Slow Food will joining together in Naples, with 600 delegates from 36 nations representing a body of roughly 80,000 members. Together with them are several members of the international jury for the Slow Food Award for the Defense of Biodiversity, 2003 Award Winners and ordinary Slow Food members.
The Naples Congress will leave its mark on our association insofar as it will set the seal on the eco-gastronomic commitment of Slow Food.
Slow Food as an international movement was born in far-off 1989 as a gastronomic association attentive to the quality of life as a whole, and opposed to the frantic efficiency imposed by the modern organization of society. But today’s gastronome also has to be an environmentalist: the disappearance of biodiversity, on a worldwide level, right before our eyes, is tragic also from the agro-industrial point of view. Since the beginning of the 1900s, the erosion of our genetic inheritance in terms of edible animal breeds, fruits and vegetables has claimed 80% of this biodiversity worldwide. The development model based on industrialization, mass urbanization (with consequent abandonment of the countryside), intensive farming methods, the heavy use of chemicals, the push for every greater quantity and lower prices, has created environmental health and cultural catastrophes that are sitting right under our eyes. The gourmets who limit themselves to celebrating folkloristic dishes and local recipes with a chauvinistic spirit and the chefs who busy themselves watching the television networks everyday lose sight of a fundamental element: raw ingredients.
Our traditional dishes are born from the need to use the agricultural and environmental resources that each area, with its particular climate and geography, can produce. Often the best dishes are created with the knowledgeable use of raw ingredients that are not highly valued.
Slow Food, since the mid-90s, has used cultural appreciation as a base to stop the pauperization of the Italian food heritage. Hence the Ark of Taste: this project involves researching, defining and cataloging all specialties—fruits, vegetables, animal breeds and artisan produced foods—at risk of disappearing. And hence, after that, the creation of the Slow Food Presidia project, aimed at saving each and every one of these treasures and making them known to the public. The Presidia have enjoyed phenomenal success in Italy, due partly to the Slow Food organization’s planning of grand events that have created media buzz—such as the Salone del Gusto—but also to the work of popularization and promotion undertaken by Slow Food Convivia leaders, the true backbone of the association. The Slow Food Presidia have made an economic difference, revitalizing entire productive microcircuits, and allowing small rural communities to rediscover pride in local products, hence a new identity and career opportunities for the next generation. These are no longer ‘niche’ products, solely for the wealthy and refined, but made by poor, naive farmers. No, they are concrete, modern examples to be followed for sustainable local development, from the agricultural and tourist point of view.
The Italian Presidia project has taught us that ancient knowledge can be revived in a modern world, the history of gastronomy that the identity of a people is constructed across an exchange of merchandise and ideas, but also of products from the land and recipes. Further afield, thanks to the efforts of governors and Convivium leaders round the world, the Ark of Taste project has ‘boarded’ products worth saving everywhere.
Our movement, structured as a nonprofit association, is concerned with social issues and is based largely on voluntary work. It has reacted to the challenge of globalization through interdependence and exchange. The international Presidia are already a reality, delving to the bottom of the tastes of far-off and diverse peoples and lands, local agricultural systems and crafts rooted in the culture and historical memory of people—a minority world compared to big industry, but infinitely important in safeguarding the environment and the destinies of world agriculture. Ours is no Utopia. It was a Utopia to think that by applying industrial techniques to agriculture it would be possible to solve the problems of hunger, profitability, the wholesomeness of food and the conservation of the environment. According to the Secretary General of the UNO, there is enough food to feed 12 billion people—almost double the world’s population—with 2,800 calories a day. But the soil land has been made arid by decades of plant protection products and chemical fertilizers.
Slow Food wishes to work for a new agriculture in harmony with the environment, capable of ensuring consumers not only security, but also the pleasure of savoring the taste of cultural belonging. To do this it takes effective tools and dedicated human and scientific resources. These are the reasons behind Slow Food’s major project to set up the world’s first University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo-Bra (Cuneo) and Colormo (Parma), the first courses at which will commence on October 4 2004. The University will be a place of universal gastronomic culture, where youngsters from the most diverse countries will be able to learn about the communication, production, marketing, history, anthropology and geography of food, a place in which, at last, gastronomy will become a subject for study alongside the traditional academic disciplines.
Slow Food would like the same consideration to be given to all those who devote themselves to the land, respecting its natural balance, fertility and vital energy. On Sunday November 9, the Slow Food Award for the Defense of Biodiversity will be presented at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples: this acknowledgment is reserved to all those who, with their daily labor, ensure the conservation of a piece of biodiversity in the world—people who live out of the limelight and are often unaware of the major political issues that decide their destinies, but are closely attached to the land, the ‘Great Earth Mother’.
The message that will emerge from this International Congress, the first of the third millennium is that: gastronomy cannot exist without clean, vital, flourishing agriculture. The land has to return to the center of the world food production process, rural communities have to rediscover identities and prospects. A new model of development is possible and Slow Food plays a vital role in building it.
The Fourth Slow Food Internatonal Congress has been organized with the collaboration and support of the Campania Regional Authority, the City of Naples, the Chamber of Commerce of Naples, of Sanpaolo Banco di Napoli’ and other bodies, institutions, and companies that believe in the Slow Food global project.