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Monday, October 12, 2020

Slow the Food, Feed the World

THE CURRENT PANDEMIC has kept us away from restaurants but it hasn’t slaked our taste for food. It may not seem appropriate to ascribe any advantages to living in a comparatively isolated fashion during the past few months, but it at least may have forced a reassessment of our relationship to what we eat. Seeds and gardening material were hot sellers this year; growing your own food is both nutritious and therapeutic. But where are we headed?

Terra Madre – Mother Earth – is a Turin-based but world-wide festival that seeks to “unite our food, our planet and our future,” and which will present a mix of physical and digital events running from Oct. 8, 2020 through April 2021. It’s the thirteenth such festival, and in many the most important, bringing together, as it promises, food producers, consumers, thinkers, and writers from around the globe.

The conference defines the four pillars of food security as availability, access, utilization, and stability, and notes that the pandemic is as much of a food crisis as it is a health crisis. “Covid-19 represents an opportunity for us to find solutions to all the other emergencies we face: the climate and environmental crisis; the economic crisis generated by an unsustainable development model based on the impossible dream of infinite growth, a model which foments social injustice and distributes our collective wealth ever more unequally; the social exclusion of large sections of the population and denial of fundamental rights; the drama of mass migration.”

Terra Madre’s summary response is biodiversity, asking, “What can we do to reverse a development model that creates social and environmental disasters, eroding our natural capital?” Slow Food is the answer, promoting all forms of biodiversity.
During a Zoom-format press conference held on Friday, Oct. 2, Edie Mukiibi, executive director of Slow Food Uganda, shared his excitement about the upcoming festival. “In a world ravaged by coronavirus,” he said, “it’s a challenge for people to come together. These digital events will be able to unite people at all levels of food production, from farmers to consumers.” He noted that one of the challenges for a world-wide event is environmental diversity. “Each person who lives in a different ecosystem needs to be respected and protected,” he said, while noting that we are united in facing a changing relationship with our planet. “We will discuss these issues to find root causes of what has gone wrong. We need to develop a new system of analyzing these things so that we can make effective changes to the food system.”

The impressive slate of events, many of them in place and many still being planned, is being put together by Elisa Demichelis, of Slow Food International. “We’re encouraging our Slow Food networks to contribute by organizing activities wherever they are, both digital and in person.”

Terra Madre serves as a platform to unite these events, events which, she believes, “will promote and safeguard biodiversity, and set a way forward to better define, measure, and communicate the impact our activities have on a local level.”

In addition, Slow Food will help organize and promote a Good Food/Good Farming campaign throughout Europe during October in order, among other things, to put pressure on politicians for needed change.

“In the U.K., there will be five days of events starting October 8 that include digital farm visits, educational programs, and tastings. In Germany we’re hosting a roundtable discussion on biodiversity to raise awareness of how institutions can raise funds to support this mission.”

Communications director Jack Coulton noted that the central tool for this year’s events is the Terra Madre website. “The events list will always be changing,” he said, “so it’s important to check in regularly.” The platform will be free of charge, and will provide a catalogue of conferences, forums, webinars, e-learning courses and workshops, a section dedicated to e-commerce of products, a Business-to-Business section dedicated to exhibitors, and a section set aside for the press.

“I’m often asked what the difference is between conferences and forums,” he said. “I think it’s best explained that conferences are academic panels, while forums feature people who have grassroots involvement with the topics.”

One of the key themes of the conferences is “a new geography.” All conferences will be broadcast online, so that everyone can take part in them. The forums will present members of the Slow Food network, from producers to cooks, activists to experts, discussing issues related to agriculture, food, sustainability, biodiversity, and production models, while seeking answers to the questions that concern the ecosystems.

Also featured will be 15-minute Food Talks, during which writers, economists, philosophers, anthropologists, ecologists, educators, as well as farmers, herders, fishers, and cooks offer their unique visions of the environment, agriculture, and food. The How It’s Made: section offers activities allowing you to discover new skills and techniques while exploring recipes presented by our guests in your home.

And there will be Five episodes of the Relay from around the World, a miniseries that crosses continents and time zones to address the climate and environmental crisis and its many related topics.

The festival will close in April 2021 with the Slow Food International Congress, gathering all of the ideas for the future of food that collected during the preceding six months.

All of the events and further information can be accessed at the Terra Madre website., 7 October 2020

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