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Terra Madre – Part 1

October 29, 2010

Wow, how to describe these four days?

Terra Madre was quite genuinely one of the most exciting experiences of my life.  It seemed like everyone in Turin was visiting for it or somehow connected with it, but this might just be because I didn’t get a chance to do much else when I was there.  One of the women opposite me on the train from Paris was reading Eat, Pray, Love (a book I enjoyed, but have reservations about – more, perhaps, another time), and I briefly feared Rome would be full of earnest Anglo-Saxon women attempting to find themselves, but it turned out she was on her way to Terra Madre.  She and her husband were restaurateurs and were exhibiting in the Salone del Gusto, so I got chatting to them, and also to the woman sitting in front of them who owned an apple orchard in Australia and was attending as a delegate.  Then, after wandering around Turin in the dark for half an hour and failing to find anything resembling a number 52 bus, I took a taxi to the hostel, where I completely failed to communicate with what appeared to be a Spanish delegation (too exhausted by this point to speak in anything other than grunts and a bit of broken Italian).  The next morning I ran into two American delegates in the lobby and joined forces with them to navigate to Terra Madre.  And all this before it had even begun!

The opening and closing ceremonies were held in the Olympic stadium.  I had arrived too early for anything to be going on, and was somewhat confused about check-in, so I loitered around for a while, then wandered off a bit and bought a notebook and other essentials using entirely Italian, until gradually I found some of my coursemates.  People trickled in and we got chatting, and then had a meeting (read: occupied a corner of a room).  After a (very nice) buffet lunch, the opening ceremony began.

It was spectacular: representatives of the local and regional governments,* speakers from indigenous communities and someone from each of the countries represented entered with their flag, all interspersed with music from an excellent children’s choir.

Afterwards (and after some confusion) I met up with my host family.  I say family, but that makes it sound like a school exchange or something.  They were actually a lovely young couple, around my age – she was an anthropology student with an interest in food, and he was an IT consultant and gourmet.  Initially I thought it would be a rather long few days, as her English was much better than my Italian but not very extensive – which would have been great, since I’d probably have learned more Italian, but it would have been a shame not to be able to talk in the evenings – but we realised after about 10 minutes that we both spoke decent French.  The next five days were a heady trilingual mess. =)  They cooked for me that evening – he had brought three different kinds of foccaccia back from a work trip to Bologna and we had those with prosecco, followed by pasta, and an early night.

The following morning was the forum on ‘Social Systems and Transformations’, the topic area I had been assigned to.  Annoyingly, all the forums related to the summer school were scheduled at the same time, so we couldn’t participate in any of the others despite having done all the readings for them, but ours was still very inspiring.  Great opening speeches from our professor, Raj Patel and Serge Latouche, and some fascinating comments from the floor.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but there were lots of very interesting points raised.  Our main thesis was that you can’t have change in the food system unless it is accompanied by wider social change – real democracy and food sovereignty.  ‘Slow food’ needs to be accompanied by ‘slow politics’.  Many people essentially seemed to be asking: what can I do?  The short answer seems to be: what you’re doing now, but involving more people, which is messy and takes a long time.  Indeed, it takes time and care to do things properly, as the food producers present would doubtless attest to.  The students didn’t have much of a role in this forum, mostly taking notes and making a couple of points from the floor, although some of the other groups were doing presentations.

My group had lunch together afterwards and talked a lot about our various reasons for getting so interested in food.  Then we had a meeting in the afternoon to feed back on the forum, and then we headed straight for the enoteca.  In Italy, an enoteca is a kind of wine bar, where you can go in the early evening and have a glass of wine and something to eat.  At Slow Food, however, there are about 1000 wines to choose from!  We sampled a few, including the free asti,** and then headed off to a restaurant.  Popped back to my hosts’ flat for a quick espresso before heading out with them to a bar – just as well I had the coffee as I’d never have made it to 3 a.m. otherwise!  Pleasant evening chatting to them and their friend about various things, and fell into bed exhausted but happy.


* The regional representative had a rather frosty welcome, as apparently she’s allied with nationalist Lega Nord party, and has withdrawn financial support that Terra Madre used to receive.

** Someone gave us their ticket for their free asti – I choose to think he was being nice, but it’s possible he just thought we were unsophisticated Anglo-Americans who would do such uncouth things as drink asti before dinner.

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