MILAN - Some stories do have a happy ending. The most multiethnic school in Italy, Lombardo Radice public school in Milan, had a new batch of first graders again this week.
Last year it wasn't allowed to open to a new incoming elementary school class because it had "too many foreigners." It had appeared to be an action that would de facto condemn the longstanding school, considered a model of successful integration, to be closed permanently within five years.
Instead, on Wednesday morning, 21 six-year-olds showed up for first grade at the school entrance at 83 Via Pier Alessandro Paravia, in the San Siro neighborhood near Milan's famous soccer stadium.
Eighteen of the pupils are foreign, a proportion in line with Lombardo Radice's tradition. Two years ago the school had 93 foreign students, from 27 different nationalities, out of a total of 97 children; last year the number was 80 out of 93. This year, if the count is correct, foreigners will make up 83 % of the student body.
But what does "foreign" actually mean here? Of the first grade's 18 "non-Italian-citizen children" (none of whom are EU citizens), 14 were born in Italy, and every one of them went to nursery school in Milan.
"To us, they are little Milanese children," says Deputy Mayor Maria Grazia Guida, who was at opening day Wednesday, along with all the others who have been working for the past year to save the school.
But why was the school put on the road to closure? Because under the Berlusconi government, a decree from Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini set a rule that no more than 30% of a class could be foreign children.
The rule has now been abolished by the new minister, Francesco Profumo. "It was not at all a figure picked out of the air. The 30% is a quota indicated by the best experts on integration," says Diana De Marchi of the center-left Democratic party. "But we have tried to show that this needs to be interpreted case by case. When the children were born in Italy and have gone to nursery school in Italy, there are only minor language problems in integrating them."
In short, laws should be made for people, and not vice versa. "It’s more important to look at the children's biographies, where they were born, where they have gone to school; whereas last year they only looked at their surnames," De Marchi adds.
For many families the closing of the school was a real blow. The school is among the only government institutions in this poor pocket of the more well-to-do neighborhood of San Siro. For many children, but also for their parents, it was their best chance for integration. Fathers and mothers turned to the courts, in vain; children wrote to Italian President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano. In the end, the battle was won.
Still, the story is not completely over. Deputy Mayor Guida says, "The city will be supporting the school to help with any eventual problems, and we are planning initiatives to collaborate with the Via Giusti elementary school that's close by."
Via Giusti is the school to which many Italian parents send their children, out of worry about excessive "multiethnicity" in the Via Paravia school. Thus two worlds have been created: almost entirely Italian in Via Giusti, almost entirely foreign in Via Paravia.
“Now, we will be getting the Italian parents from Via Giusti involved," adds Maria Grazia Guida. "The goal is for the students to be distributed in a more balanced way between the two schools next year. The world is facing a great transformation, and as Cardinal Scola (the Archbishop of Milan) has said, we need to understand that diversity is enriching."
At Wednesday's school opening, the second grade was missing. But that is the consequence of what is now only an unpleasant memory for the Via Paravia school.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.