Terra Madre, a biennial event, scheduled to take place between October 21 and 25 in Turin, might seem like a big colourful fiesta of food and foodies. A luxurious privilege for the rich, who can afford to chase exotic flavours, revel in glamorously mysterious stories and hunt down unusual foods. In reality, it is so much more than just a gathering of gourmets.
Ever heard of the nomads of Sapmi? They're a tribe from the Northern part of Europe that raises reindeer. They inhabit an arc of unspoiled land between Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Because of climate change, as their environment grows warmer the reindeer are moving towards the North Pole. Which means the Sapmi are forced to move their villages, following the reindeer. Life isn't easy. So what stops them from throwing it all up to find jobs in the city, no matter how menial.
Terra Madre, for one. Scheduled to take place between October 21 and 25 in Turin, this might seem like a big colourful fiesta of food and foodies. A luxurious privilege for the rich, who can afford to chase exotic flavours, revel in glamorously mysterious stories and hunt down unusual foods.
In reality, the biennial event, organised by Slow Food is so much more than just a gathering of gourmets. Held along with the International Salone del Gusto, which is basically an international market and exhibition of food, Terra Madre is a world meeting of food communities. Together they bring the producers and consumers of food, and demonstrate that good, clean, fair food for all is not just possible, it's every person's birthright. And the best way to ensure the world eats better is to encourage traditional methods of production and eating, by supporting local communities, small farmers and traditional food producers.
Paolo Di Croce, general secretary of Terra Madre and Slow Food, explains why this is so important to the world, over Skype from Turin. “If you don't understand the real situation of the world it's easy to believe that eating good food is more expensive,” he says, adding, “But if you really analyse the economy of food and the real price of food — it's not the actual food that's expensive. There are other reasons why people are starving.”
Take Africa. “The story is tragic and dramatic. About 37 of the 40 poorest countries in the world are in Africa, yet they export food. There are children dying in these countries because they don't have enough to eat. And their land is being used to grow fodder for places such as the U.S. and Europe. This is crazy but this is the system.” He adds, “If we look to the past where farmers were free to produce their own food things were much better.”
Both events emphasise on the importance of growing and making food that is traditional, because it's not only an important part of every community's culture, but it's also much healthier than the fast food that's rapidly flooding the world. “Every country has its own great food. Anywhere you go you find unbelievable recipes. Unbelievable local food. Unfortunately poor people are following the American model. The local farmer is losing value in the process.”
Since it began in 2004, The Terra Madre has gathered and mobilised a network of food producers, working towards strengthening local, traditional and sustainable production models. Understanding the power of the food community, it links cooks, farmers, fishermen, wild food gatherers, breeders, scientists, academicians and journalists. Linked up, each group is infinitely more powerful.
The last meeting in 2008 brought together 1,650 food communities from 153 countries. This included 4,000 farmers, breeders, fishermen and artisan food producers and 800 cooks. “This may be an annual meet but the network is active through the year…”
This year the focus is on indigenous communities, such as the Sapmi. “Food is an expression of the land, climate, human capabilities, imagination, culture…” says Croce, adding “We look at food as an edible concrete part of our identity.”
Terra Madre's holistic approach to food has many astonishing benefits. “We created it to encourage the exchange of experience. To create a common platform so producers can find solution. What we didn't expect was its greatest outcome: giving people self-esteem.” As it turns out, for a man chasing reindeer on snowy nights, the most important encouragement is knowing he's not alone. That there are other people in the world sharing his struggle. And that the world is interested in what he is doing.
“This gives them a reason to continue. If you are not proud you will opt out. Move to big city. And, in many cases, ruin your life.”