date. In addition, the widespread use of disposable plastic bags comes to haunt us, among other things, in the form of marine pollution problems by increasing threats to the populations of many marine organisms and contamination of the food from the sea through small plastic particles. Furthermore, not everything can be produced locally, but what does this mean for the availability of food and the living and working conditions in the regions of origin?

As with all important questions, there are no simple and always unequivocal answers. But what experiences exist already and which appear particularly promising? We wanted to pursue and develop the question, where environmentally conscious consumer behaviour is in relation to food, and how each individual can implement it in everyday life.

To put it straight to the point, today, enough food is produced to feed up to 10 billion people worldwide. The estimated world population is currently slightly more than 7 billion. So there is currently no absolute production deficit. The expected increase in population by at least another two billion people could be fed therefore entirely.

However, the global totals say nothing about the actual distribution and the sustainability of the economy. So roughly, just short of one billion people are malnourished, while slightly more than a billion people are struggling with obesity.

The lecture explored the problems from three aspects that influence our attitudes and consumption of food:

  • Recipes

  • Health and dietary recommendations

  • Recommendations that take into account environmental considerations

The speaker paid particular attention to the mostly man-made environmental changes in the ocean and on earth that have an impact on food production and quality and what may be the alternatives.

The certainly most important part of the exchange dealt with the possibilities, individually and collectively, to do something. Several participants reported on their own efforts. Limiting meat consumption, especially in combination with more seasonal vegetables and fruit, is for many not only a good step towards a healthier diet, but also a contribution, including to bring the excessive water consumption of agricultural meat industry into balance.

It was quickly realised that most of these questions also have a clear political dimension and citizens can engage in democratic decision-making in specific ways. Above all, there are grounds for cautious optimism. In contrast to the horror scenarios of conventional economists who predict the collapse of the economy, should it not grow inexorably, practical actions at different levels and the interesting modeling of a Canadian scientist show, that alternatives are feasible. Organised action pursuing an orderly transition to sustainable production and consumption systems is compatible with the earth's resources. It may even lead to an increase in human well-being and economic performance. The experience of the past demonstrates that, in fact, active reversal is required - similar to international environmental agreements - because appeals to voluntary measures have proved ineffective.

To represent the current economy as without alternative suggests therefore primarily a lack of imagination and political will. Indeed, scientists have just estimated that the current subsidies for fossil fuels is roughly equivalent to the estimated investment needs in pioneering renewable energy and other sustainable economic activities. Such a reconversion is even an answer to the critical question for how to ensure interesting and well-paid jobs that otherwise is often used as the threat of choice against every attempt at environmentally sound restructuring. Pipedream or vision of the future? It is in our hands.

And for those wanting to start right now: don't accept disposable plastic bags and use the fish ruler with indications of minimum sizes of commercial species to avoid buying and consuming baby fish. There are many more ways to be active or expand existing initiatives. Share your experience so that others learn from it: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The PowerPoint presentation can be viewed here.