Getting The Message

03 Apr 2003

Good for the CIF (Confederation of Italian Farmers) for launching its ‘Adopt a traditional local food’ campaign as part of the lead-up to a large demonstration in Rome.

I am truly delighted and feel a sense of tired satisfaction. A lot of patient hard work and effort has been put into shifting the focus of one of the big three players in Italian agriculture away from large-scale production—and a determined, masochistic defense of subsidized incomes—towards foodstuffs long dismissed as ‘niche’ products. Actually, I detest the expression ‘niche’ and am annoyed every time I hear it. Quality should be for everyone, not just reserved for a few, and there is no reason why we cannot achieve this aim.

So I would like to congratulate the CIF. Before the launch of their campaign it was an uphill struggle for us to find other people who believed in a new model for agriculture based on small-scale, traditional, sustainable and high-quality approaches. Back in 1996 we set up the Ark project for food products that had to be saved. It started out as a simple list and developed into an organized program of projects targeted at saving at-risk food produce—the Slow Food Presidia. These projects have brought together scientific committees, Slow Food staff, struggling producers and many supporters. The projects have involved research work and visits to local areas—complex, painstaking work adapted to the requirements of each different situation.

There are now more than 140 Presidia in Italy and we have recently started setting up the first International Presidia. The Bocconi University of Milan has carried out some very detailed research on the program. Looking at the increases in production, the revived prosperity of producers and the successes these products have enjoyed at the various editions of the Salone del Gusto, the University has stated that the model is a success and recommends its expansion.

But I’m getting carried away talking about Slow Food! What I really want to talk about is the CIF project ‘to protect and safeguard food production with roots in local areas, obtained using traditional methods which are the result of age-old knowledge now unfortunately at risk of no longer enriching our tables’. I am quoting here from the Confederation’s press release; it’s not my usual ‘niche’ statement about knowledge and flavors, which some people say is just a nostalgic evocation of the supposed good old days!

The CIF would like well-known figures from show business, culture and sport to adopt and help save these food products. They rallied tens of thousands of farmers to Rome to press for a new approach to Italian agricultural development. At last! After torrents of words, some people think about it the same way as we do and are making their opinions public.

What products does the CIF want to see adopted? Here is the list: Gargano citrus fruits, Ascoli olives, Caciocavallo podolico cheese from Basilicata, Puzzone di Moena cheese, Ubriaco cheese from the Veneto, Ferrara salama da sugo, Marzolina cheese from Lazio, Valle d’Orso lardo, the Padovana hen, the Polverara hen, Manna from Sicily, Sogliano formaggio di fossa cheese, and Monte San Biagio sausage. They are 13 truly excellent products: I completely agree with at least eight of them, they are Slow Food Presidia and, in our small way, we have been helping to save them from disappearing for some time. In 1999 we set up the Presidium for Gargano citrus fruit; in 2000 we set up the Presidia for Ascoli olives, Caciocavallo podolico from Basilicata, Puzzone di Moena, Ferrara salama da sugo, Marzolina cheese and the Padovana hen; while the last of the batch, the Sicilian Manna Presidium, was set up in 2001.

It is obviously not a question of copyright, but in the CIF press release there is no mention whatsoever of Slow Food or the work we have been doing for at least nine years in this area. I would like Mr Pacetti, the president of the CIF, to tell us whether this is just a lapse of courtesy or whether they are acting in bad faith, taking over work which is not theirs, to cover up for being so manifestly slow in addressing the issue.

I won’t say any more, otherwise I’ll end up speaking about Slow Food again. Well done, CIF! I hope your program has long-lasting results; as there’s always a need for projects of this type. We will just have to see how media and sporting celebrities treat these treasures of our national agriculture once they have adopted them.

First printed in La Stampa on March 23 2003

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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