The greatest (food) show on earth is just getting under way in Turin, northern Italy. As the autumn fogs soften the contours of the Alps that shoulder the Piedmontese capital, food-related people from every corner of the earth have come here to bring today’s most important food issues into sharper focus. Slow Food’s International Salone del Gusto is a biennial, five-day event, and this is the ninth edition. This year, for the first time, both the Salone del Gusto and its sister event, Terra Madre, are open to the public. Their joint opening ceremony took place in the city’s Olympic Isozaki ice hockey stadium.
The audience was the message: Representatives of food-making communities from 150 countries — including Syrian cheesemakers, Iraqi beekeepers, Iranian wheat growers and Afghani raisin producers — sat together in what has become a global fraternity of solidarity and mutual respect. As they and the rest of the 8,000-strong audience listened to the opening talks, excitement, pride and wonder were palpable. For many from such rural locations, this was the first trip away from home.
Terra Madre was first organized in 2004, the brainchild — like so many of the most inspiring, life-changing ideas Slow Food has hatched — of Carlo Petrini, who founded Slow Food in 1986. In a radical move, Terra Madre decided to bring these country folk face to face to share and discuss traditional and innovative ways of making food in the modern age. Herdsmen from Chad were able to compare notes on transhumance with Mongolian pony herders and European shepherds. If, in that first edition, they met each other almost with disbelief, a live channel of communication and commitment has since been forged between them and the many volunteers and Slow Food coordinators who have helped facilitate this marvelous, ever-expanding network.
The growth of Terra Madre
A lot has changed since that first meeting of Terra Madre, when the motley groups of farmers, fisherwomen, herdsmen, growers and other food communities clustered, willy-nilly, in a large tent-like space. Some taped photos of their villages, animals or crops on its walls; others pulled handmade crafts from their suitcases and set up a spontaneous marketplace on the ground. This year, it’s much more structured: Each group has its own cataloged stall from which to share, explain and sell their foods and wares.
The opening ceremony’s first speaker was José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who spoke in four languages to deliver his talk.
“I feel like we’re all sitting around a big table at home,” he began, to nods and applause from the audience. “We must look forward, not back, to sustainability. Biodiversity is one of the keys: We once made use of 23,000 varieties of tuber. Now, we’re down to just six kinds of cereal crop. There will be 9 billion of us by 2050 and in order to increase our food production by 60%, we need to change our way of producing food and conserving energy.”
Salone del Gusto: Food waste needs to be addressed
“The ‘Zero Hunger’ project in Brazil suggested one way to do that,” he continued. “By mandating that one-third of the ingredients used in all the country’s school food were sourced locally from small producers and growers, we boosted local economies, helped our children eat healthy, seasonal food, and reduced waste and transport costs.” Food waste is a key problem, and one of the major themes of this year’s Salone. “If we could cut total food loss and waste by half we would have enough food to feed 1 billion more people.”
Da Silva’s message and commitment set the tone for the evening. A succession of inspiring speakers, including two of Slow Food’s vice presidents — Indian activist Vandana Shiva, and chef and food educator Alice Waters — as well as Nobel laureate Daro Fo, gave food for thought as they pointed to the issues Terra Madre’s seminars and conferences would be tackling. These went from the freedom of seeds to water rights, sustainability, endangered foods, raw-milk cheesemaking in the tropics, ocean conservation and hundreds of others. That’s in addition to the chance to taste handcrafted foods from Italy and beyond, attend meals cooked by top chefs and street-food vendors, and sample thousands of artisan wines.
Carlo Petrini: ‘Food’s sovereignty is under threat’
The ceremony ended with a passionate speech by Carlo Petrini.
“The challenges facing us are enormous. Food’s sovereignty is under threat,” he said. Ideas about food have changed in the last decade, and people globally are more aware of the value of good, clean and fair food, and of the long-term hazards of climate change, he said, but the road ahead is long and hard. “The shameful land-grabbing that is taking place around the world is nothing other than neo-colonialism, worse even than the last: 80 million hectares have already been stolen from Africa.” Food waste and the right to seed diversity are urgent issues. “Taking responsibility for food means taking care of the planet, of all living things, and that’s a political stance.” Terra Madre’s kind of politics requires serenity and perseverance. “We’ll need joyous versatility to face each obstacle, to adapt ourselves to every corner of the globe. That will be our strength for taking on the aridity and injustice of the arrogant and the overbearing.”
Top photo: Carlo Petrini, president and founder of Slow Food. Credit: Courtesy of Slow Food