In 1986, Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was outraged when McDonald’s opened its first outlet in Rome. He saw this as a threat to Italy’s culinary culture. He led a protest against the global industrialization of food, which culminated in the slow food movement. Starting in Rome, the movement is now a worldwide phenomenon. Edited excerpts from an interview at the Indigenous Terra Madre in Shillong:
What are the key achievements of the Slow Food movement?
Slow Food was founded to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and to encourage people to be aware about the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. For this reason, Slow Food works to defend biodiversity and to promote a sustainable and environmentally friendly food production and consumption system.
In 2004, Slow Food launched the Terra Madre network, which brings together food producers, fishers, breeders, chefs, academics, young people, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and representatives of local communities from 150 countries. In a world dominated by industrial production, Terra Madre, which means Mother Earth, actively supports the small-scale farmers, breeders, fishers and food artisans around the world whose approach to food production protects the environment and communities.
In 2004, Slow Food also started the University of Gastronomic Sciences. The university attracts students from all over the world who are interested in its unique educational programme, a combination of study and practice, through books, live experiences, science, management, encounters with craftsmen and farmers, and study trips which allow students to meet producers, visit companies in the agro-food industry and explore the particularity of the territories and traditional cultures of each region of the world.
Its goal is to create an international research and education centre for those working on renewing farming methods, protecting biodiversity and building an organic relationship between gastronomy and agricultural science.
Do you think Slow Food has been able to get enough traction or is it still slow as a movement not known beyond local communities and practitioners?
We can see a growing awareness of the value of food and a trend towards buying healthy and quality products. So, there is an increasing number of people who pay more and more attention to what they eat and where the food comes from, and who are learning how to read labels.
People are realizing that the statement “you are what you eat” is not just a saying; it is a true assertion which was already understood in the 19th century. Our body responds in different ways depending on what we eat; we could be fit and healthy or we could start developing diseases related to what we eat, such as diabetes and obesity.
Besides this, there are many initiatives which are developing in recent years. More people around the world are taking a look at urban farming, which offers to make our food as local as possible. By growing what we need near where we live, we decrease the food miles associated with long-distance transportation.
Also, the alternative of community-supported agriculture—based on a direct, active partnership between farmers (or a growing project) and the local community—is proving to be successful. It seems therefore that, as the world gets faster, the need for a counter-current of slowness will necessarily grow too.
India has 1.25 billion people, or 17% of the world’s population, in just 2.4% of its land area. Can Slow Food feed such a huge population?
As you mentioned, India has a large population and, in comparison, it is short of land. That is why Indian people need to exploit their resources in the best possible way.
Slow Food believes that the slow trend could feed the Indian population, since it encourages the local production of food, particularly in ways that also protects local heritages, including knowledge and artisanal skills passed down through generations.
Sustaining local production creates jobs in local communities, helping to benefit not only individual economic security, but also advance regional and national economic growth.
India has a great culture and it would be a pity if the new trend of standardizing typical Indian dishes in fast food chains overcomes the real food culture and the biodiversity of Indian products. People have also started to feel the need to protect their food culture and right now the Ark of Taste has already two Indian products on board: the Dehradun Basmati Rice and the Khasi Mandarin.
What is the roadmap for the future of the Slow Food movement?
Last year, Slow Food set three main strategic objectives on which the organization is going to work in the following years: 10,000 products in the Ark of Taste, 10,000 Gardens in Africa and 10,000 Convivia and Food Communities.
These goals represent the Slow Food commitment to protect and save biodiversity and to build an African network of young leaders. The goals also aim to strengthen the Slow Food and Terra Madre network globally in order to let people from all over the world to have access to good, fair and clean food.
What are your immediate concerns and proposed solutions?
The organization will participate in the action day in view of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, with the aim of making a political contribution.
Slow Food also carries forward the battles to stop soil consumption and to propose a definitive ban on GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Recently, the European Parliament rejected the commission’s proposal on GM crop imports for use as food and feed, and called for a new proposal. Slow Food welcomed this decision since a ban against the use of genetically modified food and feed at a national level would have been impossible to implement according to the rules of the European common market. This proposal would not have protected European citizens and the environment against the risks related to the use of GMO products.
Slow Food also carries forward the battle to stop the TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), a free trade agreement between Europe and the US that, if approved, could substantially alter democratic decision-making in favour of avoiding any potential barrier to trade. Slow Food is part of a broad international coalition asking to stop TTIP, an initiative supported by over three million European citizens.