What food means to me as a European citizen

I’m Angele, currently an intern with Friends of the Earth Malta for 6 months. I have moved to Malta less than a month ago, having been living the majority of my life in France. At the time of writing this post, I am 24 years old and have lived those years with my parents, with the exception of a for a short work placement in Cyprus. Living with my family had relieved me from the cumbersome thoughts that one has to deal with when living on their own: what food to buy, what food to eat, is it healthy, and how is it even produced? My family and I have switched to a vegetarian diet for around two years now, perhaps with a bit of influence from my brother who has been a vegetarian for around four years now. Living in a rural region of France had made vegetable and food access very easy, and my family had bought the majority of our daily veg from organic food markets and local farmers. It was extremely easy to find the food that we wanted and needed where I used to live. Since arriving in Malta, I have been struggling to find local vegetables or fruits. Part of the problem is that currently, I reside in Gzira, a very urbanised area with little possibility to access fresh fruit and veg unless it is from supermarkets, which through some investigation, I have realised that are not local products, but exclusively products from abroad (most of it from Italy). Most people are now living in progressively urbanised areas, and I’m sure that likewise, they struggle to find local and fresh produce. Part of the issue is also the assumption that all people have their own mode of transport to be able to buy veg from a farmer and get all the products they need.

As a European citizen, I want easy access to local food in every European country, I want more local food, vegetarians options and less waste in the schools, the restaurants, and the supermarkets. I want governments to focus more on what is good for us to eat and for the environment than on the money they can make with the big food industries. The Common Agricultural Policy is a policy that has a huge effect on the food system and should improve the life of European farmers and European citizens. Before being at Friends of the Earth, I never heard about this policy. Maybe the first step to improving all our lives (the farmers’ and the consumers’) is to educate and to expose everyone to this cause from a young age. In 2018, the budget of the CAP was 58,82 billion euros, it is a big part of the common budget of the European Union (around 38%). The budget is used for income support for the farmers, as an assistant for complying with sustainable agricultural practices, in-market support for the stabilization of markets and rural development measures.

After having participated in talks with Friends of the Earth about farming in Malta, I learned that one of the biggest issues for the farmers is the lack of water. They are 19000 farmers registered in Malta, but only 600 full-time farmers. Water for farming currently comes from the aquifers as groundwater, as rain harvested water, and currently from the treated sewage. The reliance is still heavily on groundwater, that is becoming progressively saline. Farmers struggle a lot in summer due to long periods of drought, and rain-water harvesting and efficiency are vital for a sustainable agricultural sector. In Maltese households, 50% of the water comes from the water table and 50% from the reverse osmosis processing of seawater. This water would be too expensive to use for farming practices.

Locally grown food is full of flavour and has more nutrients because it has a shorter time between harvest and your plate. It also means eating seasonally and not contributing to dirty CO2 miles. Opting for local food supports the local farming sector and benefits to the environment (fewer transports for example). I personally also appreciate the connections with people who produce my food—the easiest way to know how the food was grown is by asking directly the farmer what practices he/she/they used. That way you know where your food comes from and who grew it.

The article was written by Angele Hilaire.

Friends of the Earth Malta gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union. The content of this article are the sole responsibility of Friends of the Earth Malta and cannot be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union. The European Union cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information provided contained therein.

This project is co-financed by the  Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE) and the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sport and Voluntary Organisation.

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