The Prince and Petrini

27 Dec 2007

Slow Food International President Carlo Petrini met in late November with His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales on his organic estate in Gloucestershire. Petrini and Prince Charles passed a long afternoon in discussion ranging over the preservation of agriculture and food artisans and traditions, globalization and the homogenization of culture, the limitations of empirical science, education and encouraging youth back to the land.

Prince Charles attended the first Terra Madre event in Turin in 2004 where he saluted small-scale food producers with the words, ‘I have always believed that agriculture is not only the oldest, but also the most important of humanity’s productive activities. It is the engine of rural employment and the foundation stone of culture, even of civilization itself’.

Their conversation began with the Prince pointing to the importance and difficulties involved in regaining lost traditions. “It’s like lighting a fire that’s gone out when you haven’t got the right materials. How do you recreate an artisan culture?” he asked. However, he then went on to describe the interesting phenomenon that is occurring across England today, where many people of varied backgrounds are leaving the city to buy land or a farm and commence a food production activity.

Petrini and Prince Charles discussed the standardization of cultures around the world, as it is occurring through globalization. “What I cannot bear is the ‘uglification’ of the entire world and the also the homogenization of the world. So, wherever you go, under the insane ‘globalized’ approach – because it doesn’t have a human face, globalization – you might just as well be in the same country.”

“It’s not a pleasant prospect, this low-grade standardization of the world. As long as we fail to understand the deep bond that links cultures and the cosmos to agricultural production and land protection, we are always going to be talking about agro-biodiversity in a flawed, ineffective way,” responded Petrini.

The use of the world ‘sustainable’ and problems with the terminology being adopted whilst business ‘goes on as usual’ was also debated. Petrini said he believed the true meaning of sustainability could be found in an approach that values the combination of, “revitalizing local micro-economies based on local cultures and local knowledge to build multifunctional production and exchange systems that ensure better wages but also improvements to the landscape, individual gratification and well-being, social health, democracy and respect.”

The Prince agreed, and stated that this was in fact the true meaning of the word ‘progress’, but, “the trouble is that it’s very hard to persuade people and encourage them to believe that this is progress. For some reason or another, people think that it’s going backwards. Yet, at the same time, we find that there is growing interest, paradoxically, in where food is coming from, how it’s made, how safe it is, in food that isn’t produced by industrial processes, by the story behind the food, and the people involved and so forth. But, at the same time, the difficulty is how do you encourage and persuade the younger people that this kind of approach – a small community or a small economic set-up – is actually something that is modern? I’ve been trying to encourage an understanding by young people of this aspect, and I think one of the most important and useful ways to do that is through the re-introduction of school farms.”

In parting, the Prince made a plea to Italy to not lose its uniqueness, to uphold its culture in which lifestyle is paramount, and where, “you treat food as an art form, produce these wonderful and endless varieties of food, cheeses, cured meats, but also your wonderful traditional craft skills in so many areas. Believe you me, we need cultural and spiritual security, not just biosecurity. We can’t separate these elements. What is the point of food security, if we lose our souls?”

Source: La Repubblica

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