By Franco Spinetta
Soledad Barruti was always struck by how the world of cooking and urban life lost contact with nature, as if the system forced us not to relate both issues.
Soledad is from Buenos Aires, but when she was little she spent weekends in a villa in Del Viso; there he came into contact with a “reserved, wild world”, where the image of a grandmother enthroned in the kitchen guided the existence of time and space.
It was the 1980s. The farms that produced food and that were sold right there still resisted: stalls that offered mushrooms, eggs, all fresh and local. Growing up in this bucolic environment, surrounded by nature, had something formative and educational: there was a vegetable garden, horses, ducks, cats, dogs ...
"In the supermarket it seems that food comes only from a factory, which has ingredients that refer you to nothing," reflects, in dialogue with Almagro Magazine, Soledad many years after that initiation experience, with a book written on the subject ( thebest seller Malcomidos) and a quantity of information that emanates incessantly, mixed with an undeniable quota of passion.
- You maintain that the food industry is a great deception. However, we have a hard time running. Where is the key to start ordering ourselves in that sense?
-More than for what is healthy, I order myself more from the ethical point of view. It is just as unhinged to go in search of the superfood, or to think that food is your medicine. It is true that great transformations are seen in people who choose better food. But for me it is more interesting the adaptation, the cultural construction, the territoriality of food… there are so many expressions that are more interesting than the healthy thing itself, although they all nourish the healthy concept. This is much more comprehensive.
-But from the city it is very difficult to see that ...
-It is that as it is moved away from our visual field, all the production processes, relationships, decision-making, the more horrible it gets. The horror grew extreme. If people really saw what is happening, no one would want to participate. It is obvious that he is armed by a perverse system.
-So why is the food industry still so strong, is it still being chosen en masse?
-There are several legs of the problem, it is not simple. The most obvious is the lack of access to information and this results in a lack of access to another offer. If all the people of this country woke up tomorrow and began to comply with the five daily servings of fruits recommended by the Ministry of Health, they would not reach the available fruits. The business is designed for something else. This is not me, but the chair of Agribusiness of the UBA. That is already a problem: the system means that there are people who can access and people who cannot. In the most vulnerable neighborhoods, the offer is increasingly desert: greengrocers disappear or, if they are, they have almost no offer. On the one hand, you have the real foods: fruits, vegetables, meat, cereals, which does not have to explain itself. On the other hand, you have the food supply that advances to replace food: it is what occupies 80 percent of the gondolas, ultra-processed foods.
-What effect do these foods have?
-It makes people eat things they don't need: cookies, nesquick, sodas, flavored waters. It is a more caloric offer, it has an absolute addictive effect and it is proven. People who grow up on this food have a natural tendency to want that food. A boy who eats Nesquick with zucaritas for breakfast, if later you want to give him a plate of broccoli at noon, his palate, his system, cannot enjoy it: his brain is waiting for another stimulus. Like a junkie!
-Above the head of a child is totally virgin, he cannot reason about what he is eating.
-Totally. This brings you to the third link in the chain, which is the enormous and absolutely perverse complicity that supposedly scientific nutrition institutions have, that live off the food industry, that are solved in this way and that are later repeated in a lot of professionals health professionals, who end up reproducing a speech that says: “We must not demonize food, all foods, insofar as they are edible, approved by the Government, are good. You have to balance, you have to educate yourself as a consumer to know what and how much of that offer you can eat ”.
-Because they are also the same ones that later sell you the light products.
-Therefore! If the opposite is done, the business of all of them is finished. Because they also put a lot into psychology, then they entangle people who end up trapped in a vicious circle. People don't understand what to do, because it's really all very confusing. Why can't they tell you "this is food" and then also "there is this other, which is not food, but you do whatever you want"? It's like when cigarettes began to be questioned harshly and then doctors appeared saying that you had to smoke Camel Light because it didn't make you so bad ... it's the same with food.
-Then what do we do?
-I think there is a meal to defend. Then you have to think about what diet you can do that is also ethical. There is no other way to produce this amount of meat, eggs, dairy than with this industrial system. Trying to produce the same amount of animal derivatives in a more natural system would require another planet or six billion fewer people. But eating this amount of animal derivatives is a bad idea. What I think is necessary to rethink is before the diet that is imposed. For example, 10,000 chickens locked in a shed giving one egg a day, with no room to move. If you think about how you do to deploy that, you need a territory that does not exist for it to be logical.
-The question that always flies over is whether that demand is real.
-No, it is an imposed demand, precisely. The more ultra-processed foods are eaten, and this is a very interesting study being done in Brazil, the more people need meat. Because the nutrients that you are lacking from eating that fake food, you are going to look for the meat quickly. It is a system that is always explained through those maxims that tell you "there is no other way to feed the world." It's a lie: this system is feeding the world badly. But hey, you have to disassemble a lot. What is certain is that when you leave the supermarket, it is a very important advance. The supermarket is the landscape in which horror is not seen, heard or smelled. But backstage is a hideous landscape. If you get out of that, you will find other spaces of relationships, of consumption, of economic and social logic around the act of feeding. If you talk to the people of Iriarte Verde, who are the ones who bring food to my house, they are people who are thinking about something else, not making more and more money every year, which is destructive logic.
-What you say is quite related to the controversy surrounding that letter from the biologist Claudio Bertonatti, who said that if the world became vegetarian, it would be a catastrophe. You are giving him the reason a little ...
-I think so. There are things about his work that don't interest me at all, but the guy hit the mark on that. The world is distressing, and in the face of evidence one says "I want to do something, what can I do so that this does not happen". And you do what can reassure you the fastest. There is something very real in veganism and that I support, accompany and respect a lot, and that has to do with the will not to want to eat another living being. But if we all wanted to eat apples, this wicked system would find a way to destroy everything so that we can eat apples. It is an economic trap.
-Does the food industry have limits?
-There are things that are confused: one thing is the productive limits and reality and another is the ideological limits of people. You listen to Grobocopatel, who tells you that in the soybean there is more technology than in a Pathfinder, he is a person limited to understand nature. This limitation is also understood from violence, because they are using violent elements: they are throwing poison, they generate designs to violate animals to impossible levels. The gestation cage for the sow, the cages for the hens ... are torture elements to optimize business. In Córdoba they are doing chemical deforestation: they go directly with the planes and spray. They are crazy, they are not people who are well. In a normal world, they would take their licenses out and send them home to rethink what they are doing. They are liquidating everyone's future. But as long as the idea of maximizing productivity, increasing money, prevails, we will continue like this. Everything is exploited as if it were mining.
-It is extractivism.
-It is extractivism applied to everything. The good thing is that it is increasingly seen that it is a lie.
-Where do you see that change? Because the Minister of Agroindustry continues to seat him at Grobocopatel next to him.
-It has to advance through other places. Changes never happened that way: a politician is not going to come and say "I enlightened". That doesn't happen.
-In the United States, a mecca for poor nutrition, it is even changing from the perspective of “fresh and local”.
-I am very rejected by American culture, but they are doing a great job there. Even restaurants have a hen in the yard again. People are not ready to break their ties to food. Michael Pollan tells it very well in his book "Cooking."
What do you attribute it to?
-To the need not to lose that contact with food. Basically food production is what made us what we are. Food as an expression of territories, social organization and understanding with nature. How did the indigenous people of Central America manage to make a corn out of hard grass? No one can explain it, no laboratory can do it. It is a long and deep path of domestication, expressing territories, ideas. It was transforming the culture around the recipes that express a flavor, a territory and all that understanding together. That is why cooking is interesting as an expression of something local. Not just for taste, but because it expresses a common story. It is something that until recently was. The history of food was totally broken in the 50s, with the explosion of this other world of processed foods that all the time offers you something supposedly better than what that rudimentary world offered you. However, people still have that almost romantic bond with that world we come from.
-It is that once you taste that other world that was forbidden, access to local flavors, has no turning back because it really is real and is something else.
-It's something else, no doubt. The idea of grandma's food is not bullshit, it's the founding food of a family.
-Beyond the role of the woman in the kitchen.
-It is that what is interesting about this part of the story is that we all enter the kitchen, not only the woman. The family, the community, when you see the orchard workshops, it is extremely mixed. The slave thing is no more, gender. Unlike. My son is super cool with cooking: with his girlfriend, friends, everyone cooks. But you have to give people access and knowledge so that they can find that again.
-There is also an issue with prices, because the organic industry and its labels is a fairly restrictive business.
-It is that organic is an industry within the same. La Virginia makes organic tea and traditional tea. What the brand is showing you is that as it applies certain techniques that are more expensive, such as incorporating personnel, not dumping poison in the wild and getting certified, then its products are more expensive. It is a business that must be understood: if you produce tomatoes and want to sell them as organic, you have to pay a very expensive certification. And why are you going to pay for that certification? Because that way you will sell them more expensively. If not, it is not explained.
Read this full interview in Almagro Magazine.