The project The Sun in the Plate' (Il Sole nel Piatto) is supported and promoted by the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation and its main purpose is to carry out a characterization of foods on the basis of the Emergy methodology.
The agricultural productions of 24 farms selected by Coldiretti, CIA and Confagricoltura, which are distributed throughout the Siena territory, are analyzed. Their productions are very varied: wine, olive oil, beef and pork, honey, vegetables, legumes, cereals, beer, truffles, pasta and many other products!
The official name of the project is 'Emergy - Indicators of Sustainability', but it has been nicknamed 'Il Sole nel Piatto' in order to make people understand how important is the contribution of the sun, and therefore of nature, in the making of the food we eat every day.
The logo that opens this page can be used by companies that have taken part in the project to display it on their products.
Emergy is a methodology that allows to identify the direct and indirect contribution that nature has provided to the production processes. Everything we use and consume every day has been generated by processes that are both of anthropogenic origin, through agriculture and industry, and of natural origin, guaranteed by ecosystem processes.
The unit of measurement used is the solar emergy Joule (sej) or equivalent unit of solar energy, since the sun, both present and past, is the basis of all the transformations that occur in the biosphere and anthroposphere.
Every form of energy and matter used in a production process can be traced back to solar energy, through a backward path and the emergy can thus be considered as an "energy memory", that is a memory of all the solar energy that was needed to support a system, taking into account the work that the environment had to do to produce a certain good or product.
The images show an example of a flowchart describing in a simplified way one of the companies taking part in the project. Included in it are renewable resources (R), local non-renewable resources (N), and non-renewable inputs from outside the system (F).
Objectives of the project
Classify and characterize the foods analyzed by using different units of measurement that allow emergy to be expressed based on, for example, the amount produced and consumed of a given product (sej/g), the energy intake of the food (sej/cal), and other characteristics specific to different types of foods, such as protein intake, sweetening potential, profitability, etc.
Determine the 'type of sunshine' that is incorporated into products. An agricultural product is composed of "current" sun, which is directly intercepted by plants through photosynthesis, but also of "ancient" sun that has been stored in other production processes upstream of the generation of the product; an example of this indirect contribution of the sun can be fuel which, derived from oil, is the result of solar energy millions of years old. It will then be identified the renewable and non-renewable component of sun that was necessary to make a given food.
Create dissemination tools to disseminate to a wide audience, both the results of the project and the methodology used. Emergy can become a means of introducing into common reasoning important elements such as the renewability of resources and the pressure on the environment exerted by production processes and our habits. The information obtained from the project will be used to create communication tools that make the emergy easily understandable to the widest possible range of people, through diets, menus, books, labels and much more.
The experimentation of some possible solutions for an ever better communication of emergy and environmental issues to the final consumer has already begun. Some examples:
Food pyramid constructed on the basis of emergy values (sej/g) of foods;
Menu of a hypothetical restaurant in which, in addition to the economic value, the environmental contribution to the food is represented by means of 'suns' that express an emergy value (sej/g);
The 'Il Sole nel Piatto' brand has been created to identify the companies that have participated with commitment and generosity in our project, providing us with the necessary data for processing. It testifies to the willingness of companies to nurture research and innovation in the direction of sustainable processes. The results of the surveys will allow, over time, to improve production and inform consumers about the sensitivity of producers and the progress they want to make.