Everyone is talking about it: the 600 square meter space that has become the centerpiece of this year’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. The boat-like model, located amongst the international market was constructed to bring the Slow Food Ark of Taste – a catalogue of endangered food products – to life.
The large wooden structure is showcasing products at risk of extinction, giving visitors a chance to discover seeds, pumpkins, grains, corns, baked goods, beans and more from every corner of the world. Ahead of the event, Slow Food invited people to bring foods they wanted to add to the Ark of Taste; products that represent cultures, traditions and the heritage of both peoples and places. Every day the shelves fill up with more and more: Hundreds of items are now on display. Next to every contribution is a small note detailing where it has come from and who has brought it. This note is just a first step. Behind each product is also a story; a story that needs to be told.
Thanks to the presence of photographers, journalists, TV stations and the radio, this process has already begun. For the past four days, BBC Radio Four has been speaking to many of those who have contributed goods to the Ark. Stroll past their booth at any time of the day and you will see people waiting outside, excited to share their story.
“We came not knowing what to expect. But as soon as people start talking about food, they start talking about their friends and family, history, cultures. A story just develops. Food also reflects the politics and developments over time. We’ve had people talk about Ebola and about climate change,” Emma Weatherhill from the BBC told us.
Recalling the different stories she has heard and recorded over the past few days, Emma mentioned a producer from Georgia who had explained how winemaking had provided one constant throughout the country’s turbulent history; and two women from Russia who had brought back a traditional sweet known as Pastilla that used to be made in their home town. Production of the sweet ended following the closure of the factory (after the revolution in 1917); only the recipe remained, which they had only read about in books. Eight years ago however, a small group from the village deciding to remake it. “We have heard stories of curiosity, identity and pride,” Emma said.
Walking around the Ark space, you see people sitting, children playing and photographers snapping. “What I love about this place is the different voices, everyone has a different accent,” Eunice Njoroge told us. Eunice, a student from the University of Gastronomic Sciences, has been helping to organize the different interviews throughout the event. It is also common to overhear remarks such as: “It was hard to imagine before seeing it, all this diversity in our world,” or “I didn’t know corn came in so many colors.” An ethno-botanist working in Uganda even remarked on a particular bamboo variety on display; despite having long studied Ugandan plants, this variety was new to him and his colleagues.
Over the coming days and weeks there will be a lot of work to be done, to look more closely at these products and start processing the nominations. What is certain however, is that the last few days have given people a real insight into what we mean when we talk about biodiversity, and why it is so important that we continue to preserve it!
The BBC interviews will form part of a show that airs every Sunday at 12.30 (GMT).