Slow Fish Report

18 May 2009

The Slow Fish event was held for the fourth time from Friday April 17 to Monday April 20. It was hosted in a brand new, three-storey seaside pavilion — designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel and denominated “B” — in the Fiera di Genova fair complex. Why stage the event in Genoa? “Genoa is the main city of the region of Liguria in Italy,” explained Roberto Burdese, president of Slow Food Italy, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. “We chose Genoa because the main focus of Slow Fish is the Mediterranean, and Genoa is one of the most important cities and ports in the Mediterranean.” Why the Mediterranean” “Because we think that, at this moment, it is one of the seas with the highest number of problems.”

The first day of Slow Fish alone was attended by some 10,000 people and the final attendance figures spoke of 55,000 visitors in all, 20 percent up on 2007, the last time the event was staged. At the Water Workshops, the Slow Fish equivalent of Terra Madre’s Earth Workshops, more than 200 academics, researchers, members of fishing communities, representatives of public bodies and researchers and experts from the likes of the WWF, Greenpeace and Slow Food itself expounded on sustainable fishing and production, responsible fish consumption, and the health of marine and freshwater ecosystems, not to mention the vexata quaestio of illegal fishing.

At Taste Workshops, visitors were able to test their tastebuds on matchings of fish and wine and beer while the Osterie del Mare were traditional seafood restaurants in miniature. Italy was represented by the regions of Piedmont, Sicily, Campania, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Tuscany, the world by Norway.

A string of stands was dedicated to street food. The fried cicciarelli, small anchovy-like fish typical of Noli in Liguria protected by a Slow Food presidium, proved so popular they had sold out by the Sunday afternoon; a stand run by a seafood cooperative from La Spezia got through 1,600 kilos of mussels alla marinara; on the Saturday and Sunday, 1,500 slices of farinata, the Ligurian flatbread made with chickpea flour, were eaten; at the Sicily stand, they sold 1,000 kilos of arancini, fried rice balls, 500 cannoli, 5,000 kilos of cuscus, and 4,000 kilos of fried shrimps.

In the first three days of the event, 3,700 panini were sold. They were made with pane di Vinca, a prized bread from northern Tuscany, and fillings ranged from raw amberjack and grilled cuttlefish with asparagus to mussels and extra virgin olive oil, and many more besides.

Representatives of 26 Slow Food sea presidia turned up in Genoa: fifteen from Italy and eleven from other countries (Croatia, Mauritania, Morocco, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain and the UK). One of the cornerstones of the presidium concept is education. “I think that the idea of the presidia,” mused project leader Serena Milano, “is education for people, because we want to involve all the people, and we want them to know better these unique traditional local products, because they are a part of our culture, a big part of our history, of our life.”

Education was certainly one of the buzzwords at Slow Fish. Carlo Petrini explained why reflecting on a recent trip to South America. “I’ve just come back from Ecuador,” he said, “where there are fleets of huge ships, where incredible amounts of fish are being caught in order to make chicken feed… È una cosa assurda, this is absurd!” He concluded that, “Education can change this situation, and the sea can become a great resource again”.

At Slow Fish, a new campaign was launched to provide consumers with detailed information on how to shop for and eat fish responsibly. It included the distribution of a guide entitled Mangiamoli giusti in Italian, literally ‘Let’s Eat Them Right’ but rendered as Fare’s Fair in English. The publication contains basic information on which species of fish to avoid buying: from the Atlantic or farmed salmon to whitebait, from farmed tropical shrimps to swordfish, from date mussels to bluefin tuna. It also offers tips on species that are neglected or ignored by the market, but which constitute valid alternatives at the table to endangered or overfished species.

As Carlo Petrini told the BBC, “We throw too many species of fish away”. He was referring, at least as far as the Mediterranean is concerned, to fish such as the horse mackerel and the picarel, the dolphin fish and the pilotfish, the sandeel and the garfish. “If we can shift consumption to those species,” he argued, “we can do a great service to the marine eco-system and the seas.”.

In his closing speech, Claudio Burlando, President of the Liguria Regional Authority, confirmed that Genoa is keen to host the next Slow Fish in 2011. Cinzia Scaffidi, head of the Slow food Study Center, added that Slow Fish 2009 had been a big success thanks to the conscious involvement of the public. “People had done their homework by studying the programme carefully beforehand,” she explained. “They didn’t turn up by chance. Besides flocking to the market and the food stands, they also followed with great interest the various workshops that spoke of how we must behave to take care of a resource as extraordinary as the sea. After all, it’s on this resource that a large part of our wellbeing and our future will depend.”

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