Slow Food revolution needs to act fast
At the Sessa stand at Slow Food’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, I’m transported from the impersonal surroundings of the Lingotto Fiere exhibition centre in Turin by sheer gastronomic pleasure. Sfogliatine may “just” be a Neapolitan sweet pastry but, as with much Italian food, the devil is in the detail. Paper-thin pastry is layered with lard and butter, then rolled, sliced into rounds and rolled again, filled with a mixture of semolina, ricotta and, in this case, fragrant Amalfi lemon, folded into seashell shapes and baked. The result is crisp, delicate and beautiful to look at – the pastry layers resembling the fanned edges of an open book.
It was one of thousands of items of artisan food and drink from all over Italy (and the world) at the Salone, the five-day, bi-annual flagship event of Slow Food, the organisation founded in 1989 with a mission to “prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat”. Terra Madre – literally Earth Mother – is the sister group founded in 2004 to give “voice and visibility to small-scale producers”.
I spent two days wandering around the four exhibition halls that occupy more than 58,000sq m/ 69,000 sq yards (for scale, the pitch at Wembley is just over 7,000sq m). What impressed me was not just the produce, but the huge logistical effort required to pull the whole show together.
Here you can sample the finest pistachios from Bronte in Sicily, parmigiano-reggiano (at a stand shaped like a huge wheel of cheese), discs of rustic Pugliese bread twice the size of your head, and ubersavoury bottarga (cured grey mullet roe from Sardinia). In addition, there are more than 500 demonstrations, workshops, tutorials, wine and spirit tastings, talks and symposia taking place at Lingotto and venues around the city. If you want to learn about Chianti Classico or watch Michelinstarred chef Peppe Guida prepare innovative pasta dishes, Terra Madre is the place to come.
For any food lover, it’s unmissable – and yet there is an uncomfortable contradiction at the heart of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. This became apparent at a press conference given by the executive committee of Slow Food International, including founder Carlo Petrini and noted Californian chef Alice Waters. In what must have been, for those five days, the most extravagantly and abundantly catered spot on the planet, I sat in a packed meeting room while a maelstrom of gustatory indulgence and conspicuous consumption raged in the halls around us, and listened to a litany of challenges to worldwide food security that Slow Food is addressing with its Food for Change campaign.
Waters talked about her pledge to “provide a free and sustainable school lunch to all students” and to source the ingredients “directly from the farmers and ranchers”. She described such initiatives as “subversive” and a product of “our lessons of the Sixties”, language that reflects not just Slow Food’s origins as Agricola – a protest movement
Food for thought at the Turin gathering