Food and Folk

02 Nov 2005

I am increasingly of the opinion that Slow Food has no longer been the same since Terra Madre. When we planned and organized the event we were well aware that there would be unexpected outcomes. The famous ‘intellectuals of the earth’ who came to Turin last October are in fact bearers of cultures and identities that go far beyond a simple food and wine focus. We need to extend our vision to a whole range of complex multidisciplinary issues, from agriculture to models of consumption.

Diversity, as is always the case, proved to be a fertile medium and creative force. It cultivated a planetary awareness which was perfectly compatible with our intellectual and historical backgrounds. We understood that rather than simply being responsible consumers, it is necessary to go one step further and become ‘co-producers’ with the people who give us good, clean and fair food. Being co-producers means assuming full responsibility for the future of food producing communities: not only through support and service, but also through the exchange of information and the promotion of new concepts of quality and gastronomy. It’s not just a matter of looking at aspects of the production chain: here I am referring to higher, more comprehensive ideals.

Awareness involves a commitment even in our everyday activities, as we eat and seek the right dose of gastronomic pleasure. It is a commitment which challenges and welcomes the complexity of the world and translates it into something of importance and value.
Thinking back to Terra Madre, and also bearing in mind that we have recently opened up contacts with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington (a large organization involved in collecting, promoting and safeguarding cultural diversity and traditions of all the peoples around the world), it became evident that if we want to properly develop actions of defense, support and service, it is essential to start looking at food communities with a much broader and more complex perspective than we have to date.

Food production is a human activity in which the relationship with the surrounding environment and the expressions of local culture are of fundamental importance. It is what creates harmony with nature and in people’s lives. But you can’t make generalizations: every region has its own distinctive features, people and biodiversity. It is by striking a balance between these elements and endeavoring to fulfill the potential of each that sustainable, undistorted systems are achieved. It is high time for us to begin examining the links between agriculture and development, gastronomy and traditions, to begin looking at the cultural systems of communities in a holistic way, respecting different local conditions to the full.

Let me explain what I mean. Our guiding interests — food and agriculture — should be expanded to include studies and activities on what are regarded as popular traditions: dance, song, music, folk tales, architecture, tools, different modes of expression and different ways of working in the fields.

Like gastronomy, these expressions of identity have been relegated to a limbo. Deprived of scientific recognition, they are confined to ethnographic ‘ghettos’ which fail to do them justice. Yet they are part and parcel of complex local food and agriculture systems. By affirming this and thinking on a global scale — about the Terra Madre communities, for example — we open up fresh prospects that demand a different type of commitment from what we have pledged to date. Interest in traditional songs, music and dance is a sign of respect for the communities that produce food (in all countries of the world, whether rich or poor). Setting up initiatives that allow these traditions to remain a living symbol of distinctive and productive identity is a service anyone who wants to help should render.

I don’t think it is fanciful to imagine a large multimedia archive along the lines of the Smithsonian’s to systematically collect and catalog all the forms of expression of traditional farming cultures around the world. My idea is for a sort of multimedia encyclopedia of traditional cultures and I intend to think very carefully about how to make it materialze. The same degree of urgency exists as for the safeguarding of biodiversity, food products and production methods. I view the forms of expression I mentioned above as being perfectly functional to our vision of the world of gastronomy and the pursuit of strategies for the future for food — at last, good, clean and fair for everyone.

First published in Slow (no. 51)

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