“This year marks the hundredth – no, two hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Francisco de Miranda to our country. He came here to bring us the ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity. He brought us Europe’s revolution in order to open our eyes. Well, now I believe the revolution may well start in South America over the next few years and go back where it came from. And the wonderful people I have seen at this Social Forum from all over the world reassure me that this is highly probable.”
This is an excerpt from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez closing speech of at the 4th World Social Forum in Caracas, the last in a series delivered almost every day and also the longest – a clear three hours. With phrases like these and references to the Forum as the “anti-Imperialist” Forum, Chavez, a powerful manipulator of the media, managed to monopolize and exploit the Forum – at least as far as Venezuelan public opinion is concerned. The people’s appreciation of the event was directly related to their appreciation of the President – loved by some and hated by others.
Slow Food was also present in a hot, summery, but unusually rainy Caracas for the Forum. We gave an informal presentation of Terra Madre (having been excluded from the official program due to late enrolment, through no fault of our own) at the Venezuela Central University, one of nine locations designated for use by the delegates’ meetings. The meeting resulted in new and interesting contacts with South American food communities.
The remainder of our time there was spent in desperate attempts to secure appointments and organize useful meetings for Terra Madre. The first two days of the program had been printed incorrectly and many meetings were cancelled at the last minute due to logistic problems. The distribution of individual meetings did not follow a particular theme so we had to move continually between venues far removed from one another in a city crowded with excessive traffic.
Nonetheless, we overcame the organizational problems (underlined by habitués of precious Forums) and came home with some good contacts, especially in South American countries that were less represented at the previous edition of Terra Madre.
Our general impression, objectively speaking, is that the jumbled nature of the Forum – with thousands of different meetings ranging from the anti-Imperialistic struggle to peace, from bicycle tourism to the battle for agricultural reform, and from the wait for extra-terrestrials (I swear it was on the program!) to the worldwide emancipation of women – actually created more confusion than anything else, although it was definitely worth the visit. Perhaps we’ll be a little more organized next time, with at least one experience of this kind under our belt, because there are some very interesting people for Slow Food to meet.
The peasant farmers were the most impressive presence at the Forum and apparently the only ones who understood the world we live in: they realize that another world is not only possible, it is also necessary. Every year they return, unlike the workers in other productive sectors that also suffer the negative effects of globalization.
What is missing from these Forums is the Slow Food philosophy on strictly gastronomical and cultural themes, and the idea thus persists that eating well is sinful or bourgeois. When we said that eating was ‘an agricultural act’ and food production ‘a gastronomical action’, not everyone understood straight away, but once they learned more details they jumped on board at once and wanted to join the fight.
It’s a shame that Chavez (whether you share his ideas or not) tried to monopolize the Forum and that many Venezuelans did not know what was happening in their city because, ultimately, ‘it was a gift from Chavez to his foreign allies, using Venezuelan money’ [this is untrue – all the delegates paid an enrolment fee to finance the event, author’s note]. It’s a shame too that poor organization caused so many difficulties and missed opportunities. But we came home with the strengthened conviction that it really is possible to create another world. Because maybe the real revolution will not begin with Chavez, but peacefully in the fields, with ideology reduced to a minimum – which is what the Terra Madre communities are doing every day with their simple work. They are the real alternative – they were present at the Forum, even though they were slightly outshone by the anti-Imperialist proclamations – and without them we will not be able to satisfy our hunger for change. Naturally the people who attended the Forum were wonderful, a fact which emerged in minor discussions, informal meetings and moments of real celebration. But the time has now come to offer tangible alternatives to mere condemnation, however justified, and I believe that Terra Madre is one of these solutions. Otherwise what we may see is involution as opposed to revolution. In Caracas, the first symptoms are already visible.
Carlo Bogliotti, a journalist works for Slow Food
Adapted by Ailsa Wood