The Salone del Gusto, described by UK newspaper The Independent as, ‘one of the most comforting experiences the modern world has to offer’, has closed its doors for another two years.
The producers, chefs, teachers and agronomists have gone home, the stands have been dismantled, the tens of thousands of dishes and glasses washed and the posters packed up. The Salone is done for another two years and back in Bra, Slow Food’s hometown, we, the staff, are once more at our desks, back on deck and beginning to evaluate our five days at the Lingotto Exhibition Center in Turin.
The 2002 edition of the Salone set biodiversity and education as its themes. And spanning the length and breadth of this year’s event, they were everywhere: from the launch of the Foundation for Biodiversity and the International Presidia to the 20,000 students who attended the Taste Workshops, the hundreds of varieties of cheese, salami, wine, fruit, vegetables, sweets, cereals and meats tasted, the 1,400 people who attended the Three Glasses Award tasting and the 1,400 people who joined the movement.
In sum, close on 140,000 visitors came to the five-day Salone (perhaps despite themselves) for an education on the wonderful, delicious biodiversity of this planet—and they got it.
The Salone is unique because of its holistic nature. More specifically, because of its capable of drawing together people as diverse as Polish cheesemakers from the Tatra Mountains, Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, American super-cook Alice Waters, Basque cider makers and South African wine experts, all under the same premise—dedication to doing what they can for biodiversity and to supporting the world’s eno-gastronomic identities.
In the late nineties, Slow Food began a transition from an eno-gastronomic movement to an organization with an active agricultural and social agenda, which it implements through its Presidia project, its educational programs (most notably the University of Gastronomic Sciences set to open in 2004), the Slow Food Award for Biodiversity and the publications of Slow Food Editore. “Pleasure without knowledge is merely self-indulgence,” Petrini argued at the Salone. “Our movement of eno-gastronomy has become a movement of eco-gastronomy.”
Perhaps the most instrumental aspect of this direction is Slow Food’s Presidia project. This year there were 130 Italian presidia and 21 International presidia present at the Salone. So Guatemalan coffee growers, Irish wild salmon producers and a Mexican native corn cooperative, to name just a few, were all given the opportunity to show the world what they’re doing, how, where and why. The reaction was incredible, with most Presidia stands selling out and many finding international buyers, for example, Milan’s gastronomic Mecca, Peck signed an agreement to import Presidia argan oil from Morocco.
As Eric Schlosser, author of the bestseller Fast Food Nation said, ‘This new century demands new systems based on biodiversity. Slow Food is the beginnings of this new ideology and I support it entirely’. (At the Salone, Schlosser attended the Slow Food Award, spoke at Slow Food’s conference on the future of the meat industry, participated in the launch of the Foundation for Biodiversity and gave a presentation of his book.)
From India, the inspiring Vandana Shiva, came with the first two Indian Presidia projects, basmati rice and mustard seed oil. Dr Shiva, one of the world’s most vocal campaigners for biodiversity and the founder of Navdanya Seed Conservation Movement, helped launch the International Presidia project and held conferences, tastings and presentations to inform the visitors about the Indian Presidia and the importance of the initiative as a whole.
An event of this scale and scope will inherently generate some gripes, glitches and grumbles. Yesterday some of the latter appeared in the Italian media in the form of general criticism over prices: in other words, some thought the 18 euros day ticket was just too much.
For his part Slow Food president Carlo Petrini has been openly unapologetic, arguing that quality food should be paid for, and that small producers and farmers need our support, both gustatory and financial. ‘The prices I make no excuses for,’ he told Italian daily, La Repubblica, claiming that admission to a football match or other food and wine fairs costs far more, sometimes double that to the Salone.
This need to support the farmers, to actively seek out local produce and to be prepared to pay a little more for it was a common thread that ran throughout Petrini’s Salone.
Speaking to media and guests at Friday’s official inauguration, Petrini reinforced Slow Food’s commitment to protecting our precious diversity, urging consumers to prioritize, be prepared to pay for, and appreciate quality produce—and, consequently, the people that work so hard to bring them to market whether local or ‘glocal’.
At the inauguration of the Three Glasses Award on Saturday morning, he reminded the hundreds of winemakers present not to forget their rural roots in the culture of fame and fortune that often marks the enological world, and to remember that their work is just as valuable as that of farmers growing eggplants, apricots and so on. “Keep alive the link between small scale agriculture and Italy’s osterias,” he told the crowd gathered at the launch of the 2003 Osterie d’Italia guide on Monday. “While Michelin stars are all well and good, it’s the small, regional restaurants that are keeping Italy’s culinary identity alive.”
Yes, one of the world’s most comforting events was also a huge success. Which is comforting in itself, because it means that, as Petrini said in his speech at the event’s final press conference, ‘Slowly but surely, our snail is continuing its march, and this Salone has showed us that it’s definitely on the right track!’.
Sophie Herron, an Australian journalist, previously a features writer for Australian Table magazine, is a member of the Slow Food Internet Office editorial team