This Examiner has been saving the following food news report for today: Food Day 2014. At the same time, Slow Food International is happening now (October 23-28, 2014) with a full plate of event at the biennial Terra Madre and Salon del Gusto.com in Turin Italy where farmers, chefs, scientists, and food enthusiasts meet to conference about topics that include “climate change, land grabbing, food waste, animal welfare and population growth.”
What better way to mark a day dedicated to the power of food and drink?
So picture a warm October afternoon, seamless blue sky, sweet, silky air and just like a good first date, an unmistakable sense of blissful expectation.
The Slow Food tribe (200 or so guesstimated attendees by the event sponsors) was headed to Roberta’s Pizza & Bakery and home to Heritage Radio Network in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for the “Silver Snail” 25th Anniversary to listen and learn from Carlo Petrini and Alice Waters — the iconic, revered grand masters – the crowned king and queen, if you will, of the slow food monarchy. Their culinary kingdom’s seal would feature gardens, farms, whole foods, family. And a snail.
This Examiner and her plus+1 were practically first in line. Looking past the fence door was the garden – er, grass area – where the tribe would sit on blankets – along with folks casually buzzing preparations, setting up display tables and a makeshift “stage” where Waters and Petrini would sit and talk.
Organizers suggested getting a pizza to eat while waiting for the event to start.
Didn’t have to ask twice. Roberta’s pizza is a puff of wood burning heaven; every luscious bite whispers, “I love you, baby.”
Sitting under the tent, dining at rough-hewn picnic tables, watching the foodie royalty and paparazzi descend into the wacky and whimsical makeup of Roberta’s was like being in a happy, foodie Fellini movie.
Soon, it was indeed an Italian movie – no subtitles needed.
Petrini speaks in a barreling, animated Italian Futurism way, describing the state of food, food systems, and food production in the world while exhorting the audience to make change; to push back. His translator was just the opposite. He was all calm. It was a show to watch and hear just even this dynamic.
Petrini and Waters spoke to the garden’s packed audience in an amiable, talk-show kind of presentation. Heritage Radio’s executive director, stalwart radio host of the Farm Report, and Slow Food advocate, Erin Fairbanks was the moderator.
After a few welcoming remarks by Slow Foods USA’s Richard McCarthy and Heritage Foods USA and Slow Food USA founder, Patrick Martins, Fairbanks kicked off the magical afternoon. One could hear Pharrell singing in the background as she exclaimed, “I’m sooo happy! Are you happy?! “ She set the tone for the talk, describing how the “Good Food” movement started right here, pointing to the two shipping containers that remain Heritage Radio’s studio, and how she’d accompany Martins “on the probably illegal pig deliveries” that led to meeting the folks at Roberta’s who invited them to locate their radio and food movement as part of their “complex.”
(The complex’s doppelganger could be likened to a decorator out of Mad Max who turned out a series of old buildings found on an abandoned movie stage, set in a post-apocalyptic world.)
The important thing Fairbanks was explaining is how at that time they felt scared and recognized the need to affect change – to send out a clarion call and sense of urgency about the deteriorating condition of the country’s food system.
Fairbanks kicked off the talk, asking: What is the value of food and the price of food?”
Petrini’s translated answer was if all goes as well as it should, we will be better in the next 25 years.
That said, he wasted no time in laying down the food gauntlet – with a finger poking straight at the current corporate food system.
“It is a Criminal food system!” he bellowed. (Even in his Italian the audience could understand when he drew out the word criminale for emphasis.)
With equal fervor he explained how this corporate food system is very radical: it’s killing the fertility of our soil, it’s destroying the environment, we are losing biodiversity (down 75% in last century) and accelerates the growing lack of water in some areas.
In order to get to that better place in 25 years he said young people will need to fight – and it won’t be easy. However, he offered ideas, saying the next generation will bring new paradigms to do battle with this complex world.
Petrini went on to point out how the corporate food system’s mission is to continue to produce more. Grow more. In spite of the suffering caused to even the most humble microorganism (found in the soil).
“Is this what we want?” he asked rhetorically.
“Food is now merchandise. A commodity! There shouldn’t be ‘customers’ there should be people who eat food.” The audience cheered in agreement. “Food is not ‘fuel,’” he added to approval.
Petrini modulates his cadence and tempo while speaking so that his talk has a rhythm. At times it has the fierceness of a rock show; at others it’s a sweet lullaby…
Pivoting from the high voltage pitch, he more gently explained how there is no longer a point of pride in making food. He said there should be people behind the food we eat – people who care. People who have a history of love and know-how for making that food.
Love and knowledge should take priority over price.
The corporate food system produces more to get customer to eat cheap. They de-value what they eat because it is judged by the cost of the food rather than its taste or health benefits.
In terms of the other side of the food coin – wasting food in the developed countries — he shrank in disgust. “It’s the worst embarrassment. Every day, we waste 16 tons of food that gets thrown out. There is no pride.”
He said, “If I told my grandparents (who presumably had to work hard to put food on the table) that people today spend more money just to get thin, they would say, ‘You’re an idiot!’ That’s crazy,” he added.
It was dark humor that had the audience laughing, especially given the Petrini drama as told through the interpreter.
The point he made was, however, was quite serious. “Every day, 800 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1.6 billion from ‘fatness.’ This must be defeated.”
He explained the system needs to be changed. And personal behavior needs to change.
He railed there should be no collaboration with the criminal food system.
After the fiery call to action, he switched tempo yet again, and as a benevolent father, shared the fact that we are born to co-participate with people we love: with the grand community and fraternity of the world. Petrini went on about happiness and suffering…
“Food is instrumental to the energy of life. Honor it,” he commanded. “Food itself is the greatest act of love. It’s the first thing we do when we are born.”
At one point Fairbanks quoted Baudelaire’s, “With great power comes great responsibility” and then asked, “So who do you both want to have an audience with?” Maybe it was that phrase, “have an audience with” because both said they’d like to meet with Pope Francis.
Waters shared how Carlo had gotten a call from the Pope on his mobile and it was like a meeting of the minds, referring to their mutual respect for the dignity of the small, family farmer: a key position Slow Foods supports and promotes.
Later, as this Examiner understood Waters to say, she was at the White House walking in the garden as the president was preparing for his trip to meet Pope Francis and she suggested he bring some of the White House garden’s heirloom seeds as a gift.
Indeed, President Obama presented to his Holiness seeds from the White House garden. The seeds were warmly received, according to Waters.
Waters is a Garden State native. Garden are in her DNA. She spoke at length about the need to educate children about food within the public school system. “President Kennedy introduced Physical Education as part of his New Frontier so therefore Edible education can enter the school curriculum, as well.” Waters explained for it to work, every child must eat local, sustainable food for free. “Then the children will grow up with a set of slow food values.
The question Fairbanks posed next was to ask who is in charge of this kind of curriculum in Italy. Before replying, Petrini noted (to much applause) how lucky America is to have Alice Waters. “She is an inspiration and a force of nature!” he shouts while tiny Waters sat tranquilly as if in meditation.
He said he first met her at a Farmers Market. Naturally. For a time in Europe, the traditional farmers markets that had thrived since medieval times were disappearing. So were the farmers. Middlemen took over. Waters was urging him and his powerful associates to get the organic food markets thriving once more. Now, farmers markets are on the rise again in Europe and the markets are back. “Alice is one powerful lady,” he exclaimed.
Answering the question about the Italian edible school programs, he said that this year they have 500 schools with edible curriculum and then, to much applause, announced Slow Food has a goal to have 10,000 schools in Africa with the edible school studies.
He explained it’s critical to have parents, community, and schools work together to teach the children and pass on a “Food Culture” that got lost in the post-industrial world. “We have to reconstruct that umbilical cord that was snipped.”
Petrini railed against the corporate advertisers who expose children to more than three hours a day of ads promoting processed foods… “They learn Crap is good,” he stated.
To combat this assault on food culture, public school edible education is needed.
Moreover, it should be understood that children can learn other subjects through the prism of an edible curriculum. For example, math and arithmetic can be taught by planting a quantity of seeds, counting a given number of rows. Geography, too, can be taught by ethnic or cultural foods cooked in the kitchen – learning where the ingredients first came from or where they were grown. “After 20 years of managing the Edible Garden middle school, Waters said kids don’t feel like they’re in school! Yet they know their subject better because it comes through their senses. They also eat more fruits and vegetables.”
Fairbanks asked about innovation in food at the World’s Fair in May in Milan. (Scheduled from May 1 to October 31, 2015) the United States is hosting American Food 2.0 The theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” The Expo aims to “aggregate ideas, and showcase innovations in food, sustainability, science, industry, economics, entrepreneurship, and other elements at the core of American culture.”
Petrini tipped his hat to his host city, acknowledging New York features cuisines from all over the world.
In Turin at the Slow Food Terra Madre event, representatives will discuss ideas and work to come up with a protocol for a number of food issues, especially the ability to defend small producers. Respect for the food patrimony is key, he pointed out.
There was talk about the loss of a farm every three days to industrial development in the Europe and the US; while in Africa, farm loss is due to foreign countries buying up the land for their sovereign use.
“This is a new form of colonialism. A new kind of slavery. This is why Africans are leaving on boats for Europe.” He reminded the audience it wasn’t that long ago that Italians boarded boats in mass exodus and left for America. “We need to help African farmers. We are responsible. We are citizens of the world. “
All agreed farmer security is paramount to global good will.
In Turin, they will also discuss issues such as no GMOs and fighting for seeds.
Today, 80% of the world’s seeds are in the hands of five multinationals.
“Seeds are life. Life is not owned by companies,” warned Petrini
As Roberta’s aromatic wood-oven smoke wafted through the garden, Petrini stated,
“Gardening today is a political act. Plants talk. They give us life!”
On a positive and playful note, Petrini observed that what America has done in the last 20 years in terms of food is unbelievable. “When I first came to New York, there were no farmers markets, school gardens, organic food – and there were only two kinds of beer!”
Fairbanks concluded the talk by saying “Understanding food can change the world.” Petrini urged the audience to continue to do good work and fight against suffering and the corporate food system.
Waters said, Take the risk. Go all the way.” People she admires did that and held the line.
Waters also reminded the attendees, “This movement is all about pleasure.”
She smiled saying, I have not worked a day in my adult life.” And added, she is extremely hopeful.
Following the talk, there was a terrific food tasting around the corner, featuring locally grown and made food and drink.
Happy Food Day 2014! Make a difference.