Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Unstoppable Momentum of This Delicious Revolution": Slow Food Terra Madre!

I've had a lot of great adventures since I started my blog, but now things have been taken up another level... last month the Local-Come-Lately went intercontinental!

My work as a food activist here in Perth County brought me for the first time ever to Italy - the land of my ancestors! - for the Slow Food Terra Madre convention. Terra Madre means "Mother Earth" in Italian, but it had an additional meaning to me: the Motherland!

The event was actually three events rolled into one: Terra Madre (a festival celebrating "Good, Clean and Fair" food from around the world); the Salone Del Gusto (an even bigger festival celebrating flavours from all over Italy); and the Slow Food International Congress (an opportunity for 650 delegates from 100+ countries to share stories and develop the policies that will guide Slow Food International as it moves ever-forward). 

The city that hosts the events every two years is Turin (or Torino) in the Piedmont region. Six years ago the city, nestled among the northern Italian Alps, played host to the Winter Olympic Games... the arenas created for the Olympics were the perfect venues for the world's greatest food gathering!

The Opening Ceremony gave me my first chance to really appreciate the scope of the work that Slow Food is involved in around the world.

Translated into 50 languages, the kickoff event inspired me immediately - the work  we're doing in Stratford and Perth County using food as a channel for progressive change is being undertaken in harmony with activism, education and eating in almost every other country on earth! We all came to realize that we are truly part of a global movement working in solidarity with one another.

Among the many inspiring speakers that first evening were Indian biodiversity activist (and avid GMO opponent) Dr. Vandana Shiva, "The apple seed doesn't say 'Give me royalties or I won't give you an apple'".

The central icon of the Slow Food organization - its visionary Italian founder and President Carlo Petrini - took the stage last and reveled in the amazing accomplishments he has witnessed among Slow Food 'Convivia' in recent years, including the impressive progress of the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, the explosion of the Slow Food Youth Network, and the groundswell of effort we have collectively directed toward promoting a sustainable food system. That said, he didn't candy-coat the situation: 817 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and starvation while 1.4 billion are overweight; 200 million pounds of food goes to waste worldwide every year (over 1/3 of all food produced); and food sovereignty is being threatened all over the world. But what I admired most about Petrini was his grace in the face of these daunting issues: "This crisis can be overcome with serenity... without bitterness, without rage." He encouraged us to "change the world with a smile and tranquility" and approach the issues with "happy versatility." I left the opening ceremony with a smile on my face alongside hundreds of other smiling people from around the world, happily emboldened by Petrini's promise for the next few days: "Terra Madre gives us the courage to go ahead with these great challenges!"

The Terra Madre site was a truly utopian scene: row after row, booth after booth, showcasing incredible products and traditional production and preparation methods that epitomized the food cultures of almost every country imaginable...

 ...including Canada! There's my travel partner Shawn Hartwell (the popular sustainable fish and seafood vendor at the Slow Food Perth County Sunday Market), in the middle of all the action as always!

Canada had a big contingent at Terra Madre, and I gained a lot of appreciation for our national movement as I met people from all across our country who were involved in the promotion of local, delicious and sustainable food in their areas. Some of the friends I met included folks involved in Operation Fruit Rescue in Edmonton; members of the Young Agrarians of Canada; hardworking and politically engaged farmers like Patricia from Tap Root Farm in Nova Scotia; the founder of the East Coast's first Community Supported Fishery Off the Hook; activists from Farm Folk City Folk in Vancouver; and urban agriculturalists like The Permaculture Project GTA from Toronto.

One of the main reasons I was at Terra Madre was to learn... a few times a day I had the opportunity to attend panel discussions where experts shared their knowledge and insights about some of the issues I'm passionately interested in. The "Feeding Cities is Easy" session was fascinating as I learned about various ways people are mobilizing urban resources to create more accessible food systems; one presenter (above) told us all about Nutrire Milano ('Feeding Milan'), a multidimensional project that included the establishment of a Slow Food Market, which brought to mind our own experience running our weekly Slow Food Sunday market in Stratford (except they only run theirs twice a month!).

After a couple of hours of intense thinking about how to feed the world without destroying it, I'd take a stroll around the Salone Del Gusto for some bellissimo Italian food! I think I ate more cured meats that week than I've eaten in my whole life...

As I wandered through the Terra Madre venue I also came across all sorts of fun and creative displays, like this indoor version of one of the Thousand Gardens in Africa. Could this experience have been any more up my alley?!?

I'd swing by the Holland booth for some Dutch oysters...

...then check out a knife skills demo at the Japanese station.

Lunch and dinner saw us eating elbow to elbow with other delegates from around the world, many of whom wore their traditional clothing. Shawn and Patricia from Tap Root Farm shared a few tomatoes with a dude from Morocco who wanted to take the seeds home and plant them in his garden. 

I was honoured to be selected as one of Ontario's representatives at the Slow Food International Congress, where the leaders of Slow Food International presented their vision for the future of the organization. 

Petrini discussed the strategy for 'Slow Food 2.0', which was articulated in a position paper entitled The Central Role of Food, "Nowadays we think of consumers as people who 'buy' food, but if food concerns us only insofar as it is sold and bought... then we lose sight of food as a right. Yet that which is essential for survival is part of the sphere of rights: that is why we speak of the right to food and the right to water." This argument is familiar to me: it is the exact paradigm shift we are trying to promote at The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford and across the country via Community Food Centres Canada

American Slow Food pioneer Alice Waters (one of my personal heroes as the inventor of the Edible Schoolyard) took to the podium to share her insights on the crucial role of education in maintaining "the unstoppable momentum of this delicious revolution".

That night the Congress delegates were invited to an amazing dinner featuring some traditional Piedmontese cuisine at the former Fiat plant in Turin. That's me with my new buddy Carlo (and Slow Food Toronto's Voula Halliday)!

The second day of the congress saw 50 five minute presentations about Slow Food's activities around the world. Voula spoke eloquently about a project Slow Food Toronto is coordinating to build school gardens in that city paired with school gardens in Africa (this is being undertaken in honour of Chef Dan DeMatteis, an advocate for Slow Food and youth who tragically passed all too soon this past year). Other fascinating testimonials included one from Japan describing how Slow Food in that country helped rebuild a seaside artisan community after the devastation of the tsunami; one from Ecuador celebrating the countrywide ban on GMOs; and a really cool video presentation by the German Slow Food Youth Network: a bunch of young people combined food activism and dance music by holding a Schnippen-Disco where they all cut veggies for a big batch of soup for the foodbanks while a DJ was spinning tunes!

Meanwhile, back at the Canadian pavilion Shawn Hartwell was representing our local food scene with some amazing Lake Huron whitefish caviar he'd brought all the way to Italy!

Needless to say, Terra Madre was my kind of scene. I've never been in a place where all of the great things I love about food, and all of the important issues I care about around food, were brought together within a single experience. I returned to Canada with greater motivation, inspiration and passion to make a difference through food than I have ever felt before. I want to thank the folks from Slow Food Perth County who selected Shawn and me to represent our community in Italy for this once-in-a-lifetime experience - Grazie Mille!