Carlo Petrini opens the Fifth International Slow Food Congress
10 Nov 07
The importance of re-uniting ourselves with traditional knowledge and maintaining the development of local economies is essential to a sustainable food system and to our future, asserted Carlo Petrini, founder and President of the international Slow Food association, in his opening address at the Fifth Slow Food International Congress today.
Petrini began by stressing the environmental and social damage that has been brought about by dominant modes of food production and our concept of productivity. Modern farming methods seriously threaten our environment and landscape and are responsible for extreme disruption to ecosystems, with invasive species and monocultures devastating biodiversity, and are leading us to a disaster that will be irreversible.
“We must remember that this is a crisis of the concept of development – of linear development, in which productivity and the global market are priority.” Petrini stated. “We are in a critical situation. We must return to a traditional concept of humanity.”
Petrini proposed that our alternative is to find a contemporary solution that draws on traditional knowledge and local economies. This does not signify only assisting indigenous populations to maintain local scales of economy, but to maintain and develop local economies throughout the world. This is a cultural approach, as there is no local economy without local culture, and is concerned with protecting the local environment and rural landscape, and maintaining food cultivation and processing in accord with traditional knowledge and regional heritage and values.
Traditional knowledge plays an essential role: it has allowed the endurance of biodiversity and the survival of populations for centuries. It is necessary that we seek out and protect the traditions and knowledge that lie in the hands of farmers. “If you think hard about it, the lack of self-esteem we give to farmers is part of the environmental disaster we face.” Petrini stated. “For example, when Mexicans leave their homeland, to go and work as exploited farmers in California, they take their knowledge with them and Mexico loses the intellectual knowledge of its land.”
In addition to renewing our respect for traditional knowledge and its bearers, Petrini stated the importance of questioning how we can ensure the return of young people to the land, thus allowing the passing on of this knowledge. Today’s dominant societal values mean younger generations no longer want to be involved in farming. It is essential that Slow Food works to encourage and assist young people to return to the land and in fact, “nothing matters as much, otherwise we don’t have a future,” Petrini emphasized.
The Slow Food global network of food communities, involving farmers and producers, chefs and cooks, educators and scholars, and will make a concerted effort to involve more young people and students in the future. Saturday’s Congress proceedings will include a presentation from students regarding how to work more inclusively with young people. They will also propose a new Slow Food project that would establish a program to allow young students and farmers to travel and experience other agricultural systems, cultures and economies.
Prior to Petrini’s opening speech, a round table discussion was held to explore the complex and diverse issues that Slow Food has become increasingly committed to in recent years. Speakers included Maya Yani from the Indian development agency Navdanya and Mexican anthropologist Luis Vargas.
This Fifth Slow Food International Congress is the first to be held outside of Europe, representative of the development and growth of Slow Food membership, local chapters and projects across the world – with local chapters of Slow Food forming in many new countries. This international Slow Food network of food communities’ was born out of the two Terra Madre meetings, held in 2004 and 2006 in Italy, which initiated a worldwide network of food producers, chefs and academics.
The convening of 600 delegates, representing more than 85,000 members and 49 nations, marks a momentous transition for the organization, endorsing this new relationship between producers and consumers, cooks, educators and students in the name of eco-gastronomy and truly sustainable economies. The Congress in Puebla will build a new structure to support these challenges, approving new resolutions to guide future strategies and projects.