As far as the Common Agricultural Policy is concerned – with the necessary provisos regarding Registered Designations of Origin, which I feel are an excellent way of safeguarding and recognizing valuable products – we are both aware that the present subsidy regime needs to be comprehensively reformed.
You were the first person I heard speaking of the need for a reform and reassessment of the CAP. But the impression we gain out on the margins is that these good intentions are often constrained by the powerful agribusiness lobbies which exert influence on European decision making through their control of communications and end up steering decisions in their favor.
If we add to this “control” the fact that most politicians do not have the opportunity or the time to properly understand the issues underlying food culture and food production, we can see how this lobby can more easily exercise its influence.
This is another big question. It was an essential priority for there to be incentives and good profits for producing more food at a time when Europe did not produce enough for everyone. Once this overriding objective had been achieved, the huge interests created around policies supporting quantity production continued to prevail. This is now one of the most challenging and difficult issues facing Europe, but it only became apparent once food sufficiency had been achieved. That is why the entry of new Eastern European countries has provided an opportunity to make changes.
With hindsight however, we have to acknowledge that without European regulations many products would already have disappeared and the actions of movements such as Slow Food would have arrived too late.
I can see there is a conflict between the interests of large-scale production and small artisanal production and it is clear that the former seem to be having greater success.
But since incomes in Europe have for some time been more than sufficient relative to what is needed to survive, I feel that small traditional producers operating outside large scale distribution networks or industrial systems have good opportunities. Individuals and associations are involved in a variety of initiatives, there is greater public awareness: nobody is stopping them from making their mark.
Speaking frankly, do you see us as Don Quixote fighting windmills?
It depends. It may seem absurd to suggest it, but at present you are the winners: people are more careful about what they eat, they eat less and eat better. There has been a shift from quantity to quality. You just need to switch on the TV to see this taken to extremes in some cases.
That is enough to show that you are not involved in a quixotic gesture: your activities in Italy have been hugely successful. The challenge is to now transfer this success to other countries, such as those in Eastern Europe, by creating similar projects for safeguarding products and the conditions for achieving economic profitability. It is very important to give emerging economies an example of what has worked well in other places. You can start by telling them that their traditional product is worth saving and has all the characteristics to be successful. You then need to explain that a special product, a symbol of a particular local identity, will not survive in the market if it is not accompanied by cultural added value: it must be perceived and treated as something different from mass-produced products, otherwise it will be overwhelmed.
If along with this shift, European institutions are able to help the agricultural system develop and evolve, part of the challenge will be won. In other countries, such as in Africa, you can sow some seeds and hope that something will grow.
Africa: earlier we mentioned colonization and it is outside Europe where we can find the communities facing the worst consequences of true colonialism and imperialism. In these places, where gastronomy is perhaps less developed but not less needy, the colonizing powers imposed their food customs, considering those of the native people to be primitive, impractical and, in particular, non-exportable. In other cases however — I am thinking of India for example — the colonial power was happy to appropriate gastronomic ideas: we well know where curry comes from, one of the most common condiments found in England.
The same process happened in agriculture, creating a terrible split between raw materials and knowledge. Invading colonial powers replaced traditional products with ones used and consumed in the mother country. We can quote the examples of cocoa and coffee in particular. To think that 75% of cocoa farmers in the world have never been able to taste chocolate.
It is a problem of food sovereignty. On the one hand we have a separation between people working in the fields and their ability to use their raw materials; on the other hand there is a gradual disappearance of gastronomic knowledge and food traditions. This means that any chance of reversing the situation is very remote. I feel that cuisine is a very important form of peaceful diplomacy. If these societies could claim sovereignty over their food supplies, the most significant effect would be that they could secure economic benefits without being dependent on others.
The countries facing these problems that are closest to us are those on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Our common sea still retains natural biodiversity, an amazing range of food products and great cultural heritage.
I would very much like to see Terra Madre addressing the range of issues affecting the Mediterranean, particularly the countries on the southern coastline. We are facing a situation involving enormously complex challenges: just think of the enormous emigration pressures for example. It is a world on our doorstep which is facing huge social and economic problems. Many of these communities are not self-sufficient, either internally or via the market.
The dream of a generous and open Europe also passes through awareness and action on these issues, which may seem far away but are in fact very near.
Adapted by Ronnie Richards