One of the things that was on my “Pros” list when I was deciding whether or not to move to Italy was the fact that Italy is home to the Slow Food Movement, an ideology I wholeheartedly subscribe to. Which is the notion to avoid a fast food life and the temptations of commercial food while demanding a food supply that is clean, good and fair.
Every year there is a “conference” in the Piedmontese city of Turin, in the very region where this movement was born. The conference, Terramadre, is . advertised as a gathering of Slow Food certified producers, tasting workshops of safeguarded regional Italian and international foods, round-table discussions of delegates from NGO’s from all over the world to plea to us their slow food manifesto and inspire the public with news, injustices, triumphs and happenings in the food world.
I was tickled pink for weeks leading up to this conference. I was finally in Italy during the time of this conference I’d dreamed of attending for the last few years. I attended Slow Food events in Seattle and basically begged them to let me volunteer for them in the hopes of one day giving a real hand to the cause.
And now, living in Florence I received approval to write an article about the event. I was so proud and full of excitement and hope. Only to have all my ideals of the movement shredded to smithereens upon my arrival at the entrance.
The event online stated that there were 2 events both in association w/ Slow Food. Terramadre, which was the one with workshops, food for thought discussions and Ted-like talks. And then Salon del Gusto which was this big food and wine tasting convention. So I get there and it’s 20 euros. Unless you’re a member, then it’s 10. I thought, it’s going to a good cause bla la bla. So the “tasting” was at times infuriating and tacky. Most stalls charged for a tasting, and there were hundreds of stalls. Can you imagine how expensive that would be? Not that you want to taste at a hundred places, but considering the entrance is 20…
What upset me the most was not the cost, but the exclusivity of the event and the organization. It was a mad house with hundreds of people herding around like sheep trying to get a free sample. The stalls were in 3 categories. Orange stalls were Slow Food Presidia who are apart of projects to safeguard foods that are historical and typical to the region, thus continuing its slow food tradition and culture. I.e. ancient apple varieties of Piedmont, pistachios of Bronte, etc.
Then there were orange stalls that were apart slow food communities. Then the rest, which were the bulk of the stands, was food producers who may or may not support the notions of Slow Food, who were basically name brand food producers attending in order to get consumer exposure, make some sales and raise brand awareness. Another kicker was the massive corporate sponsorship like Samsung, Fiat, Canon and others.
I was sick to my stomach. This is supposed to represent SLOW FOOD. Anti-corporate models for food production, yet there were tons of corporations present and ones that had not a frickin lick to do with food. Samsung- really? So the 20 euros went to all the marketing of the event. I am surprised that Carlo Petrini (the founder) isn’t turning sour from this mockery and ultimate expression of “selling out.”
Basically, it was a food expo. And I was really irritated because if I did come across an actual sample, not a sample for sale, I felt like I had to be sneaky and not express curiosity lest they try to sell me something. Isn’t this convention supposed to educate the public about slow food? Wasn’t it supposed to be about slowing down from globalization? How can you call yourselves a grassroots organization and a non-profit?
And the talks on biodiversity and land grabs? Among the zoo of people in this expo arena, there was only a few rooms shoved in a corner giving these talks with a maximum capacity of 100 people- when the attendance of the event was 100,000. How on earth could you educate any of those people in those tiny rooms? And to make matters worse, I was sometimes one of the few spectators beyond press that attended the talks. I felt like no one cared- not the public and not even the organization itself.
Beware people. People who have true hearts for the matters that plague our society. Some organizations are just in it to make a dollar and make an industry off of “care marketing.” I know the anger and shun should be directed to the companies responsible for this food mess like Monsanto and McDonald’s and the policy makers that allow their profits and monopolies to be possible, but we have to keep the institutions in check that are claiming to defend us- and demand that they stick to their stance. That they remain noble and not succumb to the temptations of money and manipulated success.
Slow Food International, this is my open letter to you. I know you need money to survive, but I think there is a better way. I think you can stay small and still have a big impact- without all the glitter and gold. I still believe you have fantastic programs and initiatives and think you could be more successful with them, I am afraid that by having certain corporate sponsorship some projects or ideals could pose a “conflict of interest.” towards your goals of creating a food system that is fair, clean and good. For everyone.
I hope you appreciate the points I have made and continue to strive for integrity and consistency not for public approval, not to retain your supporter base- but for the sake of this planet and the causes you attempt to stand for.
Thank you to every one of you who took the time to read this.
Forever dedicated to the food fight and the future of our planet,