By Jesse Dart
From its humble beginnings as a movement started in the small town of Bra, Italy in the 1980′s, to its apex at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre event, which occurs every two years, Slow Food has become a major player in the worldwide food movement. Bringing together delegates and members from around the world for five days of meetings, seminars, conversations, tasting sessions and education about a range of topics, Terra Madre is the extension of the philosophy of Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. This event acts as a place for like-minded people to share ideas, to gain enthusiasm and to realize that in all parts of the world people struggle with the same issues related to our food system.
Walking into the exhibition hall in Turin, part of which was built for the winter Olympics in 2006, you are greeted with the intenseness that is food, gastronomy and taste. If you’ve not been to Salone del Gusto before, allow me to paint a picture for you. Five massive exhibition halls filled with the best products from across Italy and from around the world, welcome guests to sample, taste, inquire and purchase their likings from a smorgasbord of gourmet goods. From cannolis to olive oil, cured meats to cheese, wine, beer, honey, sweets, coffee and pasta ““ all on a grand display under one roof.
Salone has been held every two years since 2004 when the first event took place. Since then, each odd year brings a different Slow Food event including Cheese, Slow Fish and various other Terra Madre days that help to keep the ideas and interest flowing.
This was the first year that all interested people were allowed to attend the Terra Madre workshops, which in the past were normally reserved for the Slow Food delegates from around the world and those with special passes. Some people might ask how two events that seem to focus on different aspects of food can commingle — one on high quality food products (which for some remain too expensive) and the other addressing the world’s food crisis.
What Slow Food has always tried to achieve, with mixed results, is a careful balance between acknowledging that traditional foods produced by artisans have become very sought after in the world’s marketplace, but that those traditions and producers need to be protected, their stories recorded and recipes remembered. This is where the two events meet, at the cross roads of modernity and tradition.
The aspect of pleasure is never to be forgotten within the Slow Food community, for what is eating without the pleasure of enjoying what you’re consuming? The Italian visitors to Salone seem to be able to suspend their normal unwritten eating rules for this event, forgetting standard dining times, mixing sweet and savory, building a lunch out of samples, enjoying granita before pasta. But this year as opposed to two years ago, I felt an urgency in the mood of people waiting in line for a sample; their eagerness was motivated by a feeling of need, a feeling of entitlement to taste each product. Long lines of people queued for a small piece of Prosciutto San Daniele, a piece of scamorza or a small glass of prosecco.
In the midst of ambrosial pleasure, it was evident that the financial crisis had reached far into the pockets of the everyday person and perhaps some had given up foods that at one point were everyday purchases, but later became unaffordable. In spite of that, the opportunity to sample all of the best food products from across the country in one location, has allowed Italians to reconnect with their country, with their food traditions, with their culture, not because of physical hunger but because of the need to remember those nostalgic flavors.
Slow Food is providing this for the people of Italy and the people of the world in an attempt to refuse the modernization and globalization of what we eat, and to help us remember and continue to move ahead in a way that is sustainable, ethical, moral and most of all pleasurable.
Jesse Dart is a freelance writer and photographer based in London. He has wrote for several publications on topics related to food, travel, gastronomy and wine. He is a graduate of the University of Gastronomic Sciences master’s program in food culture & communication and also has a M.A. in applied anthropology. He enjoys investigating the crossroads of food and culture through words and images.
Photo by _gee_