by Ilaria Salerno

MILAN, ITALY. Cities are crucial to transform food systems and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by the year 2030. Challenges and opportunities in urban and peri-urban systems urge multiple actors to put forward transformative approaches. In 2014, the Municipality of Milan and Fondazione Cariplo began to develop the Milan Food Policy, an innovative, urban policy, aimed at increasing the sustainability of the Milan food system. The Italy based Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN) analyzes the complexity of current agri-food systems and, through a variety of initiatives, fosters change towards healthier and more sustainable lifestyles in order to achieve the Goals set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These 17 Goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another. One of these documents, the report “Food & Migration. Understanding the Geopolitical Nexus in the Euro-Mediterranean” was developed in collaboration with MacroGeo and the CMCC (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change) and is a research tool that can be used to analyse the flows and trends of the existing and future links between food and migrations in specific areas from a geopolitical perspective, in particular the countries of the Mediterranean area. With its public initiatives and scientific research, BCFN provides recommendations to public decision makers and maintains an ongoing dialogue with its stakeholders by providing food related multidisciplinary studies and highlighting best practices; it engages the new generations by developing educational tools and awarding projects by young researchers from around the world; it speaks to people to raise awareness and inspire informed daily food choices; and it awards journalistic excellence in reporting the paradoxes of the current food system. The BCFN Foundation promotes an open dialogue between Science, Politics, Business and Society both nationally and internationally. It addresses today’s major food related issues with a multidisciplinary approach and from the environmental, economic and social perspective, to secure the wellbeing and health of people and the planet. With political windows opening for national food policies globally, the 2019 City Food Policy Symposium taking place in London on Tuesdy 30th April will explore what lessons have been learned about their development and delivery and the benefits and pitfalls of taking an inclusive and integrated approach.


The food pyramid, healthy for people and sustainable for the planet

The food pyramid becomes the double food and environmental pyramid. The double food and environmental pyramid model developed by the BCFN Foundation emerged from research and an evolution of the food pyramid, which forms the basis of the Mediterranean diet. The double food and environmental pyramid highlights the extremely close links between two aspects of every food: its nutritional value and the environmental impact it has through the stages of its production and consumption. Foods with a lower environmental impact are also recommended by nutritionists for their health benefits, while foods with a high environmental impact should be consumed with moderation because of the effects they can have on our health.

“Food & Migration” is an Observatory created by BCFN to study the connection between food and the migratory flows of populations, a crucial but delicate subject, especially in the Euro-African area. The project has also served as a springboard for a number of more detailed activities, such as analyses, studies, interviews and articles. The study aims at emphasizing the key role agriculture, nutrition and food plays now and in the future, as an opportunity to frame the global phenomenon of migration, and specifically in the Mediterranean region, in order to develop sustainable food systems. How food insecurity affects migration and vice versa? how food cycles and socio-cultural structure of origin and destination countries will change due to migration? The report arose from multi-stakeholders’ approach, analyzes the interaction between migration, climate change and the geopolitics of resources, water and energy, agriculture, research and technology. It will provide recommendations and solutions for decision-makers and civil society aiming at stimulating a wide public discussion.


Double pyramid for children

Studies show that a balanced diet during childhood is crucial for correct growth, reducing the likelihood of the child becoming overweight and suffering from associated illnesses. Only 1% of children between 6 and 10 years have correct eating habits, which comply with the food pyramid. Often children’s diets provide a calorie intake which is higher than they need, with an excessive amount of fat and sugar, at the expense of fruit and vegetables. The children’s double pyramid recommends a plant-based diet: consisting of cereals (especially wholegrain, which are full of fibre and protective elements), and fruit and vegetables. Further up the pyramid are legumes, milk and dairy, eggs, meat and fish. Intake of food with high fat and sugar content should be limited.

Double pyramid for adults

For adults, the double pyramid shows that the Mediterranean diet allows us to eat in a sustainable way, following the recommendations of nutritionists and avoiding negative environmental and economic impacts.The food pyramid fits nicely alongside the environmental pyramid, encouraging us to eat fruit and vegetables, rising upwards to cereals, legumes, extra-virgin olive oil and dairy products. Towards the top of the pyramid is cheese, white meat, fish, eggs and biscuits. These are foods which we need to try to consume less: they provide important nutrients, but we need to keep the amount we eat under control to prevent them from having negative effects on our health and the environment.

Food in the Double Pyramid

With the differences highlighted for children and adults, the double pyramid assesses various foods first and foremost based on their nutritional value and therefore the impact they have on our health.


Fruit and vegetables

Are low in calories and supply the body with water, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Extra-virgin olive oil

Contains triglycerides (rich in monounsaturated fatty acids), essential fatty acids, vitamin E, polyphenols and phytosterols, with protective elements for our bodies.


Cheese contains protein and fat, and hardly any carbohydrates. It is particularly interesting to note that its calcium content, in a form which can be easily absorbed by the body, can play a significant part in helping us to meet our calcium intake requirement.


Contain protein with a biological value so high that for many years the protein composition of eggs has been used as a benchmark to assess the quality of protein in other foods.


Especially if it is lean, meat is an important food because it is a source of high quality protein. The fat content varies: it can range from almost zero to nearly 30%, depending on the type of meat. They are mainly saturated and monounsaturated fats, with just a few polyunsaturated fats. Priority should be given to white meats, while red meats should be eaten in moderation, as shown by the various versions of the food pyramids developed by several national and international institutions, which all place them at the tip of the pyramid.


Contain high levels of fats and simple sugars, so should be consumed very occasionally and are placed at the tip of the pyramid for both children and adults.


Is a wide ranging category encompassing many different foods. Pasta is rich in starch, with a moderate protein content and a significant level of fat. Rice contains a high level of starch, a low amount of protein and an even lower level of fat. Potatoes are rich in starch and carbohydrates, contain very little fat and protein, and are one of our main sources of potassium and phosphorous. Bread is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, supplying the body with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates. Legumes are the plant-based food with the highest protein content, and also provide a high level of fibre. They are an alternative to meat because they provide very high quality protein, rich in essential amino-acids which are easy to digest, and are an excellent source of B vitamins (especially B1, niacin and B12) and minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc.

Milk and yoghurt

Milk contains high levels of vitamin A, B vitamins (B1, B2, B12), and pantothenic acid, and is one of the main sources of calcium. Compared to milk, yoghurt has a high nutritional value and is easier to digest for those who are lactose-intolerant thanks to its lactase bacteria content.


Contains protein with a high biological value and variable levels of fat, which can reach up to 10% of the overall weight. The fat found in fish contains polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is also important to note that the family of fatty acids known as omega-3 is especially beneficial for preventing cardiovascular illnesses.


Are made up of various ingredients with nutrients and energy values which range extremely widely. In general, they contain high levels of simple sugars, while the level of fat is hugely variable, normally somewhere between 9% and 25%.

Food and Environmental Sustainability

As the double pyramid shows, the environmental impact of our food varies depending on what we put on our plate. To examine this idea further, the BCFN Foundation analysed the impact of the weekly diets, which are balanced from a nutritional viewpoint and with the same calorie content. A sustainable Menu includes both meat (with a preference for white meat) and fish, focusing on achieving the right balance between plant and animal protein. A vegetarian Menu excludes meat and fish, protein sources are plant-based (legumes) and animal-origin protein is provided by cheese, other dairy foods and eggs. A meat-based Menu includes a higher consumption of protein from animal origins. The BCFN Foundation’s sustainable menu and the vegetarian menu both have a lower environmental impact compared to the meat-based menu. In practice, if over the course of a year a person avoids eating meat two days a week, they would save 310kg of CO2 per year. And if a population of 50 millions stopped eating meat for one day a week, we would achieve an overall saving of 198,000 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of almost 105,000 families or 1.5 billion kilometres of car journeys. In short, one less meat dish a week would be as beneficial as 3.5 million fewer cars on the road for one year. The double food and environmental pyramid has two great benefits: one on hand, it provides an excellent overview of the key information acquired by the medical sector, studies on food and research into the impact of our choices on the planet, and on the other hand, it is a powerful educational tool thanks to its simple and intuitive graphics.

Main source: BCFN Foundation


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