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How sharing food can change the world

I was fortunate to attend a gathering of people who share a common passion – enjoying food. This may sound like any other dinner party you’ve been to, but imagine if you will a party of about 5,000 people. We didn’t speak the same language, we came from all walks of life and corners of the world, but we could enjoy sharing a taste of food because we all believed that everyone deserves to enjoy good food. We all believed that we are each responsible for taking part in our food community.

one of 4 halls that contained booths with food – and stories – from around the world

The gathering I attended is called Terra Madre. It is a conference organized by the food communities that belong to Slow Food; there are 2000 of them around the world, representing over 100,000 members. It’s a chance to share ideas, learn new information and go back to our communities energized with ways to make a positive change. Not to mention we tasted all kinds of food from around the world!

More than anything, this was about the experience that food can create in our lives. Sometimes the talk was of “edible education” – the importance of teaching children about the pleasure of good food that is sustainable and wholesome. Other sessions discussed keeping traditions alive by sharing the stories of food and maintaining them in the environment and in the culture. Still others delved into the politics of sustainability and hunger. There were panel discussions that offered many points of view but many of my most powerful memories are of conversations I had with other individuals, or interactive experiences. There was effort made to ensure we enjoyed our food, from the way it was prepared to the venue and atmosphere in which we consumed it.

different kinds of grains grown around the world … there are 15 kinds of millet alone!

I took part in a bread-making session held by a family that has produced bread in their region for 4 generations. I don’t speak Italian, and the presentation wasn’t offered in English, but I could understand the gist of it. They spoke of their passion to flavour the bread with whole grains, milled fresh, and herbs in season. They spoke of the character of the bread, the sense of place it offered in its taste. They were proud of their work, and happy to share the secret with others. They even sang about it!

I sipped a special drink that was invented in Turin, called a Bicherin, in the cafe  where it was first created.

Basilica della Consolata, in Turin

This delectable combination of chocolate and coffee with full cream on top was designed to offer sustenance to those enduring the long church services at the basilica across the piazza. The parishioners would sneak out to the cafe and down a drink so as to be able to make it through the entire service.We lingered and enjoyed a biscotti with our beverage, just like the locals at the next table.

performers delivered salad on unicycles!

I had a lunch that offered local ingredients prepared by local chefs. There was salami and cheese from local producers, regional wines, a risotto made with a special cheese that has layers of flavour from different batches that are stacked on one another in a pyramid, and a dessert of candied beets and persimmon “pearls” in local ricotta.This meal was experienced in a circus tent, allowing the flavours to unfold at the same time as the story of two young performers who fall in love and celebrate on a rope trapeze, while another is jilted and performs an angst-ridden acrobatic routine in a giant spinning hula hoop. In the background, a gypsy band played mournful accordion and guitar. Art, music, food and wine – this was an integrated experience, to be sure!

If ever I was unsure about the importance of enjoying food and how much it can galvanize relationships and create a sense of community, this trip convinced me. I think that is the secret to teaching people who have not discovered this magic: don’t just feed them, share the food with a smile or a touch or a story. Remind them we are all connected, and the food is one of the most basic ways we stay connected – to each other, to our community, to the planet. Slow Food is about everyone’s right to good, clean and fair food. Access to food is a right, not a privilege, but as aware consumers we must also remember that our part is a commitment to the community and the environment. We must each work to maintain those connections. It’s a job I relish!

fresh heirloom tomatoes at Eataly, a local co-op store that features only items from Italy. There are now branches in Tokyo and New York.

To see more photos and experiences from Terra Madre, check out the photo galleries on the Slow Food International website.

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