Q&A: BCFN Alumni President Francesca Allievi on why the younger generation is an asset to any organization
“If you want to create change, you need to listen to what youth have to say,” according to Francesca Allievi, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) alumni association president. Following is an interview with her in which she reflects on her experience, explaining the role and mission of BCFN, how important youth are to it, and the work lessons she’s learned along the way.
Q1: What is your role in the BCFN and how does it relate to your background?
A1: I got a Master of Science in Environmental and Land Planning Engineering in 2007. Ever since, I have been involved in sustainability-related projects through my work as a researcher. In 2011, I started working on a project focused on food sustainability while also working on my PhD thesis on global meat consumption and its effects on environmental resources. In 2012, I became a finalist in the first edition of the BCFN YES! (Young Earth Solutions) contest. My idea consisted of a food label inspired by the Double Pyramid Model of BCFN, which would carry information on the nutritional and environmental impacts.
In 2014, I was involved in the process which led to the Milan Protocol, promoted by BCFN. Currently, I am the president of the BCFN Alumni Association, which gathers almost 100 researchers from five continents, and I am involved in some research activities, specifically in relation to the topic of sustainable agriculture.
Being involved first-hand in the alumni association is great, as I strongly believe in the potential of the younger generation. I am also excited to give my contribution as a researcher: it is a lifelong learning process to go from theory to practice.
Q2: When was BCFN born? What are the major lessons the organization’s personnel has learned since then?
A2: BCFN was born in 2009, and I think this has been a great journey of "learning by doing" for everyone involved. I assume the first lesson is exactly this: times are changing, people are changing, and they are both changing fast. So in order to go through with delivering scientifically sound information to raise people's awareness of the many implications of food choices, you need to be proactive but also humble. You need to listen before you can communicate as effectively as possible. This is proven also by the different public consultations that BCFN has launched and by the attention given by BCFN to young researchers through the YES! competition. The second lesson, in my opinion, stems right from YES! and the Youth Manifesto. If you want to create change, you need to listen to what youth have to say.
Q3: The mission of BCFN is to promote an open dialogue between science, politics, business and society in order to make opinion leaders and decision-makers sensible to the major issues related to food and nutrition for the well-being of all while respecting the planet. What are the main strategies that BCFN adopts to leave a concrete impact on regular people and change their way of thinking and acting?
A3: The first aim of BCFN is for sure to communicate in a way that is as simple as possible yet based on solid scientific evidence, through articles on the web magazine for example. The second aim is to present the knowledge of experts from different fields. Everyday decisions are made in a complex environment, so it is of utmost importance to deliver information based on a number of viewpoints. This is reflected, for example, in all of the publications BCFN has on its website for users to download for free.
Q4: What's the best response you've received for BCFN works?
A4: Personally, I have enjoyed the response I got from the audience every time I have presented the Double Pyramid. Most people, no matter their age, seemed to be surprised and also very interested to learn about the close connection between nutritional recommendations and environmental impact in such a simple and visual way.
Q5: The double food and environment pyramid created by BCFN epitomizes the Mediterranean way of eating and its impact on the environment. Tell us more about how the foundation came up with this idea.
A5: The DP concept is based on the need to bring together information on all elements of our diets’ environmental impact. BCFN aims to inform institutions and consumers that a well-balanced diet has a positive effect on both people's health and the environment. For this purpose, efforts were joined to create a diagram where the classical food pyramid (i.e., the Mediterranean diet) is put side by side with a new upside-down pyramid that shows how foods are classified according to their ecological footprint. Over the years, the Double Pyramid has been improved and developed, and six papers about it have been published so far. In 2011, the Double Pyramid was chosen as the icon of BCFN to further emphasize the focus on the close relationship between food, people and the planet, which is at the basis of all of the foundation’s work.
Q6: Based on your own experience, what advice would you give young people who would like to execute a project like this one or contribute to BCFN?
A6: My advice is obviously to participate in the YES! competition. For me, it was the first time I thought I could actually contribute to raising awareness. A lot has happened since then in terms of learning opportunities, thanks to that experience. You can learn more about the activities of BCFN by attending (either online or in person) the next BCFN forum, which will be held in Milan at the beginning of December.
Learn more about it through the BCFN Youth Manifesto, a multidisciplinary effort that brought together the ideas of over 80 young researchers in this field. Be informed, believe in your ideas and follow the updates on the BCFN website. Stay tuned for the results of the next edition of BCFN YES!