Thursday, November 06, 2008

Terra Madre

The week before last, Nicolas and I spent four days and nights in Turin, Italy as slow food delegates at the biannual Terra Madre event, what they call a "convivium". Terra Madre brings together over six thousand slow food producers, chefs and educators (primarily farmers) from over 140 countries, in order to share ideas about sustainability, about saving traditional food culture and even about saving the actual foods themselves that are close to becoming extinct. This year was apparently much more political than other years, the financial crisis highlighting how important small, diverse food producers and sustainable practices have become.

It was much more massive, moving and inspiring than I'd expected. Below is the front of the building that housed the "earth workshops" that we attended every day, as well as several hundred "presidio" food booths that sold and gave information about rare, sustainably produced foods from all over the world. Near to this building was another massive arena that housed the biannual Salon de Gusto, the world's largest food fair.

The food. Oh. my. The food. The food really needs its own post.
So, in this one I will stick to the non-edible. Terra Madre, for me, was about hope for the future. There were so many young, intelligent farmers who are energetically committed to this movement. It was also amazing to be surrounded by so many farmers from all parts of the world.

Below are examples of some of them.

These pictures were taken by Slow Food photographers other years and were shown on giant screens, along with many other pictures, during this year's opening and closing ceremonies.

So many noble, proud, strong farmers - mostly young and mostly women.

Here were some of the first we saw upon arriving.
The opening ceremony was olympian in grandeur. One of the speakers called it the "olympics of food". There was a parade of flag holders, representing the 160 (?) countries who were present. These delegates, most dressed in their country's traditional costume, then sat on the stage for the rest of the proceedings. The African women, that night and throughout the week, were particularly majestic. There was lots of fantastic multi-cultural music, mostly performed by farmers, who also just happened to be musicians.

Then, there were the speakers. The founder of Slow Food, Carlo Patrini, was wise and paternal. With that Italian accent it wouldn't have mattered if he were talking about plumbing, I still would have been on the edge of my dizzyingly high seat. If you click on his name you can see him in action. The translation allowed us to hear how impassioned he is in his commitment to fighting world hunger and industrial/big business fraud. He talked about the irresponsible speculation that has led to even more world wide hunger and about the wall we have hit. We will now have to move towards a more rural economy. He believes that consumers are getting ready for the big choices and are looking for healthy, local, seasonal food. He talked about the delegates representing the farmers and villagers of the whole world and about how farmers would be the "main protagonists of the third industrial revolution." He is quite a leader.
One inspiring speaker was Alice Waters, the famous chef of Chez Panisse and a vice president of Slow Food International. She spoke of a need from the new U.S. President for "stewardship and nourishment." She proposed an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn that is gardened by children. Another powerful woman, Vandana Shiva, also a Vice President of Slow Food International, spoke passionately about the Mansonto-GMO-seed issue that is crippling Indian farmers. You can see a short video of her detailing this atrocity here.

I got this picture of Carlo Petrini in the building where the workshops were held. He stepped away from his closely protective entourage in order to speak to an African farmer who was selling products he'd brought from his home (as were hundreds of other farmers) on the arena floor. Buying from these farmers allowed us an opportunity to meet them.

These African men behind me at the closing ceremony carried themselves like chiefs. The whole six thousand plus of us managed to do the wave during the closing ceremony. In this section, an Aussie farmer was seated next to a Mexican who was next to a Native American in full regalia. The Earth workshops were interesting, though not very revelatory. Most people that I talked to agreed that the best part of the four days was spent talking to fellow farmers while being served four course meals at our hotels, or making our way through the Salon de Gusto or on the floor of the building where so many farmers were selling their seeds, hand made crafts and textiles.

One of the workshops, about the bee crisis, stood out for me. Bee keeper after bee keeper, from Brazil, France, New Zealand, Mexico, England, Spain, and many places in between, stood up and expressed their horror about what has been happening to their hives over the past several years. The colony collapse disorder just keeps getting worse and they don't feel that the scientists are listening to what they are saying. They blame the newest pesticides, the loss of biodiversity and the gmos. Someone ought to write a book. ; )

Next installments - staying in a village called Benne Vagienna; and of course, the food.


Deanne said...

"In this section, an Aussie farmer was seated next to a Mexican who was next to a Native American in full regalia."

Wow! Sounds amazing! I just watched Obama's acceptance speech, again, and now reading this, I keep crying for the sheer joy and hope I feel for our future. Thanks for sharing. ;)

Bhu said...

Yeah, someone oughta write a book! Do you know where we find that someone? I would really love to read that book :)