Anna Maria Ruminska lives in southwest Poland and runs, with other volunteers, the Slow Food Dolny Slask Convivium, born to promote the gastronomical biodiversity of the whole region.
During the pandemic emergency she never stopped organizing events and activities for citizens, members and not members of the Convivium, trying to help chefs and producers get the word out about their work, even during the lockdown, and to educate adults and children about good, clean and fair food.
Anna Maria Ruminska is 55 years old and lives happily with her family in Dolny Slask, south-west Poland. She could be defined as a multi-skilled person; an architect, a green space designer, a food anthropologist, and a chef gardener-reenactor, who reconstructs ancient grains and meals. She is a thorough researcher of food history and ethnography, also an educator, and a trainer.
For nearly 10 years, she has contributed with her knowledge and experience to the international movement, within the Convivium Slow Food Dolny Slask.
Many of the Convivium’s activities are focused on education.
These activities are held by many volunteers, among others her friend Iwona Toka. Iwona is also a Slow Food member and Patreon, that gave hospitality to many Slow Food events in her Artecubo interior design studio, like cooking classes, lectures, and showcases.
“Slow Food has always been a sort of guru for me – Anna tells us – I’ve tried to join the movement since I have learned I could do it. I always thought it was a sort of elite society, quite hermetic. Then I met Mariusz Rybak, a former Slow Food coordinator. He explained to me details and this was a strategic moment for me. I joined the movement in 2013, and in 2014 we developed a new structure of the regional Convivium. During the past years, we worked advocating for Slow Food themes and educating people about a good, clean, and fair food system. I feel a slow foodie by birth, interested in foreign cultures, but always taught by my family to embrace the locality, all at once: science, culture, craft, art, and farming.”
“Over these long years, – Mariusz Rybak explains – Slow Food Dolny Slask has never ceased to be a great source of inspiration and motivation to me. They produce a lot of knowledge and expertise, being a diverse group of people who includes producers, chefs, consumers, anthropologists, historians, and other scientists. They encourage today’s dialog between the older and new heritage of the region. It saved numerous products from being forgotten and revived culinary treasures that entered the Ark of Taste. The core of the convivium Slow Food Dolny Slask consists of people who try to live the values of our movement. This means that they often make choices that are surely inconvenient from a practical point of view. Still, in their educational work, this adds to their great workshops and publications something more powerful: good example! And credibility! They are an inspiration.”
In March 2020, as around the world, the Coronavirus pandemic inexorably halted all in-person meetings. With borders becoming closed, schools and stores shuttered, like restaurants and all other businesses, Anna and the Convivium didn’t stop, break down, or complain.
“We immediately switched from in-person meetings to more intense food cooperative for consumers, together, with the Slow Food Wroclaw Breslavia Convivium, and online classes. – Anna says – The members’ list changes fluently, so we didn’t focus on it, and the education was not limited to members either. Suddenly, many people turned their deep interest to clean food; not all were ready to face the difference, so it needed education and time. They expected to have support, and they’ve got it for free from the Convivium board members. They have ordered products collectively to reduce shipping costs, and – more important and the least appreciated – they didn’t’ charge any provision for this social work”.
The pandemic made the consumers try to eat better, and the members stayed closer. So, Convivium started to organize online meetings to increase the knowledge of authentic local food, which turned out to be the most urgent need of consumers. Also, classes to teach online how to ferment milk, beer, wine, grains, veggies, and fruits – all traditional, Slavic, Polish techniques for food processing and preserving – or how to bake, make cheese, grow the Ark of Taste bean, etc. Numerous texts, manuals, tips, and information have been spread for free to consumers, in person, and to followers on social media and website – currently, still the only active and authentic Slowfood.com related website in Poland. It was also necessary to support the members of the Convivium first since they often lost their incomes very suddenly.
“In the pandemic times, – Anna explains – all friendships were put to a test, but we, as the Convivium friends, help one another. Besides the constant support of Iwona, also Marta from “Warsztat Food&Garden” helped the movement. Then Agata and Leszek Rozanski hosted a few Slow Food events and always promoted the movement. They are involved in the Ark of Taste community and future Presidium by the cultivation of old grapes and herb varieties, making the heritage herbal preserves and providing antique bake forms and crafts. This is necessary to keep the heritage products current, not forgotten, to protect local biodiversity and support local farmers, gardeners, crafters, and entrepreneurs.”
Between 2020 and 2021, the Convivium and its partners organized 16 free meetings online and 5 in person, open to the public and free. At the same time, they started to co-operate with a few NGOs to sell e-books about the most important issues: they launched 18 manuals in English and 29 manuals in Polish, to spread information about good, clean, fair, local food and biodiversity, and over 200 texts plus over 400 photographs and videos online promoting Slow Food and its values. They also launched a Twaróg Manual to acknowledge consumers with the traditional and beneficial method of making raw milk Twaróg, the cheese we nominated to the Ark of Taste.
“The Convivium – Anna continues – was born to promote, bring back, and boost the gastronomical biodiversity of the whole Dolny Slask region. Over the years, we grew with consumers and cooks, along with a few restaurant owners – not always “slow restaurants”, but people devoted to the Slow Food movement. Suddenly, even more than before, and unexpectedly, we could draw attention to good, clean and fair food and make it clear that food is a public issue. During the pandemic, the Convivium researched the crucial problem: the gastronomic society is not ready for the authentic (not fake) Slow Food philosophy and awareness of the biodiversity and climate change problems of the planet. Too often, people have no or don’t want to have time to know them. Too often they are focused on shallow beauty, rather than double-checking the origin and ethics of the eco-logical face of major ingredients. And it’s not a question of money, but of goodwill and loyalty. Thus the Convivium did a lot to focus on the consumer. This policy turned out to be very helpful during the pandemic time when many consumers decided to switch from industrial to homemade food, but they didn’t know how, where, when…, and were deceived by many who took advantage of the psychology of pandemic. The consumers decided to learn cooking or learn foraging wild edible plants, and so the Convivium has been helping them in this change.”
The activities of the Convivium do not stop due to the ongoing pandemic alert in Poland. Life has not resumed to normal, so the whole activity is still current and necessary.
“I value this Convivium – Mariusz concludes – for their very persistence. They never get discouraged for more than a moment. They rethink their actions, define strategies, and continue to educate, influence, to change the world in small steps. From my long experience in the movement, I can say that they are few Slow Food groups so patient and persistent in their work. This was also visible during the last lockdowns: Their educational, network, and activist work was continued on the internet, new tools were adapted for the needs of the convivium, and it’s already vast Social Media presence has boomed so that people closed in their homes can be reached even better”.
“I would do what we have done anyway, despite any pandemic or any crisis. There is always a huge need of reminding us what is lost and what is really important. – Anna concludes – Acting as a community and a network has been crucial, helping us to overcome difficulties but also to grow. It’s not hard to do that. Our tips to repeat our experience are only basic (all tips always have to adapt to the current situation): adapt to what is around us, think positively, focus on good, leave the bad behind, go forward, be calm, safe, active and truthful, with profits for the whole planet.”