Dr Ursula Hudson, president of Slow Food Germany, was the opening speaker of the session on “Heritage Food” during the conference Europe´s Multi-Purpose Countryside, held at the EU Pavilion of the World Expo on June 22 in Milan, Italy. Organized by the Rural Investment Support for Europe Foundation (RISE) on behalf of the European Commission, the conference discussed the topics of rural environmental management, rural recreation, tourism, and heritage foods. The conference exemplified the environmental care role of rural land managers in both the highly-productive food producing areas as well as the more marginal remote regions.
In her speech on heritage foods, Dr Hudson explained the essential role of food for mankind: “Food is at the centre of all human activity. Food is nutrition, health and well-being of individuals, communities, societies, nations; food is culture, food is identity, and more. Food connects us as human beings with the world around us. Agriculture is the human activity that connects us with nature – and that is dependent on nature, on healthy ecosystems, on rich biodiversity”. Slow Food recognizes the close connection of food with culture and identity, which is why the organization is engaged in maintaining and preserving heritage foods and food traditions.
In order to make this possible and strengthen local, especially rural, economies, the land must be worked sustainably, with an eye to the climatic, geographic, and cultural situation. Dr Hudson underlined: “Striving for good, clean and fair food comes with re-localising the food system for food security, food sovereignty and diversity – for the diversity of crops, breeds, food, tastes, flavours, of techniques and knowledge; diversity of culture and traditions. Traditional foods have lots of benefits, in particular the ability and potential to thrive in their original territories, be they difficult ones like deserts or mountainous areas. In this regard, they are the most important agricultural resources and essential tools for local food sovereignty. And they are connected to the culture of a local community – through customs, recipes, knowledge, language etc. A food system that is diverse in all stages of the production, distribution and consumption supports a diversity of knowledge and diversity of jobs.”
The efficiency of traditional crops is often overlooked: local seeds or crops are better adapted to the local climate and conditions than the globally standardized industrial ones. An example are Alb-Leisa lentils, a traditional crop in the semi-mountainous Swabian Alb region of Southern Germany where poor soils and a harsh climate make agriculture rather difficult. The legumes, traditionally combined with grain-based foods such as noodles, were a major source of protein for local inhabitants when meat was not always affordable. Also, lentils are commonly grown as mixed crops – in the same field – with, for example, barley. This is both efficient in terms of space and soil fertility (since legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil), and a boon for local biodiversity.
The Alb-Leisa lentils are a Slow Food Presidium, a project dedicated to saving the world’s heritage foods and biodiversity. The Presidia sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties.
For more information about the Slow Food Presidia, you may read the digital leaflet about the project: http://cdn.fondazioneslowfood.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/presidi_manuale_ENG.pdf
The Rural Investment Support for Europe (RISE) Foundation is an independent foundation which strives to support a sustainable and internationally competitive rural economy across Europe, looking for ways to preserve the European countryside, its environment and biodiversity, and its cultural heritage and traditions. It works as a think tank, bringing together experts to address key environmental/ agricultural challenges in Europe and develops high quality accessible research reports with clear recommendations for policy makers. It draws on its extensive network of rural stakeholders to highlight innovative practices developed at the farm level and provides a platform for debate on issues that affect rural communities.
For further information, please contact the Slow Food International Press Office:
Paola Nano, +39 329 8321285 [email protected]
Slow Food involves over a million of people dedicated to and passionate about good, clean and fair food. This includes chefs, youth, activists, farmers, fishers, experts and academics in over 150 countries; a network of around 100,000 Slow Food members linked to 1,500 local chapters worldwide (known as convivia), contributing through their membership fee, as well as the events and campaigns they organize; and over 2,500 Terra Madre food communities who practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality food around the world.