October 18, 2016 – Imagine tents stretched out in every direction as far as the eye can see—tents bursting with every delectable delight imaginable, from every region of Italy: honey, pesto, olive oil, balsamic, cured meats, cheeses, truffles, arancini, gianduia, cannoli, gelato… is your mouth watering yet? We haven’t even gotten to the international sections: Africa, Asia and Oceania, the Americas, and Europe. But I could have spent an entire day just exploring the Piedmont region’s stands. In fact, I probably would have if there weren’t also mind-blowing conferences and forums taking place at the same time.
I just returned from the gastronomic experience of a lifetime, an event called Terra Madre Salone del Gusto that takes place every two years in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, in the city of Torino. Part festival, part conference, this event is the world’s largest international celebration of Slow Food—an international movement that was founded by Carlo Petrini in 1989.
It began in 1986, when a McDonald’s franchise was set to open in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna right next to the Spanish steps. Petrini, a journalist at the time, was infuriated over what this might mean for the food culture of Rome. He felt that the local trattorias and osterias could be under threat. Armed not with picket signs, but with bowls of homemade pasta, Petrini and his community rallied against the global industrialization of food and its social, culinary, and environmental costs.
Thus the Slow Food movement was born, a movement based on the idea that the pleasure of the palate is intrinsically connected with responsibility to the planet.
Today that movement has grown to more than 150,000 members in 150 countries. This year marked the 11th edition of Terra Madre. In attendance were 7,000 delegates from 143 countries, representing 1,000 food communities of the Terra Madre network from five continents. Also in attendance at both the conferences and forums were 5,000 public. This was in conjunction with an absolutely massive Italian food and drink festival, Salone del Gusto, spread throughout the beautiful and historic streets of Torino.
But it wasn’t just fun and games; the serious undertone of the conferences and forums upheld Slow Food’s dedication to “eco-gastronomy” (a study of culture and food linked with environmental sustainability). This made it possible to get in-depth on topics including the defense raw milk cheese, the true cost of cheap food, indigenous land rights, and the garden revolution. I also took a time out to go truffle hunting.
Slow Food International provides a space for decentralized cooperation in which a small region can play a key role in forming a new reality: international cooperation sponsored by local bodies. The raw cheese forum gave small producers from all around the world—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Belgium, and of course, Italy—a place to share their experiences and create a united dialogue on the barriers they face.
California’s own Alice Waters and Ron Finley spoke at the gardening revolution conference, along with Edward Mukiibi of 10,000 Gardens in Africa.
In reference to the future of edible gardens here in the United States, Waters said, “Why just a small garden in the back of the White House? We want it on the front lawn… It’s changing the environment, changing the aroma of a place that can change the way people feel.”
Unorthodox guerrilla gardener Finley dropped quite a few quotable truth bombs himself, but I’ll just leave you with one.
You have the freedom to do what you want—to design the life that you want to live—and for me, that starts in the garden. – Ron Finley
Petrini sees a new economy being created, as 7,000 delegates return home with renewed energy and inspiration, “We are a multitude, and a multitude is much stronger than a big corporation… If you have imagination and concrete feet on the ground, you can overcome anything,” he said.
Get involved by joining Slow Food and listing Santa Cruz as your chapter affiliation. We’ll be having a “Stirring the Pot” happy hour and open board meeting on November 15 with Jenny Kurzweil of Pie for the People (location TBA). And there will be a Terra Madre celebration in December, where I’ll share my experience. Stay up to date at http://slowfoodsantacruz.com/ or follow us on Facebook.