This fall’s food festival of the Slow Food movement (the eighth Salone del Gusto [Assembly Room of Taste]) held in Torino [Turin], Italy attracted record attendance estimated at over 200,000, including 30% from outside Italy, to five days of events. The Slow Food’s 2010 biannual food festival showcased 910 quality, small-scale food producers from around the world. The exhibition was organized by grouping producers by region rather than by food category, with each region or country presenting its own products, projects and cuisine. Crystal Cun, writing about her visit to the Salone del Gusto for ChicagoFoodies.com [www.chicagofoodies.com] noted that the only products from the U.S.A. on exhibit were beers at the American Craft Brewers Association exhibit.
In addition to displaying the quality artisan food and wine production from the 910 exhibitors, the food festival had a strong educational focus, with emphasis on raising awareness and stimulating debate about the future of food production. A major focus was to present foods, which are at risk of extinction, such as Ethiopian mountain honeys, the Brazilian Baru nut, and Indonesian pepper.
Approximately one-third of the 910 exhibitors were allocated to Slow Food Presidia, exhibits concerning various projects around the world, which support small-scale, artisinal and traditional food production. These Presidia exhibitors also participated in Slow Food’s Terra Madre [Mother Earth] meeting, also held during the fall food festival. According to Robert Burdese, the president of Slow Food Italy, conferences during the Terra Madre meeting had “extraordinary attendance,” particularly those “dealing with environmental and social issues like land grabbing and sustainable packaging.” The Terra Madre network was launched by Slow Food in 2004, and is made up of small farmers and producers, as well as cooks, academics, consumers, non-government organizations, who come together to discuss collaboratively how to improve the food system at meetings held at the global, regional and local level.
An international member-supported nonprofit association and a worldwide network of people, Slow Food is described on its website as “committed to improving the way food is produced and distributed” [www.slowfood.com]. With 100,000 members in 153 countries, 2,000 food communities in its Terra Madre network and more than 10,000 small producers involved in Presidia projects, Slow Food has become a significant force in world agriculture.
Members join one of Slow Food’s local chapters, called “convivia”, which currently number more than 1,300 around the world. Each convivium organizes a number of events each year, ranging from simple dinners and tastings to visits to local producers and farms. Promoting CSAs and Earth Markets, in order “to get to know local foods and producers and to educate others about them,” is an important purpose of the local chapters. Earth Markets [www.earthmarkets.net] are farmers’ markets established according to guidelines that follow the Slow Food philosophy. Local producers offer healthy, quality food directly to consumers at fair prices, guarantee the use of environmentally sustainable methods, and focus on preserving the local food culture and biodiversity of edible plants and breeding. The international Slow Food movement has nine National Slow Food Associates: Italy, USA [www.slowfoodusa.org/], Germany, Switzerland, France, UK, Netherlands, Japan, and Australia. Within the United States, there are 200 local chapters, with at least one in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia [www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/local_chapters/#Top]. California has a remarkable 45 local chapters. New York has 14 local chapters, with 10 upstate and 4 in the New York City metropolitan area. Since 2004, Slow Food has offered a multidisciplinary academic program in food studies at its University of Gastronomic Sciences, with two campuses in Italy, one near Turin, the other near Parma.
On its website, Slow Food explains its name as “an ironic way of saying no to fast food … living an unhurried life, beginning at the table.” Its use of the snail as a symbol reflects the value placed on moving slowly and calmly eating one’s way through life. Founded in 1989 by Carlo Petrini as an outgrowth of his campaign against the McDonald’s fast food chain opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome, Mr. Petrini remains the president of Slow Food International [FWB 11/7/10].