Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (5/5)

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (5/5)

Monday, 26 September 2016

Today was the last day of Terra Madre. The guests of the final plenary, ‘Another world is possible, and necessary’, were Serge Latouche, the prominent French advocate of degrowth, and Stefano Zamagni, a heterodox economist from Italy. At the beginning, the moderator said that the success of Terra Madre could make us think “Of course another world is possible”. But in fact we are not quite there yet. There is still a lot to do.

Serge Latouche (center) and Stefano Zamagni (right) with moderator Ursula Hudson. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

Latouche explained his idea of degrowth, or décroissance. Like many other guests during the past four days, he talked about the Bayer-Monsanto merger. He also mentioned a local story, the acquittal by Italy’s Supreme Court of Stefan Schmidheiny, the Swiss billionaire who used to own a factory of asbestos-reinforced cement in the Piedmontese town of Casale Monferrato, where hundreds of workers have died of lung cancer. Latouche said this story was an example of the dark side of economic growth.

Zamagni explained that another world is necessary because 1) there is too much inequality, 2) too much environmental damage, and 3) too much war. He said that these are the root causes of the huge migrations we are currently witnessing. He also talked about the need not to separate the environmental question from the social one, saying this is what Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato si’ was about. Zamagni also recalled Margaret Thatcher’s TINA philosophy (There Is No Alternative) and Hobbes’ use of the Latin saying “homo homini lupus”, contrasting them to the saying of Italian Enlightenment economist Antonio Genovesi  “homo homini natura amicus”.

After this first round of discussion, the moderator prompted both speakers to dwell more on practicalities, on how to move, in practice, towards degrowth, considering that our daily lives are locked into a growth system, that our jobs are based on economic growth. As very few people share the idea of degrowth, she said, we need practical strategies to convince them.

Latouche said we have to change everything, change paradigm. We have to tackle all the levels: the local, regional and national one. In his opinion, Slow Food’s slogan (good, clean and fair food) is already a change of paradigm. We also need to change the global system. He cited Bernard Mandeville’s idea that greed is good, arguing that we have to find a new sense of measure. Zamagni said there are three ways out of the current system: revolution, reform and transformation. The first one isn’t possible anymore; we tried it many times in the course of the 20th century and it always failed. Reform is not enough. It’s like putting sticking plasters on wounds, while we have to change the rules of the game, economic institutions. So we must aim for transformation. Some things should be banned outright, like land grabbing or the trading of food commodities on the stock exchange. He said the G8 or the G20 should take this decision. Good luck with that!

Latouche then said that we shouldn’t be afraid of the word “revolution”. However, we don’t have to think of revolution as taking power, like in the old days. He gave two examples of the kind of revolution we should aim for: the Zapatista uprising in Mexico and the water wars in Bolivia. He praised Evo Morales, which I thought was ironic, considering that in the workshop on fair prices a man from Bolivia had said that Morales’ administration had been a disappointment. Latouche continued by saying that where governments fail, social movements can win. That’s why degrowth should be a social, not a political movement. The list of things to do would be endless. A very important one would be what Ivan Illich called the “techno-fast”. I think today we call this “digital detox”. For Zamagni, if we destroy the old order without having a new one ready, there’s going to be anarchy. Transformation is about a direction of travel that you follow step by step (so what’s the difference with reform?). We should make a distinction between development, said Zamagni, which is good, as it is about freeing ourselves from constraints, and economic growth, which is bad.

At this point, the moderator said that the growth machine is going forth relentlessly, for example with the TTIP and CETA. These political agreements are created to stabilize the system as it is, to strengthen the status quo. So she asked the speakers to give three examples of what we should do, emphasizing the collective dimension, given that the emphasis is usually on individuals, even when we talk about solutions (was this a veiled criticism of Slow Food’s emphasis on consumption?).

For Latouche, we should throw away our TVs, create a solidarity purchase group, which are a great means of meeting people and discussing politics with them, or we should try to get an independent mayor elected in our town, or set up a Transition Town. For Zamagni, politicians will only change if social movements force them to. We need to introduce a tax on financial transactions, and some economists are already collecting signatures for this purpose. The second thing we have to do is allow economic biodiversity to flourish. Different types of enterprise, like third sector ones, must be allowed to prosper in the market. We must take affirmative action to make this happen. It’s not enough to say that it can already happen, as there is the right to free enterprise. This is the liberal paradox: saying that you are free to do something but making it impossible for you to do so. He says that the freedom to choose is not the same as being able to choose. One might be formally free to choose, but in practice unable to do so. The third thing would be to promote scientific pluralism and rethink economics, like the students at Harvard University started doing a few years ago.

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (4/5)

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (4/5)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

This morning I attended one of Terra Madre’s plenaries, “Food as poison or medicine”. The two guest speakers were Franco Berrino, an Italian cancer specialist, and Kathleen Sykes, an expert on healthy eating from the US. The Carignano theater, where the event took place, was completely packed. The moderator, a local nutritionist, said that for the first time since Terra Madre began “food and heath” have been made official themes this year. They are also the basis of a new course at Slow Food’s University in Pollenzo.

Sykes began by quoting Hippocrates’ famous precept “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, then talked about the concept of healthy communities and the social determinants of health, the importance of physical activity and fresh foods. She spent quite a bit of time talking about Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring, telling the story of the its publication and its impact on the US. She also spoke about the concept of food deserts, about integrated pest management, the importance of pollinators, and the threat from neo-nicotinoids pesticides.

Berrino focused most of his speech on the results of epidemiological studies that show how the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of developing cancer. He stressed that his approach is “holistic”, often complaining about mainstream approaches to the disease. While talking about the European Code Against Cancer, he mentioned the need to avoid processed meats. This prompted a comment from the moderator, who said that Slow Food is not schizophrenic when it promotes all sorts of cured meats, because it has issued a recommendation that clearly states the need to diminish our consumption of red meat. However, he continued, it’s important to stress that the quality of the meat is as important as the quantity. Slow Food argues that we should diminish the consumption of poor quality meat and increase that of good quality meat. We should eat meat as our grandparents used to: only on very special occasions, during what were called i tempi grassi (fat times), while the rest of the time should be considered i tempi magri (meager times). But I wonder how many producers of cured meats would be left if people really did this? He concluded declaring that vegetables are also dangerous, due to pesticides residues. Berrino went on to stress the power of consumers to change the market, citing Wendell Berry’s famous dictum “Eating is an agricultural act”.

The Q&A session was striking because all the questions were very technical and had to do with the role of food in the development of cancer, ranging from casein to trans fats, to glyphosate, red wine and white meat.

“Food as poison or medicine”. Apparently there is no third option, food as food. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

In the afternoon I went to a workshop on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with representatives from Slow Food and the NGO Fairwatch.

A woman from Slow Food mentioned the merger between Bayer and Monsanto, which has been a hot topic throughout the event, while a lecturer from Pollenzo explained how TTIP would impact the food system. He said the problem was the homogenization of legal standards, which will inevitable mean their lowering. For example, the EU favors the precautionary principle, while the US the acceptable risk one. Traders don’t like heterogeneity in standards, because it complicates their lives. He also explained the risks of the proposed Investor-state dispute settlement system (ISDS), saying that the market can’t be the only entity that decides how food should be sold.

The woman from Fairwatch said governments use international trade treaties such as TTIP to pass laws they couldn’t get through parliament because of their unpopularity. These treaties are also a result of the fact that the WTO has been in crisis for many years. She stressed the fact that we have to tackle the issue of politics and the lack of political representation by putting pressure on our politicians. To do this we need “deep citizenship” (una cittadinanza profonda), and Slow Food and Terra Madre are an example of this. I am not sure we should equate what is essentially a market phenomenon with a form of citizenship (or even with its idea). The woman ended her talk with the latest developments in the CETA negotiation, saying this has now become the priority.

The woman from Slow Food said the million dollar question was therefore whether we should “do” politics. On the one hand we could try solving the Bayer-Monsanto problem by buying local, fair, organic foods, etc. But on the other we see our laws being changed for the worse, so we must act to achieve political change. The problem is how to balance the everyday (la quotidianità) with the radical (la radicalità). It’s a difficult problem because you can’t be radical everyday. Doing so would require tremendous energy on top of all the things we already have to do. That’s why we need social movements, which can help to share the burden of being radical.

After the workshop ended I went to buy some arancine from the Piana degli Albanesi people (see blog post 1/5). Even though it was half past four in the afternoon there was still a queue at their stand. This time, however, the arancine were cold. They were also very watery, which I guess was due to the fact that they had been fried while still frozen (I saw one of the guys bring a trolley full of boxes covered in condensation earlier in the day). This wasn’t noticeable when they were hot, but now they were cold. Even though they made the arancine themselves (the label on the boxes said so), it still sounded odd to qualify them as artisanal when they had traveled hundreds of miles in a freezer in some van. Maybe the adjective refers to the fact that they’re produced by a family business, probably with a few helpers. Industrial production is something else. There’s also the issue of ingredients. They can hardly be quality ones, considering the numbers and the price. The ricotta, for example, was also frozen. They were taking it out of big plastic tubs with the label “sweetened frozen sheep ricotta” at the back of the stand. What’s the point of “filling the cannolo on the spot”, as they advertised to the public, if the ricotta is frozen? On the other hand, they also made arancine with vastedda, which is a PDO cheese from the Belice valley.

While walking around the food market today I saw the FIAT stand, which didn’t quite seem to fit with the event. There was a massive pick-up truck on display in front of it, which I’m sure was targeted to farmers.

Stand FIAT: pick-up trucks in fields of gold. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (3/5)

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (3/5)

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The first workshop I attended today was called ‘The true cost of cheap food’. The speakers included Coldiretti’s president, a back-to-the-land farmer from the US, the vice-president of Piedmont’s biggest food bank, an agronomist from Armenia who works with goat farmers who produce a heritage cheese, a university professor from Beijing who works to spread urban agriculture there, and the representative of a pharmaceutical company that works specifically with small farmers. The moderator began by saying that low prices hide the social, health and environmental costs of food, and giving various figures for the US and the UK.

When his turn came, the president of Coldiretti began by declaring “I am a peasant (Sono un contadino)”. He said he owned a farm not far away from Turin, and that his food was sold in the area. He explained that most farmers in Italy are small, 8-16 hectares, so they know first hand the negative impact of cheap food. If food becomes a commodity and is only valued positively if it’s cheap, then there will be all sorts of problems. He said the situation worsened twenty years ago. That’s when they started their battle, together with Slow Food, for certification, for higher prices, and the banning of GMOs. A great victory in this battle was the law that recognized farms’ multi-functionality, fifteen years ago. Thanks to this law farmers are now allowed to sell their food on site. This is why they set up the Campagna Amica initiative. They did all this to avoid disappearing. Partly they’ve been successful, but partly not, because the food industry takes advantage of the Made in Italy image, but then doesn’t actually use foodstuff produced in Italy. Farmers have to ally themselves with the people who want to know what they eat. Producers and consumers must pretend that food is grown properly, that chemical inputs are reduced, and that biodiversity is protected. He ended his speech by mentioning the recent acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer, saying it was a very dangerous development, and professing the need to defend local seeds and animal breeds.

Another interesting speech was by a young woman from the US who had studied at Slow Food’s university in Pollenzo. She was from Arkansas, where the multinationals Tyson and Walmart are also from. After her experience at university, she couldn’t find work due to the economic crisis, so she did an internship on a big organic farm in Atlanta. Afterwards she managed a farm owned by retired farmers together with her partner, saying this was the only way they could start farming due to the prohibitive price of land in the US. This farm was part of a CSA scheme, through which they earned 800 dollars a month, which is more than many family farms earn in the US. They also made 1000 dollars from a weekly farmer’s market. The first year they sold 100000 dollars worth of food, which she said is a considerable amount. At present she worked as a manager on another farm, which also does a farmer’s market, a CSA of 100 families, and sells 60 per cent of its produce to a restaurant. According to her, “the restaurant basically built the farm”. The leftover food they give to a charity that feeds homeless people.

I then attended the second ‘Food smart cities for development’ workshop. Today the focus was on welfare services to the community. Among those who had been invited to give a talk was the president of the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy, who spoke about the risk that cities become divided between the have and the have-nots. She said we must avoid this and defend the rights of the poor, and not those of the rich. She told the audience how during the Milan World Expo they fought to include the right to adequate food in the Milan Charter, something which Hilal Ever, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, also spoke about.

The president of Piedmont’s largest food bank spoke about their work, saying they try to give back “dignity” to the people they feed (circa 70000). The people who go hungry are not just the homeless. In Piedmont there are 40000 people who have a home but regularly eat in soup kitchens, and it’s not just migrants, but also Italians. This point was reiterated by a man who worked for the council’s social services, who said that the Torinesi have been facing a crisis for many years now, with the loss of jobs that leads to the loss of homes, which of course impacts on the possibility of cooking your own food. One of the civil society projects that tries to address these problems is Fa bene, an initiative to collect leftovers in seven open-air markets and redistribute them to poor families.

A somewhat less scripted and more controversial speech was delivered by a man who works for the coop ISOLA, which runs three fair trade shops in the Turin area. Instead of talking about how to improve the use of leftovers and food banks, he said, we should be asking why these things exist in the first place. We have to go to the root of these problems. In reality the attention to good, clean and fair food is diminishing, not increasing. We need to shift the focus from food consumers to food producers, and try to understand how food can be a means for solidarity. The problem is that defining “solidarity” is very difficult. If you ask a GAS (solidarity purchase group) what a GAS is they will tell you each a different thing. He then went on to list two areas of intervention: 1) communication and education, and 2) participation. The former is important because we face a huge struggle against the power of advertising. He explained how they had started working in fair trade 20 years ago, when the world was a completely different place. Fair trade tried to change the world but failed. People still shop in supermarkets. Even those who buy “alternative” foods always consume a little bit of supermarket food. With regard to participation, he said we should start thinking in terms of community welfare, not individual welfare. Good, clean and fair food needs to be accessible to all. Why does healthy, vegan, fair trade food etc. costs more than the food that destroys the environment?

Another workshop I attended was called ‘The pact to shorten the food chain’, which included speeches from representatives of the International panel of experts on sustainable food systems, London’s Borough market, the box scheme Cortilia, and the short food supply chain initiative L’alveare che dice sì.

A man from Bolivia spoke about the failed promises of Evo Morales’ socialism, focusing in particular on the fact that under his administration the cultivation of genetically modified soy has actually increased, despite the official rhetoric against it. He said they have the right legislation but that the government doesn’t uphold it. If the state can’t solve these problems, then civil society should. They have organized a farmer’s market called Ecotambo, which is two years old and works primarily with women urban farmers, so it’s really local. They want to shift away from capitalism toward a different system. But farmer’s markets still take place inside a capitalist society. One of the problems with capitalism is individualism, so they use a participatory system, taking decisions through an assembly. They promote collaboration instead of competition. Another problem is monoculture. They promote diversity by working with farmers who produce a lot of different foods.

Another man who spoke at this workshop was a farmer from the Basque country in Spain. Recounting his story, he said that twenty years ago they had started thinking about how to become more autonomous from the market. So they decided to process their own produce and sell it directly to consumers, in an effort to retain more added value. When they began there was only four of them, now there are fifteen. They have also increased their land and diversified their products. A specific association, called Idoki, was created to promote initiatives among consumers, including a farmer’s market in the nearby town. They support ecological farming, though not necessarily certified-organic. Two rules for participating in the association are that each single farm can produce only a certain amount of food , and that the farmer himself must do the processing. As the area is a tourist hot spot, a lot of people claim to be selling local foods, so they feel the need to guarantee this.

The last workshop I attended, ‘The future is slow-moving’, was on the idea of slow cities. The first speaker was an urban planning expert who talked about the “paradigm of rationality” that governed the development of the industrial city, of which Turin is considered the foremost example in Italy. He said that rational planning can never avoid the issue of social conflict and the need for the political negotiation of conflicts. He concluded suggesting that perhaps a slow city could help people to realize what is wrong with their city, which would presumably increase the need to manage social conflicts.

Next was the famous Italian sociologist Chiara Saraceno, who agreed with the previous speaker on the fact that the industrial city was dominated by the paradigm of rationality, a point she extended to the governing of the inequalities that resulted from the new divisions of labor of the industrial era. Since that era, Saraceno went on, inequalities have exploded. She cited Saskia Sassen on the language of inequality, saying that more than inequality today we are facing dissociation. In the past, rich and poor used to mingle in cities, they could even live in the same building. Today the rich find it ever more problematic to relate to the poor, which is why city councils pass laws against begging, for example. But many social groups are unwilling to take more discrimination, and resistance to inequality is growing.

The author of the book Turin after the automobile presented the audience with a wide-ranging  critique of economic growth and development that was in many ways reminiscent of the work of Serge Latouche, who will give the concluding plenary on Monday.

Turin’s vice-mayor closed the round table by saying that there was no point in avoiding the fact that urban planning and urban governance are issues of class conflict. Perhaps some people don’t like the term, he said, but this is what we’re talking about. This was true in the past, and it’s still true today. Turin has changed in many positive ways, there is no question about it, but many parts of the city reflect the endurance of considerable injustice. He said there are whole neighborhoods that are built around shopping centers, with no green spaces or services. The new administration has inherited twenty years of wrong policies, but even they can’t do a lot of the things they would like. He recalled the times of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, when income tax for the rich was at 90%, but said this would be impossible today, even though it would be the right thing to do.

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (2/5)

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (2/5)

Friday, 23 September 2016

Early this morning I went to the Coldiretti stand to listen to the results of an impact assessment of the organization’s farmer’s market project, Campagna Amica. The large stand was packed with people wearing yellow scarves with the association logo on it. There were also lots of large balloons floating in the air.

Stand Coldiretti, Italy’s largest farmers association. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

All this was for Carlo Petrini, who was due to talk at the event. After Petrini arrived and was done accommodating all the requests from the press and the public, Coldiretti’s president spoke at length about the close relationship that has developed between the two organizations, which allegedly fight for exactly the same things. I found this claim quite curious, considering that Coldiretti has historically been an actor of Italy’s food establishment, certainly not of its alternative. Was today’s event an indication that the latter has finally managed to influence the former, or was it just an example of Slow Food-washing? Be that as it may, Petrini was announced as the new president of the Campagna Amica Foundation.

Stand Coldiretti: Carlo Petrini and a group of South Korean delegates (presumably not affiliated to Coldiretti). Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

I wanted to go next to a workshop entitled ‘Where is organic agriculture going?’, but I couldn’t get in, as it was completely packed with delegates, who are given priority to attend events. So I went to the workshop ‘Food smart cities for development’ instead. This was the first in a series of three meetings to present the results of the project by the same name, the results of which have been collected in a book. The woman responsible for international cooperation in Turin’s city council introduced the workshop. She talked about the numerous projects on food that the council has organized in the past, which have been more or less coordinated. Apparently, the new administration wants to do something more coherent. The focus of today’s meeting was on the governance of food policies, especially the relationship between the city and the country.

The vice-mayor said the new administration is all about sustainability. With regard to food, the problem is the lack of soil to produce food sustainably. In Italy the consumption of soil (cementificazione) is above the European average. He says we don’t need more homes or infrastructure. In Turin in the past they built too much, but they also renovated old industrial areas. The city has many urban allotments (2 million square meters), but they need more, which must be used for quality agriculture. The new administration plans to pass laws to defend natural and agricultural areas inside the city. They will revise the zoning plan (piano regolatore) to reduce the areas that can be built on, and together with Coldiretti start producing food on the available land. At the end he mentioned the recent controversy about the possibility for children to bring their own food to school canteens, and said he was against it, because the aim should be to have good canteens for all.

Then it was the turn of a university researcher who talked about the disconnection between producers and consumers and the lack of distinction between the city and the country after sixty years of urbanization. He said cities can have a role in governing the food system, or at least certain aspects of it at different scales. This is where re-localization comes in, though we shouldn’t assume that “local” always means best.

The keynote speech was delivered by Andrea Calori, who spoke about many of the issues covered in his new book.

The second half of the workshop saw a number of planned speeches by actors of the food sector and civil society. One which I found particularly interesting was by a farmer whose family has had a stall in the Porta Palazzo farmer’s market for four generations. He said the best years in terms of the satisfaction they received from customers were the 1960s and 1970s, when thousands of migrants from southern Italy settled in Turin, because they were able to build real trust with them. He said these people knew what good, fresh food was, and were used to buying it every day in open-air markets. In contrast, his clientele today is largely made up of occasional consumers who come on Saturdays for the experience of buying directly from a farmer. Another interesting moment was when three men spoke about the project of building a single national website for the entire Italian solidarity economy. One of them complained about the fact that now everybody is talking about the things that the solidarity economy movement has been talking about for years. He said that even Amazon is planning to deliver local vegetables.

After lunch I went to a workshop called ‘The Earth Markets meet’. The moderator said the number of Slow Food farmer’s markets has increased considerably since they were launched in 2005, and they are now found all over the world. Indeed, the speakers came from Turkey, Latvia, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Uganda and many more places besides. Quite a few, however, seemed to be struggling, at least judging from the speeches. A woman who manages a market in South Carolina (USA), for example, said they had no institutional support. They had started in an art gallery, then moved to a public square. Then they had moved again to a school science center. At present they organized the market outside a small groceries store on the city outskirts, along a busy commuter route. With time they had lost a lot of vendors, and now had only six . The market takes place only once a month, and it’s really hard to attract customers, partly because of competition from a Sunday market.

A man from Campania in Italy said their market faced many of the same problems. When they began, they felt completely on their own. They were prompted to act by need to educate people in the area. The market takes place once a month in order not to disturb the interests of the local community (the shopkeepers, etc.). They check all the prices to make sure that they are not below those of the wholesale market but not above those of the shops. They receive some help from local institutions, but mostly from volunteers. One problem are the endless meetings needed to decide everything. There is also a general lack of money, for example to print informational materials. To attract people they use music. They also organize visits to the farmers, because the consumers always ask for reassurance about the quality of the food on sale.

When the Q&A session began, a man from Bolivia asked how these initiatives could be turned into an alternative economic model that was different from capitalism. A farmer from a market in Bologna complained about the local Slow Food representatives, saying there is a complete disconnection between the local and the national levels. They were happy with the national staff but couldn’t work with the locals. He said the farmers should be more involved in the running of the market. Another man from Uganda said the prices in the Earth Markets were too high.

At this point a woman from a market in Tuscany said they all faced the same problems, but if they joined efforts they could be incredibly strong, because you can go without an extra item of clothing but you can’t go without food. I thought this was naive, especially in light of evidence that shows people will buy food from hard discounts in order to save money for the latest technological gadget. She then said that some authorities help, while others don’t, but that in the end the Earth Markets have a strength without which they wouldn’t have achieved anything. The moderator told the man from Bologna that the markets should always be about the farmers, and that if that wasn’t the case, they should get in touch with the Slow Food Biodiversity Foundation. Replying to the question from the Bolivian man, he said the way out of capitalism was “education”, educating people that food is more important than gadgets. He then touched on the issue of prices, saying one can’t sell extra-virgin olive oil for three euro a liter, because the right price is thirteen euro. One can’t devalue the work of the farmer by not paying him properly or making a comparison with the supermarkets.

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (1/5)

Terra Madre 2016: a field diary (1/5)

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Terra Madre – Salone del Gusto started today. Everybody is talking about the fact that for the first time since the event began, “Terra Madre” has been put before “Salone del Gusto”, something that allegedly shows a more political stance on Slow Food’s part. While I was on the tram on my way to Piazza Castello, I saw a sign on the window of a nondescript clothing store that said they participated in the notte bianca del commercio (the late-night  opening hours) organized for the event. This announcement seemed completely incongruous and irrelevant. It made me think that Terra Madre really is a total social fact for Turin. Piazza Castello was fairly empty, but it’s only the first day, after all. The day was sunny and warm, which I think was very lucky. The square hosts the regional stands. I was looking for Sicily’s one. I wanted to take some notes for my long-term ethnographic project on the island.

Slow Food’s snail in the central Piazza Castello. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

The Sicilians had organized their stand in two separate areas: one was devoted to talks, which was basically like a seminar room without the fourth wall, while the other was like a tiny restaurant, with perhaps ten tables. This is where they served lunch, which was being cooked behind the scenes at the back of the stand. The price: €25, including wines. I was there to listen to the regional authorities launch a map of thirty gastronomic itineraries. The talk actually took place among the tables in the mini-restaurant, not in the seminar room, because the guests were already sat down, waiting for their food. A man whose role I didn’t catch introduced two assessori, the one for tourism and the one for agriculture. All three men said basically the same thing: that Sicily is the homeland of all those who love good food, that it is the Italian region where Slow Food’s principles are best put in practice, as shown by the greatest number of Presidia found in it, and that gastronomic tourism can usher in a new era of prosperity for the island. At the end of the talk, Slow Food Italy’s national secretary, who was also present, said a few congratulatory words. The moderator then concluded by saying emphatically that we should always use the expression “real food” (cibo vero), and that this is what Sicily produces, cibo vero. (“Eat real food” is a Slow Food slogan.)

The cash register, Stand Sicily. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

After the talk ended I wandered the piazza, trying to get a sense of the event’s different elements. I saw the stand of the Calabria region, which seemed to employ much the same communication strategy as the Sicilian one.

Stand Calabria: “Welcome to deep food”, a play on words with the Italian “Welcome to the deep south (sud)”. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

One side of the piazza was occupied by Slow Food’s large educational stand.

The theme of this edition of Terra Madre was ‘Loving the Earth’. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

I also saw the stands of several corporate sponsors, including Iren, the local utility (fossil fuel) provider.

Stand Iren: solar energy, the inevitable prototype. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

And Alce Nero, one of Italy’s top organic food brands.

Stand Alce Nero, an Italian brand named after the famous Native American Black Elk. Photograph: Giovanni Orlando

Eventually I left Piazza Castello and walked back along via Po, where the via del gelato (the ice cream street) has been set up. Here you could only purchase one flavor of ice cream at a time, but in a combination of two cultivars. This idea intrigued me, so I stopped to try some. I had two scoops of pistachio ice cream, one made with pistachios from Bronte, the other from Stigliano. The gelato was excellent, and I was very surprised to feel the difference between the two varieties. The Stigliano one was much stronger, even though the Bronte one was much greener (unless it was the other way round!).

After I reached the Parco del Valentino, where the majority of events are taking place, I strolled the avenues of the market. There are hundreds and hundreds of vendors, grouped together by geographical location (from region to continent). Eventually, I ended up in the Sicilian section, which is very long. I bought two arancine from a stall of people who own a bar in S. Giuseppe Jato, though they are actually from Piana degli Albanesi. The guy said they come from the “homeland of the cannolo“, which they also sold. I sat down in front of the row of stalls and watched the crowds do their food shopping and sampling. The majority of the food on sale is not stuff you could eat on a daily basis. It’s not fresh food, unless you count desserts as fresh food. Very little of it is basic foodstuff, for example pasta and olive oil. The vast majority is specialty food, in the sense of food for special occasions. Endless condiments, spreads of all sorts, mountains of cannoli and other pasticcini, olive oil flavored with all sorts of ingredients, liquors, etc. This food clearly belongs to a separate regime of value from the one in which everyday foods circulate. I was wondering what kind of diet one would have if he ate only the things on sale here, then I remembered the documentary ‘Supersize me’, in which the guy eats only McDonald’s for a whole month. What would happen if someone did the same with the food sold at the Salone del Gusto? ‘Slow-Food me’? I think one of the problems with Slow Food is that it offers a vision of systemic reform, but the practical alternatives it puts forward could never achieve this, and even if they did, it would be a dystopia. In reality, people just add artisanal foods to what industrial food they already buy. The only way that what they offer could find a place in a sustainable society would be if everyone adopted a lifestyle inspired by voluntary simplicity and drastically reduced their levels of material consumption, then bought only Slow Food. But that’s clearly not the case.

Cibo global: quando la mucca piemontese si prende l’aspirina cinese

Cibo global: quando la mucca piemontese si prende l’aspirina cinese

A settembre la Guardia di Finanza di Torino ha denunciato sette persone tra veterinari, titolari e tecnici di un’azienda che gestisce 26 allevamenti tra Cuneo, Novara e Alessandria, per presunta somministrazione illecita di steroidi anabolizzanti a mucche destinate alla grande distribuzione e alle tavole degli italiani (gli avvocati dell’azienda hanno dichiarato che non sono mai stati trovati steroidi o altre sostanze illecite nella carne). Secondo il nucleo di Polizia Tributaria, agli animali venivano somministrati farmaci al cortisone e steroidi sessuali fatti arrivare dalla Cina. Durante le indagini sono state sequestrate 5mila confezioni di aspirina cinese e diverse ricette in bianco firmate dal veterinario. L’antinfiammatorio viene impiegato in un mix di farmaci, di solito cortisonici e altri ormoni, per prevenire malattie da stress di cui sono vittime gli animali negli allevamenti intensivi. Un numero così alto di dosi difficilmente può essere compatibile con interventi terapeutici sporadici. Per gli ormoni sessuali, come ad esempio l’estradiolo, la legge prevede tolleranza zero, data la loro natura cancerogena. Altri medicinali, come aspirina e antibiotici, sono permessi a scopo terapeutico, ma con limiti rigorosi (si spera). Maria Caramelli, direttrice dell’Istituto Zooprofilattico di Torino, ha dichiarato sul caso: “Anche se i controlli sulla carne sono rigidi, si tratta comunque di una lotta ‘guardie e ladri’: chi vuole commettere illeciti riesce a farlo non solo dopando gli animali al venerdì, visto che è difficile ci siano controlli nei weekend, ma anche mettendo in circolazione nuove molecole, usando proprio farmaci cinesi, perchè più economici, e anche perchè lì ci sono meno regole”. Gli indagati sono accusati di concorso in adulterazione di sostanze alimentari pericolose per la salute pubblica. Quello che più colpisce di questa storia è il fatto che l’azienda in questione era già coinvolta in un procedimento penale, con accuse sostanzialmente identiche, per il periodo 2006-2013, ma continuava comunque a operare. Slow Food si è costituita parte civile in quel processo, dichiarando che “partecipare ai processi permette di avere un punto di vista privilegiato: si scoprono così i meccanismi di adulterazione degli alimenti. Ci siamo già costituiti in altri 8 processi, e i soldi eventualmente recuperati vanno in progetti come ‘L’orto in condotta’ all’interno di scuole elementari e medie”.