Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Slow Food revolution

This is the story of Slow Food, a worldwide organization born in a little town of Italy and now “saving the world” through the protection of local communities' agricultural heritage. 

by Ilaria Lonigro

Photo by Slow Food

Everything began more than 20 years ago, thanks to... a flavourless pepper soup. It's the one that Italian Carlo Petrini ate in a restaurant in the northernItaly. He chose that soup because he remembered how tasty local peppers were. But the soup had no taste at all. He asked the waiter why. The boy answered that peppers were imported from Holland. “And what is grown then, in the greenhouses nearby?” Petrini asked. “Tulip bulbs for the export” the other replied. Dutch peppers were perfectly shaped and less expensive, but absolutely insipid. Additionally, due to the producers' abandon, the particular kind of squared local pepper was disappearing, while tons and tons of CO2 where released to import and export those products. 

This is what Carlo Petrini tells when asked how his worldwide adventure called “Slow Food” began. Today, Petrini is the founder and president of Slow Food, an organization with 100,000 members in 153 countries and whose motto is “Good, clean and fair food for all”. Fresh, seasonal and flavoursome food is part of local cultures worldwide and it must be respected and supported by consumers, whose shopping choices deeply affect food production. This is why Slow Food considers consumers as co-producers: they effectively affect food production and they can bring great change to it. Slow Food's mission is to provide all people with clean food, which means that both its production and its consumption must not harm the environment, animal’s welfare and people's health. Healthy food must be sold at accessible prices and grown in fair conditions for small-scale producers. 

Carlos Petrini. Photo by Slow Food.
Defending biodiversity and protecting quality and traditional food in the name of sustainability is becoming reality all over the world thanks to the activity of Slow Food, which works to maintain the wisdom of local communities to protect the ecosystems that surround them. 

Today, thanks to Slow Food, 10,000 small producers are involved in 314 Presidia projects that aim to protect products at risk of extinction. Presidia isprobably the most effective tool among the projects ran by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity around the world. The first Presidia was created in Italy in 1999, when Slow Food catalogued 90 Italian products at risk of extinction and then committed to promote them and their producers' expertise. They were presented at the 2000 Salone del Gusto, a big Italian food fair, where they proved successful among the public and the media. Then Presidia in Africa, Asia and South America followed. These projects can be effective also in different contexts and situations that are complex from a social or economicpoint of view. Often, literacy of producers and the involvement of women are important ingredients of these projects’ success. The role of rural women in the management of natural resources has been recently highlighted also by the UN. Training, equipment and technical assistance are provided by Slow Food to local food producers in the global South.

Photo by Slow Food.

Not only vegetables and fruits, but also cheese, sweets, baked products, meat, fish, drinks are among the products protected by Slow Food Presidia. Today 1000 products at risk are listed in the Ark of Taste catalogue, while Slow Food's network Terra Madre involves 2,000 food communities, 1,000 cooks, 1,000 young activists and 500 academics; Slow Food's branches were opened all around Europe, in Japan and in the US, where they're committed also in bringing healthy food in schools. Ecology and gastronomy mix together in Italy – based University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG), attended by students coming from all over the world. Started up in 2003 by Slow Food, it brings together scientific innovation and traditional knowledge of farmers and food producers.

In 2008 Carlo Petrini was named among the '50 people who could save the planet' by the British newspaper The Guardian. His philosophy, based on a very strong connection between plates and planet, health and environmentspread throughout the world. From the Balkans to Brazil, from Argentina to Azerbaijan -these are just a few places where Terra Madre regional meetings were held-, local farmers and food producers were made more aware of their heritage and more conscious of their responsibility, while consumers became more sensitive about what they eat and drink. And to think that everything began with a tasteless pepper soup in the little town of Bra in Italy!


  1. Update:

    On April 20 in Brussels, Carlo Petrini, founder and president of the international association Slow Food will be speaking at the conference “Local agriculture and short food supply chains”, a joint initiative of Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, and John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health.

    The event aims to explore ways and means to mobilise and value the economic potential of local agriculture and short food supply chains. The conference will address issues such as the support to small-scale producers through the CAP and increasing consumer awareness of local farm products.

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