The fourth biennial celebration of the slow food “Terra Madre,” Mother Earth, meeting took place in Turin, Italy from October 21-25. Turin, in the northern Piedmont region of Italy, is where Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food. The meeting brought together over 5,000 farmers, cooks, educators, fisherman, youth and activists from across the globe. Sarah Blacklin, Anna Child, Alex and Betsy Hitt and myself, were honored to represent our own Piedmont of the South, the rich Chapel Hill and Carrboro food community.
A false, but frequent assumption is that Slow Food is an elitist club for foodies. This was Sarah, Anna and my first time to Terra Madre. We didn’t know what to fully expect, and we were slightly apprehensive that the meeting might be a glorified foodie bonanza. We were dead wrong. The meeting focused on cultural and linguistic diversity, and the opening ceremony addressed the need to defend ethnic minorities and long-standing traditions through sustainable food production.
But what is Terra Madre exactly? At first, on a surface-level, it might look like an Olympics without the cutthroat competition, or a UN meeting without political baggage. Delegates from the Guaraní in Brazil and Aborigines in Australia, in traditional native dress, were given a platform to speak about their food cultures during the opening ceremony and the main workshop site has an informal indoor market area where you could buy anything from Nepalese slippers to Senegalese churrai (incense). More simply put, it’s a five day meeting where people from over 150 countries share their experiences and knowledge around promoting sustainable food production. The meeting offered workshops and break-out sessions on taste education, greater food biodiversiy and markets for local sustainable food businesses.
Petrini encouraged delegates to honor women, elders, natives and farmers as crucial pillars in our efforts to promote local food production. He stressed the role of taste, pleasure and enjoyment. Sapore! Molto Sapore! Pleasure, Lots of Pleasure! To really savor and enjoy food, to respect the history of a dish or food process, we must take action. As Josh Viertel, Director of Slow Food USA put it, it’s like “pleasure without responsibility or love without power.” Our movement will not root and fruit if we don’t take action and push for stronger policies that protect small-scale farmers, producers, and fisherman.
The grassroots meeting was a catalyst. We left Italy with a many messages, contacts and rich food experiences. But most importantly we left with a newfound understanding that we have a responsibility as delegates to spread the catalytic effect of the good food movement.