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From Italy to New Delhi: The Potential of Environmental Sustainability Starting from Food Innovation

We live in an intricate, complex, interconnected, and interdependent world. It follows then that most of the problems of the modern and post-pandemic society are part of complex systems, those that touch each other, those that are composed of causes and concauses and influence each other.

The solutions to such challenges cannot be universal, linear, superficial, or immediate, but rather correspondingly complex. This is why innovation is so central today.

But what exactly does it mean to innovate?

Innovation can be an outcome, bringing something completely new or radical. Innovation can be reinventing something that already exists, stretching innovation to the process level. Innovation can be discovery, researching something that is not yet notable.

Innovation is first and foremost a mindset, a way of seeing the world, it is a mentality that has the potential to combine creativity with ecological awareness and the ability to enhance the ecosystem, awakening dormant resources in a process of constant regeneration.

We can’t change an ongoing event, but as the Prosperity Thinking and Ecosystemic Thinking approaches teach, we can start from a radical change of mentality, the first step to generating a cascade effect on the creation of new structures, new patterns, and finally new events. To drive this change, we need a mindset that abandons the desire only for-profit to start again from common and universal values, which stress the why behind our actions.

This approach will be pivotal if applied to food production, distribution, and consumption.

We have all experienced firsthand the disastrous effects of climate change in terms of extreme climatic events, multiplying in their frequency, scope, and intensity. We have all experienced, especially during the pandemic, what it means to struggle in implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies, to suffer the risk of not accessing enough food, but we are all also paying the price for unsustainable food practices and highly intensive and extractive processes.

Data report that land degradation is affecting 25% of the Earth’s surface, and 40% of the global agricultural land.

This degradation is especially visible and threatens the arid areas and it is negatively impacting the quality of local people’s livelihoods and the long-term health of ecosystems, resulting in difficulty ensuring food security and reducing hunger.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction that teaches us rule number three of dynamism. Similarly, the agricultural and food industries, being so greatly impacted, also naturally have the greatest potential to lead the change, applying new solutions, practices, and innovation.

For this exact reason, several innovative start-ups were introduced within the 6th edition of the World Week of Italian Cuisine. “The future of food sustainability through the eyes of Italian and Indian start-upswas the title of a virtual event that we organized on the 26th of November in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy in India and the Good Food Institute which has recently become a Future Food partner. If you missed it, you can rewatch it here:

Italy and New Delhi: Two Close Realities Thanks to Food

“Food is one of the things that binds all of us, both India and Italy are very food-centric. Food is at the center in the future of our planet,” reminded Varun Deshpande, the Managing Director for Good Food Institute, which is leading Indian in the area of alternative proteins.

Starting from this common ground, several Italian and Indian startups shared their expertise, techniques, and innovations to advance environmental sustainability in the food system.

  • New Foods — Superfoods

Microalgae is a large group of predominantly unicellular organisms with wide adaptability to diverse environmental conditions, with a wide range of applications, and especially with high nutritional value. Given the increasing need for food to adapt to rough environmental conditions and with malnutrition skyrocketing dangerously, micro-algae, and in particular spirulina, are gaining traction, especially after being included amongst the most relevant functional foods. Although algae have been present in the human diet for thousands of years, two Italian startups presented the way they see innovation in the food system, starting from spirulina.

ApuliaKundi, an Apulia-based startup, not only produces natural and pure spirulina in Italy, but it also provides innovation support services and accompaniment to innovative businesses for the development of new economies such as algaculture and new algae-based products. In this sense, high nutritional standards (high protein content, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, omega 3 and 6) are combined with extremely limited environmental impacts (spirulina production costs 1/50 in terms of water compared with conventional meat production).

Also, SpirEat sees in spirulina production the key to Italian food innovation, thanks to the adoption of a circular process that, from a synergy between biogas and technological innovations, significantly reduces the environmental impact.

  • Recycling Nutrients

It is well known that one of the greatest challenges for the food industry is to address the colossal amount of food loss and waste, that are responsible not only for the current depletion of natural resources but also contribute to the triple burden of malnutrition, one of which is the micronutrient deficit.

This is the exact challenge that Newtra Food is trying to solve. Newtra food is an Italian startup included amongst the ten winners of Invitalia’s Bravo Innovation Hub Agrifood call for proposals which is innovatively responding to the issue of food industry waste by creating a circular flow, lengthening the life cycle of products, and maximizing use. Through a patented production process, they are able to extract the nutritious ingredients from food that would otherwise be destined for the landfill, without using a solvent and turning what was at first waste into super-ingredients. The “recycled” nutrients can be further used for food fortification or preparation of other products, by keeping 100% of the nutritional value and properties of the original vegetable, and leaving the flavor and taste unaltered.

  • Plant-based Proteins

Compared to conventional breeding farms, which rely on extensive, intensive, and highly polluting practices, plant-based solutions have been increasingly capturing the attention of food innovation, due to their limited environmental impact, but also the focus on animal well-being and human health (especially when considering the massive amounts of hormones found in meat). Protein alternatives are now driving the food industry.

Chickpeas are at the core of the Indian startup Supplant Foods, which is working to develop and supply cost-effective ingredients to solve both consumer needs and ensure adequate nutritional diets. Oat is leading the MilkinOats Indian startup, focusing on producing and delivering oat-based dairy that substitutes traditional milk. Similarly, the Indian startup Soft Spot Foods is also innovating the cheese sector with plant-based products.

With Indian consumption of dairy products and cheese growing, the need to find alternatives to conventional and intensive breeding farms has been at the basis of these startups that, in different ways and with different innovations, try to combine environmental and human well-being.

“We need to implement new innovative businesses, new techniques that facilitate the circular economy and that can make a real impact.”

These are the words that I would like to borrow from H.E. Vincenzo De Luca, Ambassador of Italy to India, because they perfectly summarize the pride of having signed the partnership with the Good Food Institute but also the hard work that we have ahead of us.

Environmental sustainability is a crucial challenge that our society is called to understand, analyze, and make tangible.

Yet, only by paying attention to the ecosystem in its entirety and complexity can we re-propose the ancient balances in which well-being for the environment translates into well-being for the landscape and territory, for communities, for individuals, for health, and finally also for the economy.

This principle is perfectly embodied in the Mediterranean Diet, the result of a precious historical and cultural heritage that has been formed in time through the balance, mix, and amalgamation between different bodies of knowledge, sectors, and approaches.

This is the same Diet that has represented Italy and its food abroad, reaching other continents and countries. A Diet that has made it possible to create special bonds, such as those between Italy and India, to solve common challenges together. Starting from food.

The Future Food Institute is an international ecosystem that believes climate change is at the end of your fork. By harnessing the power of its global ecosystem of partners, innovators, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs, FFI aims to sustainably improve life on Earth through transformation of global food systems.

FFI catalyzes progress towards the UN Agenda 2030 of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by training the next generation of changemakers, empowering communities, and engaging government and industry in actionable impact-driven innovation.

Learn more at www.futurefoodinsitute.org, join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Or attend a program through the FutureFood.Academy!




Future Food is an ecosystem of innovators committed to generating a global positive impact by empowering the ever growing community of young entrepreneurs, farmers and food innovators with disruptive ideas, and supporting corps and institutions on their path to open innovation.

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