More than 220,000 people attended Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto this year. It feels like I bumped into every one of them (except for the three people I knew before going, as they were nowhere to be found).
Terra Madre is the educational conference of Slow Food International, held every two years in Torino, Italy, to give farmers, food activists, chefs and others interested in real food and a sustainable food system a chance to share ideas and make global changes. The Salone del Gusto portion–acres of exhibitors of everything food–has always been open to the public, but this is the first year the two events were combined and open to all. I was happy to get a media pass for the five-day event. This is something I’ve been wanting to attend since it began in 2004. I went to Torino with an assignment to write specifically about cheeses–no small task, as there were more than 40 endangered cheeses alone highlighted here–and am working on additional assignments from the rest of the conference.
A few things that will stick with me from my time here (in photos):
All of the nations represented at Terra Madre participated in the opening ceremonies, and one delegate from each country carried the flag. (You can see them walking among the crowd.) Passionate real-food activists from developed nations (the U.S., Great Britain, Italy, France, et cetera) were represented. So were people concerned about their food security among so many other security concerns: Syria, Lebanon, Iran and others. Access and freedom to produce real, sustainable food is taken for granted by so many of us, but to a growing number of people, food is freedom. If I take nothing else away from my five days at Terra Madre, I will always remember feeling like I make so little a contribution to a more sustainable food system in my country, when there are others who made it to Terra Madre and are championing real food-system changes despite much larger issues.
The lines for free tastes of prosciutto were only eclipsed by the line for free tastes of gelato. Probably two-thirds of the exhibitors at Salone del Gusto gave away free samples, and attendees were not shy about them (actually bordering on dangerous at times). As a matter of personal safety, I steered clear of many of the free tastes. I did elbow my way in for gelato, and it was the best gelato I’ve ever had.
I enrolled in a Master of Food course called The Fifth Quarter. This year’s Master of Food classes centered on the theme of reducing food waste in the kitchen, and The Fifth Quarter was about using offcuts and offal in cooking. As I entered the classroom, I wondered what the hell I was doing–here I hardly even eat meat, and I was going to learn about how to prepared innards. I’m so glad I stayed. The chef/teacher was charming (though the translation was at some points flat-out wrong), and the dish we prepared–a lampredotto (cow’s abomassum) pasta sauce with pasta and cabbage–was fantastic.
Chickpeas come in black! Also, some olive varieties are still cracked and cured by hand, pistachios are being used for so much more than ice cream and plain eating, and there are varieties of food out there that are disappearing quickly–and will possibly never even be tasted in the U.S. The 350 Slow Food Presidia from 50 countries highlighted this year are testament to the dedicated work a few small-scale farmers and producers are doing to preserve their cultural and food traditions.
This is a photo outside Terra Madre on the first morning (a Thursday). The entrance is at the yellow sign in the background–the line was already this long. What does Italy have that the U.S. doesn’t? How can Italy pull off an event like this, with 220,000 attendees? This was something I discussed with several people during Terra Madre. If there were a real-, sustainable-food conference of this importance in the U.S., would people come? I’m not convinced. First, the conspiracy theorist in me says the multinational corporations in charge of our industrial, corporate, unsustainable food system would find a way to make it not happen. Second–and more alarming–I’m not sure Americans care enough. The presidential election is less than a week away as of this writing, and food access and food security is not a topic mentioned, even in passing, by either candidate. Whether people are talking about it or not, the world’s food system is becoming less stable, more fragile and less sustainable by the day. Whatever it is that makes Italians care about their food the way they do had better make it across the pond soon.