Whatever their nature, crises have much to teach us. One of their fundamental lessons is this: Together we are stronger.
This belief underpins the Slow Food network. Wars, pandemics and natural disasters only highlight our awareness that we are one big community with a specific duty, to help each other and protect our Mother Earth.
The solidarity that we have seen in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion exactly one year ago offers a strong and concrete example of this. More than 400 donors from over 27 countries have donated over €47,000, pledging to support not only the safety of those who have fled their home country but also those who have chosen to stay and look after their animals, crops and villages, protecting the wealth of local biodiversity currently under existential threat.
Slow Food has seen evidence of the network’s solidarity from around the world. Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian Slow Food communities are hosting refugees; Slow Food Australia has collected humanitarian aid and sent it to the borders; Slow Food Prague has run workshops to showcase Ukrainian cuisine; and in France and Italy Slow Food has organized fundraisers in aid of Ukrainian producers.
So far over 60 communities have been helped by this communal solidarity in various ways, with a focus on assisting those affected by the conflict to carry on with their daily lives and save local biodiversity. At a time of war, safeguarding biodiversity might not seem a priority. But in fact it represents a vital foundation for a future recovery.
“War is total destruction,” said Andrea Pieroni, professor of Ethnobotany and Ethnobiology at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, speaking to us last summer. “It also puts at risk the entire biodiversity of a country, and consequently an entire traditional gastronomic heritage. The environmental consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war are manifold, and the effects fall (and will fall) as much on the present as on the future of each of us. But if a war can do damage, even more damage—and this time irreversible—can be done by reconstruction, if it does not respect the traditions and cultures that existed before, seeking instead to globalize and perhaps respond to global needs rather than local ones. The Slow Food network can play a key role in supporting Ukrainians to hold on to traditions, such as those of family production and farmers’ markets.”
The activities that Slow Food has been supporting in recent months include safeguarding traditional animal breeds by purchasing forage, providing medical assistance, distributing hatching eggs of local-breed chickens, providing farmers with seeds and plants of local varieties and helping to preserve local seed collections. The Slow Food network has also helped to purchase basic equipment, such as cultivators, fridges and wheelbarrows, for communities that have either been decimated or are hosting refugees. It has helped to fix a ruined school and buy containers for the meals being prepared by Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance cooks to distribute to the needy. For Christmas the network organized the delivery of food straight from farms to over 30 families where children were staying with their grandparents, so they could have good, wholesome food for the holidays.
“The money that we have received from Slow Food is vital, both to deliver humanitarian aid to people in need, and to preserve these native Carpathian bees and their ecosystem,” explained beekeeper Vitali Pavlu. “It’s all part of a spiritual and moral outlook that we promote: to do things not because they are profitable, but because they are good. So we take with one hand and give back with the other, to create harmony.”
While some have donated financially, others have chosen to donate their time and work. Just one example out of many: Dutch Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance member Jeroen van Nijnatten and his partner Marike Reinhard. Normally working as a caterer, Jeroen is well equipped to cook on location. About a month ago he and Marike packed their van full of cooking gear and ingredients and set off for the city of Lviv.
Their action was supported by the Ukrainian Education Platform and Kerk In Actie, a Dutch collective of Protestant churches. Since then, they have served about 1,400 pancakes in and around Lviv. Moving their mobile kitchen from orphanage to shelter to football stadium, everywhere the displaced happily queued up for a plate of warm Dutch pancakes. Marike has also been running yoga sessions for children in local orphanages. Says Jeroen: “The people we cooked for—mainly women and children of course—were very happy. The best part of these weeks was to see that they really felt supported.” Jeroen and Marike have recently returned to the Netherlands, but plans for a second trip are already being made.
Solidarity has also been on show in the places where Ukrainian refugees have arrived. Kateryna Prykhodko is a goat’s cheese producer and veterinarian who attended Cheese 2019. She fled from Kiev to Italy in March 2022, bringing three children, her mother and a number of dogs. In Ukraine, she had a farm called Dragonfly, located on the outskirts of the capital. Now everything is destroyed. But thanks to the hospitality of Eros Scarafoni and his family at the Fontegranne farm in the countryside near Fermo, in the Marche, Kateryna has found not just a safe haven but also the opportunity to continue her work as a cheesemaker, teaching the locals the secrets of her blue goat’s cheese. Local and regional Slow Food coordinators are working closely with her to promote her Italo-Ukrainian cheeses, organizing a series of meetings and events to give Kateryna a hand so that her Dragonfly can “fly” again.
“We are infinitely grateful to each of you, each community, each national association and the international headquarters,” said Slow Food’s coordinator in Ukraine, Yuliia Pitenko. “We are grateful to the whole extended Slow Food family for the quick and very effective assistance. We have been able to help those who are in the occupied territories, those who are near the front, those who are in Kyiv and those who received displaced people in western Ukraine, without bureaucratic obstacles. We understand that this is solidarity, real solidarity. We understand what heart-to-heart help means, and even now, when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, we still want to invite you to Ukraine, let it be in a year, when we will have restored our country and saved our local animal breeds, seeds and gastronomic dishes.”
Each of these activities is a step toward the future we want to see become a reality. We are all part of a global network. And while safeguarding biodiversity, educating others and advocating for policy change in your corner of the world is paramount, progress begins with the exchange of stories, knowledge and projects across the globe and is built on the relationships we forge with one another. Only together can we cultivate a better future. Wherever we are, we are not alone.