Slow Food, Terra Madre & Salon Del Gusto: Eating Our Way Through Torino.
The main reason we came to Turin (via Cairo and Milan) is for the Slow Food meetings (Terra Madre) that Jess was chosen as a U.S. delegate for. I was fortunate enough to come along for the gastronomic ride. These are my impressions and thoughts. The meetings started with a bang with some percussionists and these dark bell-laden beasts (Mamuthones and Issahadores of Mamoiado). This was followed by a procession of flags from most every country. Appropriately enough, it took place in the Olympic Stadium. As one of the speakers said, it was like the Olympics of Food.
The opening ceremony was mostly a bunch of cheerleading and not much of substance was said. The host seemed like cheesy talk show. It was surreal. They seemed to focus on the international face of it, which seems to me a contradiction of the whole idea of Slow Food (rather than thinking locally). Not that I'm expert, I'm just a casual observer. There are many aspects of the Slow Food movement that I like, not just in regards to food, but everything in life. To me, the important thing is implications. As a producer and consumer, you should always think through the implications of what you do and what you consume, namely in regards to quality of life. Quality of your own life and quality of life of the producers providing you with the goods. In regards to food, this means food growers, producers and preparers should be considered as artisans. As a consumer you should feel like an art lover. When you eat something, you should be thinking "soil to table," thinking about everything the food you ate went through to get to your plate. Think about whether it is good for you, good for the environment, and good for the people who brought it to you. "Slow," in my opinion, is a misnomer, or at least it wasn't the greatest choice of words. Carlo Petrini, the founder, named it in opposition to "Fast Food," so it makes sense in that regard. But Jess and I like to think more in terms of an artisan food movement. It's okay for a movement to found itself on the antithesis of something considered evil or bad, but at some point it needs to progress and establish it's identity. It reeks of politics, where politicians spend so much time bashing the opposition they don't define what their agenda is. Call me a cynic, but that's my first beef.
My second beef is the lack of scientific rigor. As a counter-culture movement, inevitably there tends to be a new-agey or "earthy" air to it that always makes me cringe with skepticism. Everyone is quick to bash technology and GMOS or anything progressive. Right after Vandana Shiva bragged that she was a "scientist," she said "it's a fact that GMOs produce less". I don't know how you could back such a statement up. Most of us know about all the evils of the Monsantos of the world, they get plenty of publicity, but to generally say GMOs produce less is naive and you lose credibility with any one who thinks scientifically. She is also falling prey to my first beef which is focusing too much on the enemy, which she has targeted as all GMOs and all technology. Technology can be a very powerful tool. It can and has given us the ability to produce more productive seeds that are drought-resistant, etc. Rather than attack GMOs, she should attack the irresponsible or "evil" aspects, such as creating the single-generation seeds or trade-marking seeds. Dismissing all of technology is throwing the baby out with the bath water, or in this context, throwing the seeds out with the fertilizer. If developed responsibly, consciously and ethically, technology and GMOs can be a powerful thing to improve many people's lives, that I think most farmers in places like Africa welcome with open arms. But I get the sense that Slow Foodies want to keep this image of the farmer as being quaint and provincial, as you could tell by the swarms of photographers taking pictures of the token Africans dressed in their traditional garb. Culture and tradition is great, but I mean, it's 2008, you got to progress with the times. We live in a different world than we did 500 years ago, which requires different measures.
Some good things were said, and it was all very touchy-feely, complete with Red Cloud quotes, and presented in such a way to make you feel like you were part of some grand movement (which always scares me more than anything, my natural aversion to crowd mentality). Sam Levin, this sophomore from a high school in the U.S., spoke, which was pretty impressive given his age. There seemed to be a big push this year in regards to empowering youth. And the other big new development was the inclusion of textiles and fibers to the movement (big in regards to Italy, since Italians spend a lot more on clothes than food). Carlo Petrini himself spoke last. He's a good speaker, but he ain't no Cesar Chavez. By that, I mean he's claiming to be the spokesperson for the little farmers of the world, but I don't get the feeling he came from such humble beginnings and my guess is he hasn't spent too much time with his hands in the ground. Which is fine, the world needs academics and intellectuals, elitists, wise enough to remember the little guys.
One thing Petrini said that I totally agree with is that financial markets are fiction. The market is based on speculation, driven by greed, and not driven by true value. But the question is how do we break out of this? Consumers need to assume control and buy things not just because they are cheap, but because of what you are supporting, the IMPLICATIONS. In an appeal for the Millennium Development Goals, world governments promised 30 billion dollars to go towards eliminating poverty, which they haven't lived up to. In the last few weeks, 3,000 billion dollars has been spent on this bailout. A bailout due to greedy speculators. What they were asking for for the MDGs was 1/100th of this. Not to mention it's a miniscule percentage of what goes towards the war in Iraq and elsewhere, but that's a different story. In the past year, the prices of some foods have increased five-fold, purely driven by market speculation. I'm all about speculation and fiction, in the context of literature, but in regards to money, land and the food it gives should be the basis of the REAL economy.
Quality of Life
I also agree with Petrini, to some extent, when he says "quality is a right for everyone". What we see in Africa with food aid, and NGOs doing just enough just to keep people alive is pointless, outside of isolated crisis situations. If you give somebody just enough ugali or rice just to survive, what's the point of living? If you can't provide a quality life for your kids, you shouldn't be having them. We need to do more than just keep people alive, we need to give people a reason to want to live. Italy is a model nation, perhaps the only one with zero population growth, that can perhaps sustain itself on such idealistic principles, but do the Slow Food principles come as a consequence of zero-population growth and nation maturity, or is it a cause? Not everyone is in a position to embrace the idealistic principles of the Slow Food movement. But it's nice to think everyone could be.
Anyway, a lot more was said, here's some snippets from the opening speeches. Yes, that's Jess laughing because Sam Levin (a sophomore from the U.S.) said, "educational stool" instead of "educational tool".
Salone Internazionale del Gusto
Salone del Gusto is the food fair part of Terra Madre that is open to the public. It actually started as a separate thing, a huge artisan market of sorts displaying food products from all over the world. It's basically a foodie's wet dream, all sorts of delectables and foods to peruse and taste and learn about it. Here's some of what we saw/tasted/learned about.
Also sampled or investigated but not pictured:
To be honest, it was all a bit overwhelming. It's great to see so many foodies excited about food, including a LOT of students, but it was a complete madhouse getting around, and whenever there was free food, you had to claw your way through the ravenous foodies to get some. And the old ladies were the worst. Here's a video montage of snippets I took:
Eating in Torino
Far all this talk of Turin being the "slow food capital of the world," we've had a hard time finding good restaurants here. There's a lot of pizzerias, and a lot of gelato places or cafes, but not a lot of restaurants. If you live in NYC and are familiar with Cafe Mozart, half the restaurants in Turin are like that... lots of deserts and coffees and delectables. But yes, the coffee is indeed good.
We did find an excellent sort of provincial place the first night here, but it took a lot of hunting around. And I can't remember the name of it [Le Fanfaron]. We had goat cheese cured in berries that was delicious, then some aged beef soaked in wine. Then I had homemade gorgonzola raviolis in a butter-sage sauce. All washed down with a barbera d'asti. The next day we had lunch at this place called Pastis that was near the big market. It was simple and good, we had melanzana parmigiana, stuffed sardines and a cheese plate. Here's me eating it.
The next night was our mystery dinner at some place called Mama Licia (after a lot of wandering). One of those American Werewolf in London experiences. The waiters didn't speak English and we forgot our dictionary so we just picked some things and hoped for the best. We ended up with some sort of rabbit thing in a crusted parmesan shell. Jess ended up with ravioli, and what I got was a big surprise. It was wrapped in cabbage, and I liked to think (hoped) it was beef because of its pinkness, but I think Jess was right in saying it was pork. I guessed it was cured or cooked in salty sardines, which was verified by the presence of little fish bones on the outside. And a carafe of red wine and creme brulee. Another night we just nibbled our way across town. Here's Jess in the Piazza San Carlo.
This afternoon I grabbed a few slices from a foccaceria, which was very popular. And tonight we just ate at an enoteca called Taberna Libraria. We had some sort of cheese and pear appetizer, Jess had pasta with tomatoes and porcinis and I had artichoke risotto, all washed down with a bottle of Nebbiolo d'alba. Speaking of libraries, I have a lot more to say about stuff besides food, but I'll save that for the next post.