Terra Madre 2008 welcomes the world

report by Marc Millon

photographs by Freddie Dudbridge

Terra Madre

The sounds of Terra Madre

Turin, Italy 27 September 2008 Terra Madre, the world gathering of food communities, opened on October 23rd in Turin’s Winter Olympic ice hockey arena to great fanfare. There were ‘contadini musicisti’ playing the sounds of Terra Madre (a new feature), and a procession with flag carrying representatives from some 153 countries. More than 6000 delegates were gathered – farmers, producers, fishermen, market organizers, chefs, teachers, writers, academics and youth delegates – creating a truly global network of individuals involved in the production, the cooking, the selling, the writing and thinking about real traditional foods. We were linked, as much as anything with such a vast and diverse gathering, by a system of beliefs and values about the worth of rural activities and local food production, protection of the earth, and the value of real food, traditional food, simply to make our lives – as well as our livelihoods - better. “Siamo tutti contadini,” declared Paolo Di Croce, the Secretary General of Terra Madre in his opening remarks.

The ‘rete di Terra Madre’  – this extraordinary network of world food communities – has grown ever stronger since Terra Madre was first launched in 2004. It has evolved from inspiration into action and has demonstrated to the world the power of a true grassroots movement that can bring positive change. We were reminded that Terra Madre is about solidarity too – in recent times of natural disasters, its communities have reached out to give real aid and assistance, notably with the Katrina Relief Fund as well as at other natural disasters around the world.

Taking part in a Terra Madre Earth workshop

As delegates of Terra Madre, we were welcomed with stirring words. Alice Waters, the iconic American chef and restaurateur, now Vice President of Slow Food, spoke of the challenges we face: the industrialization of food production, the introduction of GM foods, climate change, and the homogenization of our diets.

HRH Prince Charles, who was not able to be at this year’s Terra Madre, spoke to the gathering via a video, and lent his wholehearted support to the movement, to organic farming and to environmental conservation.

Ban Ki Moo, the Secretary General of the United Nations, also sent a message of support: “I welcome initiatives such as yours which contribute to building new partnerships and focus public opinion on small-scale farming. The global food crisis requires a comprehensive and coordinated global response. I thank Terra Madre for joining our partnership. In that spirit, I wish you a most constructive and successful gathering.”

Dr. Vandana Shiva, Slow Food Vice President and founder and President of the Navdanya Association, received a standing ovation when she spoke movingly and angrily of a world that can bail out corrupt bankers yet balks at the greater challenges of eradicating hunger, poverty and giving rights to those who produce the foods we eat. The Navdanya Association was born from the search for nonviolent farming approaches that protect biodiversity, the earth and small farmers. Her poignant remarks about the hundreds of farmers in India who have committed suicide because they could not afford GM seeds were particularly moving.

Social injustice was a recurring theme. A speaker from Brazil stated that ‘we cannot accept that the destiny of humanity is the continuation of poverty: we want something else for future generations’. Others issues introduced by the speakers resonate in the wider world beyond the halls of Terra Madre: challenges such as the management and conservation of natural resources and water; dealing with climate change; finding ways to make sustainable, non-intensive agriculture work; the ever greater importance of rural and local economies, especially in times of recession and with the oil crisis making costs ever higher and higher.

Young Sam Levin, a high school student from Massachusetts, introduced us to “Project Sprout”. Sam and his fellow students worked hard to create a market garden in a disused soccer field on their school grounds. The produce is now being used in the school cafeteria and surplus vegetables are donated to the homeless. “We have proved to ourselves that youth can make a difference,” he affirmed, to thunderous applause. It is a movement and a feeling that is spreading around the world: this year Terra Madre welcomed some 3000 youth delegates.

Carlo Petrini emphasized the importance of youth. “They are our future and give us hope.” He too placed Terra Madre’s concerns within the immediate context of today’s events. “Who would have thought, just four years ago when we launched the first Terra Madre, that the world would face such crisis? Everyday life as we know it is at risk. Yet there is also a sense of freedom, that the era of shameful wealth without limits is now over. I am strongly convinced that the world economic crisis will lead to more respect for the rural economy, agriculture and farming – the real, grounded economy – and that the values of Terra Madre will be recognized,” stated the founder of the Slow Food movement. “The local economy and an appreciation of the values of traditional skills and knowledge is the future. And the future is here amongst you all.”

Petrini is nothing if not inspiring. He is one of those rare human beings who can translate big ideas into concrete happenings.

Carlo Petrini

Carlo Petrini

Over the days that followed, workshops, talks and discussions took place in the vast hall of the Oval, just behind Lingotto, where the Salone del Gusto was taking place simultaneously No one would claim that answers were found for all the larger global issues and challenges that the world now faces. But real progress was made on a variety of fronts through connecting with the very people whose lives and livelihoods depend on such progress, at whatever level. For example, practical Earth Workshops were held on such diverse topics as “The potato and other tubers”; “The network of quality coffee”; “Healthy canteens”; “Sustainability in the restaurant, the sustainability of restaurants”; “Indications of origin”, “Fish: transform and preserve” and many other topics of direct relevance to those involved in such activities, whether producers, fishermen, chefs, market organizers, or academics. Slow Food UK launched its campaign for “Slow Bread” made by artisan bakeries and discussions took place around this topic. Of particular concern to us were discussions about how artisan foods can be made accessible not just to a wealthy elite but to all.

Such gatherings are the strength of Terra Madre: to talk, to meet, to share, so that the smallest and most needy food communities from around the world are able to share platforms with equal vigour, energy and solidarity with those who may be bigger, stronger, or more developed. In this way, the food communities of the world feed off each other, nourishing, learning, supporting.

Terra Madre closed on Monday, but the results of this world gathering will, I believe, resonate around the world. It was an inspiring reaffirmation that all our efforts and activities – wherever we are in the world, and in whatever way we connect with food and food communities – have real worth and value. Those who attended, I'm certain, leave charged with a collective determination, in the months and years ahead, to seek to find practical ways and solutions, ways to make our values and beliefs translate into positive actions that will benefit Terra Madre – Mother Earth – and, in whatever small way, make the world a better place, for all of us as well as for future generations.

Slow Food Market

Slow Food Devon Topsham Market at Terra Madre 2008


Terra Madre

Slow Food

Report from 1st Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto 2004

Report about the Slow Food Award for Biodiversity 2000

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