In late October, a week before Hurricane Sandy arrived on the East Coast of the US, I entered a maelstrom of food and people in the scenic region of Italy at the southern foot of the Alps. It was the Terra Madre event in Turin, northern Italy, the biennial occasion that draws over 200,000 people from around the world to celebrate and discuss food production, preparation and enjoyment. And next Monday is Terra Madre Day, a day to celebrate our locally grown and produced food.
Carlo Petrini established both Slow Food and Terra Madre “to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and 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.” At the opening ceremony, the sage of the Slow Food movement declared that “caring for food means caring for all living beings.” And after long applause, Petrini added that promoting the dignity, well-being, happiness and community means taking a “political approach.”
I attended the October event as an Oxfam America delegate upon invitation of Slow Food USA. During the opening event, sitting by my side was Frederick Msiska, a farmer from Malawi. He coordinated a Slow Food Garden Project in his country and had come to help construct an amazing 400 square meter African garden in the Oval pavilion at Terra Madre. Showcasing the vast variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and medicinal plants that grow on the continent, the garden was a visual symbol of the cultural communities working to support a diverse and healthy food system. It also expressed a political idea: the value in investing in and empowering small scale producers to help support a well-fed, fair, and sustainable planet.
Frederick Msiksa was joined by hundreds of small farmers from developing nations. These included Tanzanian Food Hero, Esther Jerome, and, Grow Method honoree from Siberia Marianna Yatsyshina. these small-scale producers represented the ideal of what can happen when people are given the means and resources to grow, prepare and market food. But they also spoke about the injustice that occurs when companies, governments or wealthy investors buy up or seize land and displace people, or when native fisheries are decimated by industrial operations, or when indigenous practices and skills are neglected and lost.
The theme of this Terra Madre: “Good, clean, fair.” seemed to me like a good fit with the GROW Campaign triad of Food, Justice, Planet. Slow Food’s broad global network is more often associated with the pleasure of preparing and consuming good food rather than justice issues.But, in a world now facing climate change, conflict over land and water, and the need to meet the world demand for food while eradicating hunger and safeguarding the environment, the common ground of Oxfam and Slow Food is growing.
A well-fed world is one that must cultivate justice and sustainability and produce nutritious and good tasting food.