I recently attended Terra Madre (www.terramadre2008.org) in Torino, Italy. Terra Madre is the biennial conference of the international Slow Food movement. More than a conference, Terra Madre is a celebration of food, culture and humanity.
In 2008, Terra Madre was co-located with Salone del Gusto – an international artisanal food show. The event hosted over 180,000 visitors with more than 25% from outside of Italy. And why wouldn’t we come? It is a sensorial feast of cheese, chocolate, music and mindshare.
As you enter Terra Madre you are hit with a wave of multiple languages, aromas and color. From the food (herbs, preserves, meat, chocolate, olives), to the attire (traditional garb of attendees from around the world), to the bands playing the music indigenous to their country -- your brain overloads as it seeks to process it all.
I admit to savoring (after all, this is Slow Food) a bounty of cheese and chocolate throughout the week. But I also indulged my mind with a full program of forums on issues inherent to Slow Food – good, clean and fair food. And what arose from these forums will stay with me much longer than the pounds I gained.
In addition to discussions about raw milk and cheese, and olive oil tastings, there was significant discourse between the attendees. One in particular was a moderated discussion about water and agriculture. More than 100 “family” farmers from around the globe shared their frustration and their solutions. A Montana farmer reminded us that, “we need to give the earth more credit”, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to grow a tomato crop in what is classified as a dry region. Another farmer from Asia talked about how she was invited to visit a fellow farmer in South America after she shared her water conservation methods used in growing rice crops. The point being that these folks have a strong sense that knowledge is meant to be shared - as a matter of pride, and as a matter of the preservation of our food system.
The future of our global food system continued in discussions on the homogenization of seeds and crops through GMOs, and the impact of biofuels. World renowned scientist and food justice activist, Vandana Shiva weighed in as one of many distinguished speakers heralding a warning and a solution as identified in the “Manifesto on Climate Change”.
For me Terra Madre represents a personal philosophy – that a good meal can create change. Terra Madre is the meal. The fifth Terra Madre will occur in 2010 in Torino. In the meantime, be on the lookout for methods and movements that arise when people get together to “break bread”.