Degrowth theory and food issues: towards a “frugal abondance”?

What are the connections between food issues and degrowth theory?

Conferenza Serge LatoucheI had the answer attending to a conference with Serge Latouche, a famous French economist and thinker partisan of the degrowth theory in Milano the 17 of March.  The conference was held within the framework of a course of lectures organized by the foundation of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra entitled “Banquet table: between food and knowledge”.

Introducing the conference, Serge Latouche first recalled the audience the definition of eating quoting Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement “Eating is a total discipline that regards agriculture, economy, culinary arts and ecology”. Indeed society issues have direct impacts on eating ones.

Criticism of the negative impact of growth and its excesses

Serge Latouche quickly presented the general framework of its thinking: he denounced the “society of growth” that little by little let itself be absorbed by the objective of a “growth generated only to have more growth” with as consequence a triple “un-limitation”:

  • Unlimitation of the production
  • Unlimitation of the consumption
  • Unlimitation of the pollution (with a production of waste more and more important)

The three main roots of those excesses according to him are: advertisements that create and amplify desire,easy access to credit that allows us to spend always more and more, and “planned obsolescence” that force us to renew endlessly our products.

The double impact of this “society of excesses” on agriculture

Serge LatoucheSerge Latouche first underlined that it is the “unlimitation” of production and of consumption that has led to adopt a productivist agricultural model. This type of agriculture is however destructive because it stands generally on monoculture, pesticides, OGM and excessive irrigation. For instance, Serge Latouche explained that nowadays to produce a kilo of beefsteak one could need to use six liters of oil: for transportation, freezing etc…

He then insisted on the negative impacts of this type agriculture on heath and nature (for instance causing desertification of soils) which finally cause a degradation of the people daily life and future.

 “Eating become a more and more dangerous gesture”

With junk food and multiplication of fast foods, people eat more and more salt and sugar and we assist to a “Macdonaldization” of the world. The consequences of this new transnational diet are seen on health for instance with the augmentation of obesity, cardiovascular illness, cancers and stress. Indeed Serge Latouche underlined the fact that on this day, there are 600 millions of obese persons in the world and at the same time 845 million of people who suffer from hunger.

Food planned obsolescence: waste, the main feature of occidental society

Supermarkets distribution is creating a new type of food planned obsolescence where the “expiry date” leads to a huge food waste. For instance in France, supermarkets throw away around 2 million tons of bread a day. In general, food waste in France represents 50 millions of tones

A large audience for Serge! ;)

A large audience for Serge! ;)

Then, most of the people in the industrialized countries eat food without knowing where it comes from and how it was produced. The production line and food chain is quite unclear for food and this is at the origin of some recent food scandals. For instance, in France, the one of horse meat labeled as beef on frozen lasagna last year.

Intereting datas on food waste:

  • In 2013, 1.3 billion tons of food per year  were wasted,  1/3 of food production in the world (source FAO[1])
  • Food waste in Italy represents 8.7 billion of euros, 0.5 of the GDP[2].

“Frugal abundance”: the solution?

libro Serge Latouche“Frugal abundance” expression can be defined as an “economic efficiency without the superfluous that is destroying the planet, work and solidarity” according to Jean-Baptiste de Foucauld, a French emeritus professor in economy who wrote in 2010 the book “Frugal abundance: for a new solidarity”.

For Serge Latouche, degrowth means putting an end to the obsession of infinite growth in a planet where resources are limited. With this in mind, Serge Latouche insisted on the importance to relocalize food production. According to him, Slowfood incarnates the culinary dimension of degrowth where “eating well” and in a convivial way is central. He concluded by quoting Carlo Petrini saying that “eating became an agricultural art, and also a political one”, encouraging us to find again the sacred dimension of food, not in a religious way, but as a gift from the planet to its inhabitants:

“Make of your food your own sacrament!”

 To take a deeper look on this issue, you can read some of Serge Latouche books, in particular: “Vers une société d’abondance frugale : Contresens et controverses sur la décroissance”, Paris, Fayard – Mille et une nuits,‎ 2011.


Image Juliette

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