Seeing them all together is a beautiful sight. The business of Terra Madre Giovani – We Feed the Planet began punctually on October 3 in Milan. From the podium, Joris Lohman, the chairman of the Slow Food Youth Network, extended an invitation to the 2,500 young people who had travelled from 120 countries around the world. “Don’t feel like you are just participants or delegates. From now on, we are all co-producers. We will be constructing this event together, with our ideas. As you know, Expo is in Milan this year, dedicated to a theme we’re very familiar with: ‘Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life.’ But there is a voice missing from this Expo, the voice of young small-scale producers. The current food system is broken. It doesn’t work, and that’s why there’s a need for youth and their voice, to bring new ideas and new energy, to find new solutions.”
Many of these ideas were heard in the regional meetings, where the young people began to create connections, describing the projects they are organizing in their home countries: food gardens, eco-gastronomic initiatives, Disco Soups, events about biodiversity, farm visits… They showed how food is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
Halfway through the afternoon came the most eagerly anticipated moment, the event’s official inauguration, with two exceptional speakers. The first to take to the stage was activist and academic Raj Patel, author of a number of vitally important books on the current food system. “Thank you for being the hope of many of my generation. Thank you for having made centuries of prejudice disappear, prejudice against the countryside, against indigenous peoples.” So began Patel, before concentrating on some of the clear paradoxes of our time. “If we look at the prices of fruit and vegetables, we can see they’re rising, while packaged food costs less. Who does all this serve? The system, a system. To have cheap foods we have to exploit the environment and nature, and all this means that at the end you can buy a hamburger for a dollar.”
The second speaker was, naturally, Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, who has always believed in the disruptive power of youth. “Entering this extraordinary room I have the feeling that the future is in good hands, in your hands, in your faces, in your bodies. When the idea of Terra Madre was born many of you were children. But now you are the proof that this idea will continue for a long, long time. You have different skin colors, different religions, different political ideas, but one objective: to change a food system that isn’t working, that is destroying the fertility of the soil and biodiversity and causing water shortages. Our current food system asks more of Mother Earth than she can give.”
In a room full of young farmers, producers and artisans, these were the most exciting words: “Today, farmers must accept the logic of the free market, which is imposed on them almost like a religion. But we don’t want the free market; we want a market that is free, free from the multinationals, from oligopolies, from paradox. You young people have the difficult task of profoundly changing this food system.” Many other subjects were touched on: the price and the value of food, land grabbing, the perception that too much, perhaps everything, has been sacrificed to the economy, causing values to crumble completely. The challenges facing young people are tough, but hope dominated Petrini’s words. “An Italian writer from Piedmont, Cesare Pavese, gave the most beautiful definition: Farmers are those who clothe the land. Those who clothe the land are not doing it for themselves, but for future generations. Those who clothe the land, who care for it, are carrying out a spiritual gesture of vital importance. You young people are biodiversity, and when you return home, make peace with your land. Begin to do first what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you will realize that you can do the impossible. This is the beauty of politics, that it starts from small things.”
To the network of Terra Madre Giovani – We Feed the Planet, the 2,500 farmers, fishers, herders and artisans from every corner of the world, we wish you all the best for your work. The world expects much from you: that you know how to feed the planet, that you know how to clothe the land and that you bring a bright hope to the future.