Closing Assembly of Terra Madre 2006: Carlo Petrini's Speech
30 Oct 06
We are about to bring to an end the magnificent second Terra Madre event. It’s a good idea to use this opportunity to think about the tangible prospects of this extraordinary meeting and reflect upon the major decisions that we’ll have to take in the coming years. To do this it’s important for us to establish who we really are.
When we coined the term ‘food community’ two years ago, we were aware that it embodied a very precise concept. Reinstating food as a central, primary element in our lives seems an obvious thing to do, since without food, no living things would exist. In the course of time, alas, food has moved from the center, and gastronomy and the culinary art have been reduced to mere folklore with no thought for the true roots of food culture: roots that are the essence of life, roots that make us part of the circle of life itself. Hence the unorthodox decision to organize Terra Madre in conjunction with the Salone del Gusto, bringing together communities of producers and cooks and chefs, inviting representatives of 250 universities from all over the world and asking them to come to terms with farmers and their traditional know-how, at the same time admiring a fantastic food exhibition that has changed skin completely over the last ten years. Ten years ago, in fact, 75 per cent of the exhibitors at the Salone were traders and only 25 per cent were producers. Today we have reversed the proportions, so that now 25 percent are traders and 75 percent are producers. In many quarters it was thought that the choice of working on an ethical, environmentalist option, on the politics and culture of Terra Madre, might somehow reduce attendance at the Salone del Gusto, but over these past few days I’ve had the impression that exactly the opposite has happened. What does this mean? It means that even in civil society, the need is felt for a close relationship with production, for coming to terms with others, for finding out more and for developing food culture.
A special chemistry has made this great meeting a success, bringing 200,000 people from all over the world to the Salone and you 6,500 delegates here to debate the fate of the earth, the right to water, the right to clean air and the right to own seeds. I believe this is the most important element for us to undertand and for you to take back to your own communities. You are producers of culture and, as such, have a strong relationship with your communities and also with Mother Earth. So seek out alliances at home, as we have done here. When you return to your countries, ask official science to liaise with the traditional know-how of farmers, ask cooks and chefs to connect with you, make sure rural classes are not isolated and become active protagonists, because the defense of this planet is in your hands, and this is so simply because only you can boost local economies as opposed to the market economy. It’s not true that the local economy is obsolete and archaic: the local economy is strong and incredibly modern. Economists and politicians must acknowledge that local economies are much more profound than we might think; that if the market economy did, to a certain extent, produce benefits at a given moment in time, today, thanks to its logic of expecting more and more of the earth, it is wringing disaster not only on the environment but also on human relationships. We are no longer citizens but consumers, no longer producers but people used to create consumer objects. We don’t live in a harmonious relationship with creation: we produce too much, then waste what we produce.
You represent and embody this economy, even when it’s a subsistence economy — especially when it’s a subsistence economy. Such an economy serves more to defend against hunger than the market economy and, thanks to it, food has resumed a starring role. The work that you do has recovered its dignity and outstanding modernity. The there’s another item on the agenda; food communities. I’d like you all to know how to prepare yourselves to use the term ‘communities’ in the future. The community, you see, moves on rocky ground, whereas society at large is a structured and hierarchical system. The community is either structured in a rudimentary way or not structured at all. And this is our strength! Let no one think that an association or a party has been formed here. Nothing of the sort! The dialogue or, dare I say, the dialectic between organized, structured society, represented by institutions, parties, associations and religions, and democratic, even anarchic communities that live in uncertainty — this dialogue between community and society is a new source of fecundity for us. Let no one have ideas about structuring Terra Madre. Terra Madre is, by its very nature, a free entity, and this enhances the space available to us. I would even go as far as to say that we enjoy ourselves more because in this way we can use our imaginations, we can be inventive, have courage, travel new roads, think in terms of mutual care and aid (a key element for the community), live for others, translate rights into duties and think about the wellbeing of all. Here among us, unlike in structured society, there are neither competitors nor user and consumer objects. Ours is a participatory, ‘livable’ life, and, as such, contains an element of uncertainty. Maybe one day we’ll lose control of Terra Madre, but it doesn’t matter.
So far it’s gone very well indeed, because it’s bound by a cement that politics can’t weaken: the cement of affective intelligence. At last, this world of ours, so full of rational intelligence, can boast a get-together that is affective and fraternal. Thanks to this we don’t need to be structured: we can be free and enjoy ourselves and, at once, create a future for ourselves. Thanks to this we can put into practice the words of a great intellectual: namely that wisdom is achieved through ‘no power, a little understanding, a little knowledge and lots and lots of flavor’. And who, more than us, can give the earth flavor? The flavor of food! The joy of food!
For this reason, dear delegates, we must learn to do what’s impossible elsewhere, to venture where others cannot. Marvelous things have happened over the last five days: Azerbaijan talking to Armenia, Iraq and Lebanon with Israel and Palestine. Here, the home of farmers, of fishermen, of nomads, the world wasn’t in a state of conflict. When the Middle Eastern meeting was held, people were a bit stiff to start with, but after a few minutes Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon understood they were all part of the same family, and symbolically dipped bread in salt. The great fraternal gesture of dipping bread in salt! The fact is that we who are slaves of the media would have liked to reconstruct the initiative on this stage not just for you, but also for the world media, to let governments see how farmers live harmoniously and in peace. But this isn’t possible, because if a Lebanese or an Israeli does such a thing in front of the cameras and journalists from all over the world, they won’t receive a very happy welcome when they get back to the airport at home. I really do hope that at the next Terra Madre we’ll be allowed to make symbolic gestures, because if they take away our gestures, they take away our souls. He who wishes to ban gestures be damned! The gesture is the pivot of rural society, and it is by the gesture that it has lived for millennia: if they take gesture away, it no longer makes sense. It’s not words, it’s gestures that count. You’ve been called to this meeting by the horn of peasants from the Peruvian Andes — that was a gesture. You aren’t wearing your costumes for reasons of folklore: you are wearing them as a mark of your identity — that too is a gesture. Let’s hope that Terra Madre 2008 can give us freedom of gesture! Thank you all!