Carlo Petrini: Despite Lockdowns, Slow Food Network Has Never Been So Alive 

19 May 2020

President of Slow Food Carlo Petrini shared his views on the current Covid-19 pandemic and Slow Food’s Solidarity in times of the crisis in the leading Italian newspaper “La Stampa”

Most of the readers of this newspaper know that Turin is the city of Terra Madre, a network of farmers, food artisans, processors, breeders, shepherds, activists, nomads from 160 countries around the world that constitutes a sort of United Nations of agriculture. It meets every two years in the Piedmontese capital in an event where local citizens are together with guests, volunteers, supporters, spectators, and co-protagonists.

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In a historical moment like the one we are going through, it is difficult to imagine the sounds, colors, scents, and physical intensity of this gathering, which is expected to fill the Lingotto pavilions again this October. Yet, never before has this movement, this network, been so alive and active, strong and compact. The social distancing that is now customary at all latitudes cannot stop the solidarity, determination, and militancy of those who every day struggle to change a food system that destroys the environment and generates exclusion and poverty. The humble of the earth (the word derives from humus and indicates those who are close to the earth) today even more than yesterday are in the front line to ensure the subsistence of the communities in which they live and to shorten the social gap. But how are these things done in a time of crisis like this? There are mainly two roads.

On the one hand, it is necessary to ensure the continuity of sustainable economies of proximity, strengthening the relationship between producers and citizens, keeping markets alive through new technologies, creating new services to revitalize local and fair supply chains. So in the Netherlands, it is the young people of the Slow Food Youth Network who coordinate the delivery of baskets of assorted fresh products made in the countryside on the outskirts of Amsterdam; while in Normandy, in the Basque Country and in Coquimbo, Chile, after the closure of the markets, local activists have started to offer home delivery service so as not to burden the smaller producers. The same is happening with local groups in Cluj and Turda in Romania, those in Izmir in Turkey and those in Toluca and Merida in Mexico. Throughout Italy, this service is provided by the Slow Food Presidia network in collaboration with the convivia. In Peru, the Terra Madre network collaborates with FAO to support agroecology and family farming. In Ukraine, Slow Food convivia have organized a distribution of native seeds to promote urban horticulture, while in Johannesburg townships young South Africans deliver kits with soil, native seeds, and urban cultivation manuals. In Cuba, the network organizes online training courses on family horticulture in COVID times, and in Bolivia, Kazakhstan, and Australia, the network runs anti-waste recipes by educating the younger generations to do sustainable shopping. Brazilians, Americans, Catalans, and Uruguayans have already launched online platforms to connect citizens and small-scale local producers. Throughout the African continent, the thousands of Slow Food gardens continue to operate, providing villages with vegetables and fruit for families and school canteens where schools are still open. The list could go on for a long time because the globality of Terra Madre is an inexhaustible cornucopia of small and large local initiatives.

At this historic moment, however, uniting citizens and producers is not enough because, as in any period of crisis, it is the poor, ultimately, who pay the highest price. This is where the second pillar of the Terra Madre network’s activity in the world is grafted, in direct and generous assistance to those who need it most. In Belgium as in Uganda, in France as in Kenya, communities have taken immediate action to ensure the delivery of local and fresh food to those who do not have the means and tools to get it. In Bayonne, in the French Basque Country, the Alliance’s network of cooks has started a voluntary service to cook quality meals for medical staff involved in the fight against coronavirus as well as those who are taking care of the elderly and the most fragile. The same is happening in Glasgow and Milan, Berlin and Kampala. What holds this dust of initiatives together is the sense of belonging to a project of global change, common though different in every place, strictly local as well as proudly global. It is the determined and generous response of those who know that solidarity is the only way out of this tunnel a little less battered. It is the resolute action of those who know that the earth is our foundations and it is by caring for it, cultivating it, and respecting it that tomorrow will be built. All this is doubly evident in China, where it all began. For some months now, work has been done to restore strength to the economy of the countryside through the creation of a thousand agricultural villages with the philosophy of Slow Food.

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