Casey Knapp on Terra Madre
‘Generation Organic’ Organic Valley Farmer
Terra Madre brought together over 7,000 eaters from 160 countries, including all 50 states from the U.S. to Turin, Italy this October. Some attended to learn about how food is being produced, to hear about the issues facing the advancement of safe, healthy, and clean food, some to meet others who are cultivating their own “slow food movements”. But the one commonality among the gathering was appreciation and celebration of eating together.
The opening ceremonies featured Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini and an olympic-style introduction (The ceremony took place in the Olympic stadium from the 2006 winter Olympics) of all countries present. Terra Madre organizers provided dozens of workshops and presentations with titles ranging from Organic and Biodynamic Farming to Slow Food Philosophy, boasting speakers from the Venezuelan countryside to United Nations think-tank leaders to non-profit CEOs. The first one I attended was titled “Law, Rights, and Policies.” It was a panel discussion several experts, most notably, Christoph Spennemann, an intellectual property expert employed by the United Nations. He specializes in policy work in ownership of genetic resources and spends most of his time on the complex problem of large seed conglomerates claiming ownership of seed genetics that have been used by select rural populations for centuries.
The Youth Food Movement (YFM) is the collective voice of the young demographic of Slow Food International. It was the most energetic atmosphere of the entire conference. Young people from around the world eagerly shared their views on food and the progress of their projects, which was followed by words of encouragement from Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food. It is said that the optimism and energy of young people is the fuel of a revolution, and this certainly seemed to be true for YFM gathering.
A second powerful part of the conference was the Slow Food USA meeting. Josh Viertel, the president of Slow Food USA, recognized the exponential growth in Slow Food chapters in the United States and especially their work in creating the famous “Eat-ins” which involve a chapter holding a large dinner of locally grown food for community members. One indicator of a social movement’s progress is the participation of internationally recognized thinkers. Raj Patel, famous author and social activist, spoke at the Slow Food USA gathering, and charging the crowd with enthusiasm and optimism with his evaluation of the current agro-economic standings in the United States and how Slow Food will play an important role its evolution.
Working in concert with Terra Madre was the Solone del Gusto food show, rated the best food show in the world. I was not disappointed. Chocolate, cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salami vendors filled more than two square miles of show room floor to display the quality of their products and expertise of their growing methods. Everyone provided samples. What impressed me most was the number of local producers and the size of the producers. Most of the producers were small-scale and marketed for an incredibly specific niche.
The closing ceremonies, like an Italian dinner, carried on for four hours in the stadium built for the 2006 Torino winter Olympic games. The length of time however equaled the status of speakers slated to present. In the panel discussion setting, Manfred Max-Neef, the famous Chilean economists wryly discussed how the only difference between humans and animals is the human quality of stupidity. He emphasized that despite the terabytes of knowledge acquired over the last 60 years and the knowledge that our current financial, agricultural, and health systems degenerate the planet, these systems persist. Raj Patel highlighted the power of indigenous people in social change, using Via Campesina (The International Peasant Movement) as his example of the product of an international movement with pure, humble intentions.
Any movement has its internal complexities. The food movement is not an exception. Two protesters interrupted the panel discussion with a rather graphic and energized presentation. As they ascended the stage, it became clear that one wielded a megaphone and the second a pig costume dripping with a substantial amount of ornamental blood. The costumed protester performed a theatrical leap in front of panelists and remained motionless while her counterpart commanded the attention of the stadium for four uncomfortable minutes, grilling meat-eaters over the injustice of killing animals. The panelists allowed her to speak and recognized her point of view with nods of understanding. The event reminded us of the complexity, emotion, and seriousness involved in the food movement. At the same time, it was an excellent demonstration of freedom of speech and the energy young people provide to social change.
Terra Madre harnessed the power of the global food movement to bring together eaters and growers from around the world to share their food cultures. The seven thousand attendees will share their experiences with friends and family. It embodies the power of gathering people with a similar vision together in one place to share stories, ideas, and optimism for the future.
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