Two of Slow Food OC members were fortunate in being able to attend the Terra Madre in Italy 2008. Here are the first hand accounts of the experience.
Roger McErlane, President of Slow Food Orange County, wrote:
It is huge, reported to be the largest artisan food event in the world.
Miles of food displays and samples.
My most moving experience was attending the Terra Madre lectures and seminars, which are next door. Slow Food International selects food producers, farmers and chefs and educators from submitted applications and pays their way as delegates to attend this event. One lecture in particular that I liked was bee keepers from around the world, in many different languages and costumes basically saying the same urgent message. The bee health and population is at the lowest level ever worldwide, almost a third of the hives have disappeared in countries that practice growing monoculture crops and practice industrial agriculture using pesticides and fertilizer to pump up yield from depleted soil. This was repeated by bee keepers from many countries, all of which follow the monoculture agricultural practices promoted by Monsanto and DuPont and their governments. Bees are considered to be an indicator species, which means they show the impact of something going wrong. Sort of the canary in the coal mine example. So we are facing the potential of not enough bees to pollinate our crops. One bee keeper from France said his hives in Paris were producing high quality honey and were the most healthy ever. The reason,-no monoculture and no pesticides and fertilizers.
Turin was a beautiful city, great food everywhere, most memorable meal, white truffles on pasta in the village of Alba.
Stephanie Georgieff, Events Committee Chair for Slow Food Orange County, wrote:
A Delegate’s Notebook for Terra Madre 2008
After joining Slow Food USA formally last January, I started receiving all the informative and wonderful updates on my email account. I heard about Terra Madre, the international Slow Food biennial event in Turin, Italy, and linked to the address, where I saw the application for Delegate Status. This was in early April, so I dutifully filled out the form, which was a collection of essay type questions, and after checking my spelling, pushed the submit button, and promptly forgot about my application.
I was notified in September that I had been selected to be part of the US delegation as an educator, which meant if I could get to Turin for the conference between October 22 through the 27th, they would provide transportation, housing, conference fees and meals. With frequent flier ticket in hand, I enthusiastically said “yes” and the adventure began.
I decided to travel through Europe a couple of weeks before the conference, to see some sights and get over jet lag. I took the early morning direct train from Paris to Turin, to arrive a day early for registration and settling in. I arrived at the Turin train station in mid-afternoon, with the name of the registration building in hand, and started asking about what was the best way to get there. A tour guide waiting for a children’s musical group that would be performing at Terra Madre grinned at me when I asked him about Terra Madre and said, “that is the only thing happening here this week.” I took a cab to the Palaisozaki Olimpico (Part of the Olympic Village from the 06 Winter games.) When I was dropped off, I was greeted by a huge orange and blue sign with Terra Madre written on it, and hundreds of buses transporting a microcosm of humanity to our shared destination. People were exiting the buses in national costumes from all corners of the earth and assembling in the great registration hall.
There were 7000 delegates from 153 countries, all gathering at their respective registration booths to receive instructions and packets for the next few days. 700 volunteers from all over the Piedmont region had bright orange vests and placards for the respective housing assignments for the delegates. My immediate response was of being struck at how beautiful and varied all the different ways of being human were on display. From the brilliant multicolored headscarves of the African women, to the hand-bead work of the Andeans, to the national costumes from Northern and Eastern Europe, all of humanity was represented, equipped with musical instruments and culinary treasures from their part of the world. We were greeted with a “go and get something to eat” at a marvelous buffet of regional foods, and then gathered in our groups to be bused to our respective housing.
My housing was at a dormitory for a Catholic School in Oulx, Italy. Oulx is a charming village in the Alps outside of Turin. Due to the large number of delegates, the entire region of Piedmont opened its doors to the attendees. Many of us were bused up to two hours each way daily to dorms, schools, churches and private homes, at no charge to us. My group was mainly from America, comprised of farmers, chefs, and college students studying agriculture and sociology from across the US. We were treated each night to a delicious 5 course meal, complete with local wine, pasta and cheese course.
The opening ceremonies the next day were akin to the Olympics, with a procession of the flags. People dressed in regional costumes paraded onto the stage waving their banners. I was most touched by Afghanistan and Iraq, who had a presence at Terra Madre. The Governor of Piedmont welcomed us, as did the Italian Minister of Agriculture and numerous Slow Food International and United Nations leaders. We had a video greeting from Prince Charles of Wales. One of the speakers was a young man from Massachusetts who was also featured at Slow Food USA in San Francisco. He started a garden program at his high school, to grow vegetables for the cafeteria, and has sparked a program called “Sprouts” that is spreading to other schools across the US. His parting comment was to invite adults to look at kids differently, and that he was part of the generation who would help reunite the earth with humanity. This set the tone for the conference, whose new focus was fostering our youth in sustainable agriculture and local food production. The star of the show was Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, who is a delightful orator with a talent for endless musings on how magnificent we Slow Food people are when working together.
The following days were full of meetings on subjects ranging from agriculture, climate change, water issues and regional concerns. I attended the US regional meeting for a while. The main message was to put more emphasis on creating quality, clean, fun and fair food available to all, not just those who can afford such things. I decided I would go to the Central and Southern European meeting after a couple of US gathering speeches. I love my fellow Americans, but really wanted to see what the rest of the world was doing. I am of Macedonian heritage, and connected with their delegation. I wanted to see what they were creating. During this meeting (translation headsets were available to all) I learned what was going on with conviviums in Poland, Bosnia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. The conviviums in these and other countries are very active in promoting their cultural and agricultural traditions that have been deeply, and negatively, affected by globalization. They are actively engaged as NGOs coordinating with their Agricultural and Tourist Boards to preserve and promote small scale, sustainable agriculture and artisan cuisine. From fruit traditions in Turkey to plums in Bosnia, sheep’s cheese in Bulgaria to eco-farming in Poland, chestnuts and honey in Macedonia to blue cows in Hungary, each group presented an inspiring human/earth-centered approach to the challenges that face them during these times.
The lunch lines were incredible networking opportunities. Often a two-hour wait, they provided impromptu networks to meet people from across the globe. The Americans were all greeted with “Who are you voting for?” and “Why are you exporting your GMOs and pesticides to us?”, after which lively discussion on respective sharing of projects commenced. There were musicians from all traditions entertaining us throughout the conference, which added a lively ambiance to the eclectic atmosphere. This year’s meeting had an emphasis on youth, with 1000 attending. Their housing was in the Olympic Village, and rumor had it, was home to quite the festive atmosphere lasting well into the wee hours of the morning. Many youth from my housing left us to join this international nightly party.
In the upstairs gallery of the convention hall, there was a large interactive workshop on “The Origins of Taste”. A short video presentation, with translations in seven languages, introduced the “sense” aspect of foods. Commercially farmed and produced food has robbed much of the texture and flavor of our daily fare. This project was an invitation to revisit through science the experience of taste in food. After the video, each participant was given a test booklet and instructed to go to different tables where samples of scents, textures and flavors were presented for our educational encounters. The Taste Classroom had volunteers speaking many different languages ready to help participants in their sensorial exploration of food.
There were cook and farmer exchanges, youth meetings and regional gatherings all designed to foster community and education. As there is a “lost” generation of farmers, the average age of farmers worldwide being late 50s and early 60s, these meetings took an urgent tone. Many farmers from the US were upset there was not more opportunity to share with the eager youth who wish to start their own, eco-sensitive farming projects.
The most moving aspect of the gathering was the World Market Place, which happened in tandem with the meetings. The World Market Place was a showcase for the international project of Slow Food Foundation: The Presidia. The Italian meaning for “Presidia” is “to protect.” The Presidia involve more than 10 thousand small scale producers including farmers, fisherman, butchers, herders, cheese makers, bakers and pastry chefs in 47 countries around the world. The bulk of the Presidia are in Italy. We have seven in North America, ranging from Wild Rice in Minnesota to May Oysters in Delaware Bay to Gravenstein Apple in Sonoma County, California. There is some activity here in Southern California to get a Valencia Orange Presidia going. As a project of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the Presidia must meet several criteria in order to achieve their designation. They must be of high quality and rooted in the culture of the area, they must be obtained through sustainable methods, and produced in working conditions which respect the rights and culture of the workers involved. In other words, they must be Good, Clean and Fair food projects. It is thought that through these practices, local economies are strengthened, harmony between earth and humans is practiced and delicious, ethical food is the result.
The World Market Place was buzzing with activity. I tasted cheeses from Bulgaria, Poland, Italy and Spain. There was a booth from North American Raw Mild Cheese Makers from the Ohio Valley. The Macedonians had chestnuts and honey, the Japanese had a seaweed vegetable product, and there were white beans from Liguria region of Italy, Abosh raisins from Heart, Afghanistan, cacao from Olmec, Mexico, pear cider from Herefordshire, England, capers from Aragon, Spain, goat prosciutto from Catalonia, Spain, and purple potatoes from Peru, and the delicious list goes on and on and on. All organic and hand made, The World Market Place was amazing to say the least.
The tandem commercial market, Salone De Gusto, was occurring next to our pavilion. This public event featured artisan producers from around the world, along with food classes in wine, chocolate, cheese, beer and more. People from all over Europe come to attend this food show. It was the public face of Slow Food, and was overwhelming in its scope. They did a good job presenting the ideals of Slow Food; Good, Clean and Fair food in a delicious presentation. It was certainly not an event for the gluten-intolerant vegan, but if you are in the market for the most amazing wine, cheeses. pastries, breads and preserved meats from around the world, this is the place for you. I ran into Roger and Sharon McErlane, which was fun to see our fellow OC Slow Food members, and Hai Vo, a senior at UCI studying sustainable agriculture. There were only four Southern Californians present, and I am very proud to say they are all from our Convivium! I was also privileged to take a Comte cheese tasting class, and was introduced to the finer aspects of discerning qualities of cheeses from different ages and locations. I must say, I have never sniffed sticks of cheese before, but the French cheese masters made it an artful lesson!
The ending ceremonies capped the Terra Madre experience with a global presentation beyond imagination. The entire Olympic Stadium was filled to capacity with volunteers, delegates, members of the press and international officials. The Italian Foreign Minister told us through a taped speech that Slow Food International has been invited to attend the next G8 summit, as what Slow Food has been able to accomplish is needed for our current economic and climate crisis. The Governor of Piedmont invited us all back in two years, declaring her commitment to creating a GMO-free and pesticide-free agricultural Piedmont. A Maori native from New Zealand asked us to continue to work for Clean, Fair and Fun food, as all corners of the earth are suffering from pollution and injustice. Carlo Petrini ended the speeches by imploring us to make sure to listen to different viewpoints, because we can not be accused of being elitist in the coming days.
After all the speeches, the music began. Ensembles from each corner of the globe entertained us with their traditional song and dance. Groups from Ethiopia, the Russian Artic, the Alps, China, Belarus and the Andes performed alone and then along with a local Turin band called “Mau Mau”. At the end of all the acts, the groups came on stage and performed together, while the audience, all 7000 of us, got up to dance. There was a glorious conga line on the stadium floor with hundreds of Koreans, Africans, South Americans, Chinese, Europeans and Americans dancing about in pure unadulterated joy. After what seemed to be a timeless existence of dancing jubilation with all the cultures of the earth, it was time to go home. Our buses came to take us (with sack suppers for each of us on our seats) to our respective housing.
My perception of the event was that this project of Slow Food was doing what the UN, international trade treaties and governments have repeatedly failed to do: bring a just, diverse and delicious environment to solve the challenges the global community faces today. Most international agricultural and environmental treaties get bogged down with nationalism and business interests, and the problems persist. All of what Slow Food is doing is commenced as free, autonomous acts, and within the cultural sensitivity and appropriateness for each region. Climate crisis, economic instability, environmental degradation, oil dependence, and food access – all of these things seem to confound our international bodies. All these challenges are interrelated, and Slow Food has managed to make the connection and allow for a structure to solve the problems in lasting and relevant ways. The people of the world are tired of begging for justice. They took their problems into their own hands peacefully and in full cooperation through Slow Food, the Presidia and Slow Food Foundation. Terra Madre showed us all what is not only possible, but what is happening now. I think that is why this movement has, in a very short time, spread like wildfire. As Vandana Shiva said during her talk of Climate Crisis and Agriculture, the only way to adapt to changing climate is through sustainable agriculture. Commercial petroleum-based agriculture cannot survive the current and coming changes. I saw and felt deep in my heart why we should join Slow Food. Our membership dollars and local efforts are part of a global family of delicious justice for earth, human, plant and animal.
It was a profound experience to attend this event in the weeks leading up to the US elections, five dollar a gallon gas, unending war and global economic meltdown. As I saw all those colorful costumes and incredible initiatives, I was reminded of how beautiful humans can be. The creativity and dedication, the common struggles and concerns seem to be lost in our conventional media-driven exposure. With so much anxiousness and pessimism seemingly everywhere, it was very healing to witness the quiet revolution going on in every enclave of the Earth. I cried more than once, because I realized how much I miss my fellow human beings as a result of all the fear and frustration of the preceding years. I cried because there is an ocean of caring people, quietly and lovingly creating their gardens and food, tending their flocks and herds, who have a deep and lasting answer to all that troubles us in our local and international realms. Humans can be at dynamic peace with the earth and one another. The absence of celebrity and of consumerism was so very refreshing at Terra Madre, and at the heart of what Slow Food is all about. Slow Food and Terra Madre are about being real. The common human is where our future lies, and judging by what I saw in Turin this last October, we have a very hopeful future indeed.