Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the world has been brought to a halt. However, many Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) communities around the world are more active than ever.
With markets closed and transport links cut, many farmers and food producers have been unable to get their products to people nor to receive any income. In addition to the social and economic impacts this situation causes, it is also leading to increased amounts of food being wasted at the production, distribution, retail and service stages, since it cannot be sold. Therefore, SFYN communities have been active in finding creative ways to get that food to consumers and those who need it most.
To start with, many SFYN groups around the world have been involved in collecting, cooking, and distributing food within their communities. In Bogota, Colombia, SFYN Chía have teamed up with local charity foundation Familia Kabod and local restaurant Palo de Agua (@restaurantepalodeagua) to create an initiative to help stop this increase in food waste. In this collaboration, SFYN volunteers help the Familia Kabod Foundation to rescue food that would otherwise be thrown away, which they then cook into delicious, nutritious meals (or preserve it into products that will keep longer than the raw produce itself) at Palo de Agua, and deliver it in community houses to people who need it.
Likewise, SFYN Netherlands have been very busy packing food boxes, cooking for elderly people, and doing groceries for them. They have been contributing active volunteers to help local food charities and entrepreneurs get help to those who need it, at the same time as they continue to work hard on the rescheduling and rearranging of SFYN events – including World Disco Soup Day and the SFYN Academy – that will still go ahead this year, in an adapted format, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Italy, the home of the Slow Food movement, is also the country that has so far been worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Italian SFYN communities have been busier than ever starting a number of initiatives to support local producers and keep spirits up around the country. SFYN Rome, for example, has been encouraging the establishment of Condominium Purchase Groups, getting people who live in the same apartment buildings, street, or neighbourhood to combine and order products together in order to meet minimum order requirements for small-scale producers. They have also put together a list of short-chain local producers who are continuing to offer food delivery throughout the crisis, just as SFYN groups in Milan and Rovigo have also done. SFYN Rome has also been supporting and promoting local cooperatives like Cooperativa Agricola Coraggio, an agricultural cooperative located just outside Rome, who have been allowed to open every Friday and Saturday for people to pick up boxes of delicious fresh vegetables, pasta, cereals, eggs, honey, cheese, flour, and different preserves.
A similar initiative has been set up by Raúl Mondragón of SFYN Mexico. His Colectivo Ahuejote has started home delivery of baskets of food produced by small-scale farmers who use traditional, Aztec agro-ecological methods in the chinampas (or “floating gardens”) of lakes and wetlands in the south of Mexico City. This initiative has inspired the establishment of a similar project by another Mexican SFYN group, in Tlaxcala.
In addition to these hands-on efforts, some SFYN groups are instead helping to make a difference digitally: they have created online platforms to help connect small-scale farmers and artisan producers with local consumers.
SFYN Brazil has put together an impressive online platform where local producers can register themselves and consumers can then easily find how to access good, clean and fair food in the current conditions. As part of this platform, SFYN Brazil has put together a map showing the location of registered groups all over the country, with a code designating whether they are food producers, sellers, restaurants, or affiliated food support services. Similar initiatives have been set up by SFYN communities in the Netherlands and Venezuela – a country where there is already a humanitarian crisis and the long-chain government supply system is failing. In this situation, it’s great to see that grassroots initiatives are the answer to food security. SFYN Venezuela has created an online market platform: the Mercado Agricola Virtual, and through this platform – for which they also offer tutorials and provide simple explanations to make it easy for farmers to join – people can buy straight from local, agro-ecological farmers and producers, who then receive a fair income from it.
SFYN Germany is also promoting and supporting online marketplaces similar to the Venezuelan example, such as Nachbarschafts Marktplatz. The Germans have also created their own online map, with recommended Slow local producers. Another initiative SFYN Germany have carried out is collaborating with the Meine Landwirtschaft organisation to produce a clear, summarised overview and explanation of various platforms and initiatives that have been set up to help deal with the emergency of labour shortages caused by coronavirus (including a platform to connect farmers with people who may be able to help them as harvest workers).
These SFYN initiatives could be a model for the rest of the world to follow in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Now, perhaps more than ever, people are being made to realise the dangers of relying on a long-chain, industrial food supply system that relies on global transportation and international markets to feed us. Now could be a time to highlight the dangerous disconnect between our everyday food choices, our communities, our local environment, and our culinary traditions.
That is why SFYN Philippines have organised The Philippines on a Plate online campaign in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As part of Filipino Food Month, this initiative is aimed at reaching people isolated in their own homes to educate them about local food products and culinary traditions. It will digitally bring together dozens of Filipino farmers, chefs, culinary historians, gastronomic experts, and representatives of local food industries to talk about how they can influence good local food cultivation and establish initiatives to help preserve and promote the Philippines’ rich food treasures and culinary heritage, so that they can be transmitted to future generations, as well as support the traditional agri-communities that rely on such traditional local food industries.
As well as presenting us with a social, medical, and humanitarian crisis, COVID-19 may also provide us with an amazing opportunity: never before in recent memory have people all over the world been forced so completely to stop and think about where their life essentials – and thus food – comes from. Therefore, this may be as good a time as ever to bring into focus what eating locally and sustainably really means, and the benefits that this brings to people, communities, and the environment everywhere.
These are big topics – but they are simple ideas: eat local, and support producers who do things in a good, regenerative, fair, and healthy way.