FIVE SENSES BLOWN AT SLOW FOOD’S TERRA MADRE & SALONE DEL GUSTO
This is officially the hardest post I’ve done to date. I have been trying to come to terms with Slow Food since they first walked into the Atlantic Film Festival offices a couple of years ago looking for an opportunity to cross-promote their new food film fest… and stole my foodie heart. Food and films. I’m in! I had no idea what I was in store for as I quickly jumped into the volunteer forces on that very event, followed by joining their Board of Directors, then working on more events like the Spring Supper and the list just trails happily along. And when I finally was able to catch a breath and look up, I saw myself standing in this place surrounded by an engaged, hard-working and dynamic crew just trying to get out an honest message about good, clean, fair food for all. Now before you go all hippie on my shit, sing Kumbaya or make the usual slow-cooker, back-to-the-lander, anti-McDonald’s sentiments (all things people have said to me, seriously)… hear. me. out.
This ain’t your grandma’s food movement. Heck, this isn’t even your mama’s anymore… you’d have to be living under a rock to not see the swift change all around us now. Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with a focus on the pleasures of good food and its very, very direct link to community and the environment. It now boasts over 100,000 members worldwide since its start in 1989. That’s significant. Yes, it did start as a counter to fast food & a fast-paced life, but it went beyond that as it delved into some of the world’s hardcore food issues like the disappearance of local food traditions, people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
And in their own words- Slow Food’s approach to agriculture, food production and gastronomy is based on a concept of food quality defined by three interconnected principles:
GOOD- a fresh and flavorsome seasonal diet that satisfies the senses and is part of our local culture;
CLEAN- food production and consumption that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health;
FAIR- accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for small-scale producers.
So, I ask you, how can you not get behind that? There is so much to cover in terms of the diverse projects that Slow Food has on the go globally, but I’m just treating this as a bit of a primer for those who are interested and keep continually asking me what the heck is going on. Consider this a starting point.
Now to the main event, and this is a part that I especially have trouble with on a number of levels– A) I still can’t believe I was chosen to attend as part of the Slow Food Nova Scotia delegation to travel to Italy (a great lesson in how volunteerism can seriously pay off) – B) and felt nothing short of overwhelmed at every turn while there. I could never get a grip on how to attack the overall space, so much selection, so much to see, so much to take in and do and taste. OCD behaviour be damned! Five senses blown. I’m serious. Okay, enough of the drama.
This was a time of change, as this marked the first year the two events–Terra Madre & Salone Del Gusto–became one and were officially open to the public. You may think something might be lost in the translation there, and I certainly heard the rumblings from past attendees who felt it was less intimate and a little less cohesive, but I think we should consider the brighter flipside, that a wider berth of people came, saw, tasted… and maybe, just maybe, some of them took home a small piece of that Slow Food message and applied it in their own special way.
The overarching theme this year was Foods That Change the World. But as the week progressed, many issues kept rearing up in conference sessions like food waste, seed freedom, animal welfare, GMOs, world hunger, indigenous rights, land grabbing and the overfishing of the oceans. Mid-event, 650 delegates from 95 countries took part in the International Congress of Slow Food with an aim to define the future of the organization, and featured presentations from delegates, as well as debating the congress paper, The Central Role of Food. Our national organization, Slow Food Canada, also pulled together the Canadian delegation for a visioning session. Man, we were busy.
In the numbers, the event attracted 200,000 visitors in 5 days and visitors were primarily made up of Slow Food members & leaders, farmers, consumers, producers, cooks, chefs, fishermen, students and the list goes on. 1000 exhibitors featured thousands of artisanal food products from around the world and within that 200 Italian praesidia & 120 international praesidia representing 400 biodiverse communities in 100 countries. Phew. It all kicked off with an Opening Ceremony that felt like an olympic event complete with a massive flag ceremony and speeches by the likes of Alice Waters, Vandana Shiva, FAO Director José Graziano Da Silva, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, amongst others.
We were housed in Turin’s Lingotto district, former home of a Fiat factory complete with rooftop test track (YES!). It is now a large-scale public conference/event space. The Lingotto exhibition area had 3 halls of Italian regions (are you hungry yet?) including Slow Food praesidia products, as well as the Taste Workshops (128 in total), the Theater of Taste, Meetings with the Makers and the rooms that held the bulk of the conference program. The Oval Arena featured producers from the rest of Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, the Education area (full classes of Italian kids), Slow Fish (fishermen from all over the world), the University of Gastronomic Sciences (wish I could attend), the Honey Bar (honeys & beekeepers from 5 continents), the Slow Food Youth Network (the most active & fun group, who finished each day out with a massive dance party) and the Foods that Change the World exhibition. In the heart of the arena, the space was devoted to Africa, with a large scale African vegetable garden right next to the Terra Madre Kitchen featuring 30 African, Asian & Australian chefs who served up dishes around the clock.
And finally in the space connecting the Lingotto to the Oval, in a series of large scale tents, we had the Enoteca (1200 Italian wines served up by 20 professional sommeliers), Street Food (my first love–mobile, cheap & interesting food) and the Pizza Piazza (23 piazzolas from all over Italy serving up authentic pizzas). And there is still more to describe, but I am going to have to park it there. Too much. Too great. Still unable to fully process it.
I spent some time in panel sessions–caught things like Seeds: Where Do We Start? with Vandana Shiva, Sustainable Tourism and Rural Development, Rethinking Large-Scale Retail: Is It Possible? with Oscar Farinetti, founder of Eataly, and more. I’m just trying to give you a snapshot of the breadth of topics being covered. I gleaned a few interesting tidbits here and there but the simultaneous translation and strict presentation-style format of the panels left a little something to be desired, I find I learn more when panellists engage with each other and the room. But, I’m certainly not complaining.
I think it’s safe to say that conference delegates spent a lot of time grazing. Some of the finest moments happened when I was able to relax into it and let someone else lead the way, especially chefs, I won’t lie. For example, there was nothing like wandering around with Renée Lavallée & her husband Doug Townsend trying different kinds of spreadable spicy salami, pistacchio creams, cannolis, cheese, cured meats and craft beers. That’s just one quick pass. I often found myself grazing a cheese and charcuterie board between panels and events or spending an hour just tasting olive oils before meeting a friend for a glass of wine in the Enoteca. And don’t even get me started on the Enoteca, with its ridiculous selection of Italian wines and a menu that read like a phone book. I started out at the top of the week diligently checking off what I was trying and taking notes and then just let that slowly deteriorate, what can I get that is rich & full-bodied for two coupons?
But hands down my favourite thing was connecting with other people–whether it was cojoling with exhibitors in the market over an amazing piece of cheese through broken English & Italian, to making Canada feel a little smaller and more connected via the awesome Canadian delegation, or spending some quality time bonding with fellow Nova Scotians who can simply never afford the time away from their busy food businesses and families… lucky are we, I’m looking at you Feisty Chef, Taste of Nova Scotia, Local Source Market, Taproot Farms, Off the Hook, Sugar Moon Farm, Ma Bell’s Country Condiments, Tempestuous Culinary, Brooklyn Warehouse & Ace Burger Co. A toast to you and your successful businesses, Turin-style. Salute!
So, hopefully now you can get a sense of why I am still feeling quite affected by all of it and trying to find my honest place within the big global picture and right here at home. Next week, I will talk in a little more detail about venturing out from the conference and fun little adventures with my Nova Scotian cohorts and new Slow Food Canada friends. Maybe I’ll even add in a recipe again.
What people are saying
on November 27th, 2012, Cynthia Strawson said…
Man, you really captured it, Lia. Brava! The event was big, huge, overwhelming and yet led to some of the best personal interactions, sharings and thinking that I’ve had in recent memory. All those things you mentioned, the vastness of it all, the complexity of it all. Added in was the international congress and the sharing of delegates – 5 minutes at a time – from all around the world. Largely I cherish my time on our bus to and fro the conference and the chance to share the day’s reflections. But mostly, I loved that time with you and Patricia…downloading, examining and sense-making of experiences and ideas.
on November 27th, 2012, Lia said…
I really enjoyed our end of day round-ups at the hotel, Cynthia. And am still reveling in all the great food stuffs you directed me to… the rosemary syrup, the vinegar… and the list goes on. Thanks for sharing this link and I really hope we can find a way to meet up again soon.
on November 27th, 2012, Connie Bjorkquist said…
You can add my “brava” to this as well. I am so proud of what is happening out there in ‘foodland’ and the many people that you are touching and educating!
on November 27th, 2012, Nathalie Roy, Montreal convivium said…
Wow, that’s such interresting, the way you resumed everything. I must of missed of few things though…
Thank you for this wrap up and hope we keep this nice bonding that happened between the Canadian delegation!!!
on November 28th, 2012, Lia said…
Thanks, all! It really was a special event and great to be a part of such an engaged Canadian group.