The Slow Food International Forum, a Slow Food Festival, and a series of Food Culture Exchange Workshops took place in Taitung, Taiwan, the last week of April 2023
Seven representatives of Slow Food International from different countries attended the five-days events to meet the local network and share Slow Food’s experiences around the world.
A Slow Food community in Taitung, the third largest county in Taiwan, hosted their first international event in late April 2023.
Slow Food representatives from the International offices and Slow Food communities spoke-people joined from Italy, the Philippines India and Malaysia, making Taitung a new base for dialogue with the international Slow Food movement and linking Austronesian cultures.
The main event was the annual Slow Food Taitung Festival, now in its 10th year, which took place in Taitung Forest Park from April 29-30. Leading up to the festival, the community also hosted their first international forum, which gave Slow Food an opportunity to share its message and strengthen its presence in Taitung, and in Taiwan.
Taitung is located on the island’s southeast coast and is known for its diverse indigenous population, and for being a laidback, calm tourist destination with clean, fresh air. On the first day, the invited guests experienced a variety of activities, including visiting the Kanding Tribal Village to learn about traditional millet preservation and then sampling traditional steamed food, called icibi, in the Dalumak Tribal Village. In an act of exchange, the invited guests from the Philippines, India, and Malaysia also cooked indigenous dishes from their lands alongside the Taiwanese indigenous tribes in their outdoor kitchens.
On Friday, April 28, over 100 participants attended the Slow Food Taitung International Forum, where the Slow Food movement’s impact on contemporary society and how it spreads through civic engagement and community power was discussed.
The invited guests each gave presentations on their fields of expertise, with simultaneous translation offered in English and Mandarin Chinese. Special acknowledgement video messages from Slow Food President, Edie Mukiibi and Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini were also shown during the forum to Slow Food members as well as local government leaders.
The success of the international forum transitioned perfectly into a very enjoyable food event at Slow Food Taitung Festival, which took place over the weekend.
A festival to celebrate diversity
This year’s theme was “Morning Table”, giving a big focus to local breakfast foods. The hours of the event reflected the theme, taking place between 9am and 2pm on both days. Attendees got to experience Taitung breakfast culture presented by forty-three booths, featuring stalls that sold locally grown and roasted coffee, teas, baked goods, rice dishes, as well as set meals. In addition to the diversity of food, the quality was also quite high. The vendors were clear about the sources of their ingredients and were happy to share their cooking methods or the cultural context behind the dishes.
Workshops were held in the “Slow Food Talk” area at scheduled points throughout the festival, with topics ranging from hyperlocal to international food and cooking demonstrations. One workshop featured Taitung’s most famous rice noodle dish, mi tai mu, from the locally well-known shop, Rong Shu Xia (Under The Banyan Tree). The workshop leaders conveyed historical information about the dish, with the family who have been making it for generations as they offered their personal perspective and expertise. They allowed participants to have a try at forming the rice noodles by pressing the dough through a traditional sieve.
Of particular note about this festival was its dedication to generating minimal waste. The event organizers encouraged all guests to bring their own eating utensils and reusable bowls or plates. In case anyone forgot to bring their own items, the event offered on-site tableware rentals, asking for a cash deposit which was reimbursed upon return of the borrowed (and individually cleaned) items. There was even a stall where attendees were shown how to create their own bowl using banana leaves.
The atmosphere of the festival at the Taitung Forest Park was very relaxed, with people of all ages joyfully picnicking on the grass and enjoying their food. There was also a friendly and supportive emotional connection among the vendors. The bilingual service provided during the event allowed for better interaction between the vendors and attendees about their offerings and stories.
The number of festival attendees is estimated to have reached over 1,000 on both days, attracting local visitors as well as visitors from outside Taitung. Ms. Li-Chin Kuo, Slow Food Taitung Community leader and festival organizer, commented on the importance of the event, emphasizing the link between honoring tradition and diversity, while also embracing innovation.
“Taitung is home to 172 tribes and 9 ethnic groups, so there is so much diversity here. This festival strongly promotes local cultural ideas and diversity. Not only can you see the traditions, you can also see the innovation. This is our specialty: to represent the diversity of Taiwan, to help Taitung to be known as a very diverse county.”
She mentions the influence of the Slow Food movement in their festival as being a key difference to any other food festival in Taiwan, as the movement places importance on preservation and promotion of heritage foods, which inspires awareness and pride of local food culture, which leads to the safeguarding of biodiversity.
On the last day of the festival, on the evening of April 30th, Taitung County Magistrate, April Yao, hosted a special pakelang (“harvest or celebration after work”) feast, a tradition of the Amis indigenous people, at the seaside in Dulan to thank the guests for their participation in the workshops, forums, and the Slow Food Festival organized by the Slow Food Taitung Community. During the banquet, Andrea Amato, the representative of the Slow Food International Headquarters, expressed that the efforts of Taitung’s Slow Food movement over the years had borne fruit and had developed its own local Slow Food community and festivals, which must be showcased in next year’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. Magistrate Yao expressed optimism that she could lead the “Taitung Delegation” to participate in person and establish substantive cooperation with the Slow Food International organization.
Beyond Taitung, ideas for the future were discussed about connections between Austronesian peoples and its relation to the Slow Food network.
Ramon Uy Jr., who is dedicated to promoting Slow Food Travel in the Philippines, and Rowena Gonnay and Lamen Gonnay, the founders of the Pasil Slow Food Community in the Philippines, also strongly felt the resonance of the Austronesian cultural values in food during their stay in Taitung.
“For the first time in Taiwan, I was a little anxious, but when I saw millet, betel nut trees, and sticky rice wine, which are very similar to my hometown’s, I felt like I was back home!”. They believe that a network relationship for Slow Food in Austronesian cultures should be established to strengthen mutual communication and, combined with the advantages of the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung, to hold the Austronesian Slow Food Festival. This idea was also supported by Nazlina Binti Hussin from Malaysia, and Aruna Tirkey from India.
The exchanges and suggestions of international guests are in line with the policies that Taitung County Magistrate Yao has been actively promoting recently to link Austronesian cultures. This also makes the Slow Food Taitung Community firmly believe in the values of Slow Food that they have been promoting for the past decade and will continue to uphold the spirit of “good, clean and fair” in the next decade.