It has been a hectic autumn and a while since Terra Madre, however now, on a wintry night, I am indulging in my review and thoughts from this unique event and hope you enjoy…
As Slow Food Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto are over for another year my mind is buzzing with meetings and greetings, awesome experiences, our unstinting and generous host, and the enormity of the task Team Slow Food @ Bra HQ has pulled off yet again!! Indeed this could be the world’s largest food event: over five thousand delegates from 160 countries - whose bed and board are subsidised by SF Italy and Piemonte Regione – plus 800 exhibitors, 500 Terra Madre Food Communities and 10’s of thousands of attendees. And that is only the start. In 2016 it was estimated this biennial event brought an additional 1M visitors to Torino for the week!
Terra Madre has been in existence since 2004 when I was fortunate enough to be among the Scots contingent for this inaugural event. Prince Charles accompanied Carlo Petrini for that Grand Opening and I was billeted in a cheesemaker’s home in Bra. Yes I was already practising Slow Food beliefs and actions but to be surrounded by kindred spirits with so much to share was mind-boggling. It was a moving experience and truly a life-changing week. 2006 I returned as a Delegate, staying in the pretty village of Torre Pellice in the Alpine foothills west of Torino, invited to present a Workshop on ‘Food Tourism in Scotland.’ It was an honour and pleasure to participate and many of these contacts remain friends to this day. 2008 we were with the UK Chefs’ Delegation billeted at Vicoforte where we experienced warm camaraderie among fellow cooks (pictured).
2010 I sadly missed due to illness but the next three we attended under our own steam and continued to expand and share our knowledge as we networked in this unique environment. This brings us to the present day and Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018. The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed this tale began with ‘I’ and morphed into ‘we’ as I met Bosse, fellow SF kindred spirit and Swedish environmentalist at TM 2006 and married in 2008. Together, in addition to our ‘day jobs,’ we have already researched scores of Ark products, support SF producers, initiate sustainable food projects and assist others in Ark projects and research. Bosse advises producers with rare breeds and is Chair of the Linderödsvin Genebank (an old breed of pig on the Ark) in addition to being on the Board of the Fjällnära (mountain cows also on Ark).
TM18 was always going to be an intense event. In Scotland we had the on-going case for Errington Cheese. All eyes were awaiting its conclusions and raw milk enthusiasts, us included, were looking for solutions and support. Three Scottish artisan cheese producers had closed down and others
were fighting for their livelihoods. Local abattoirs were shutting and access to markets becoming yet another challenge. As cooks and chefs tightened their recessionary belts and responded to pressures from investors, some were not supporting their local producers as they once had. Elsewhere in the world of food there were those making life extremely challenging for sustainable meat producers, unfairly judging all as methane-belching beasts unwelcome on today’s veggie scene. Much as I enjoy vegetarian food I do not condone militant behaviour, on any sides of the debate, and there are a lot of ‘fake statistics’ out there, to use current terminology. More of this later…
We were warmly welcomed by Team Slow Food and our local host Mario was there to greet us. We attended multiple debates and meetings over the five days on Slow Meat, Raw Milk Cheeses, Cooks Alliance (as it is now known), Presidium products, regional meetings and Indigeneous Breeds to name but a few. We never left the Lingotto vicinity as there was so much to engage in. Some debates were open whilst others were additional, set up hastily to dig deeper into matters raised. These were particularly animated and many contacts made for the future.
The Salone del Gusto is always an education where
food producers from around the world gather to promote their produce and we bought a few of our favourites: dried melon from Turkmenistan, dates from Egypt and Pultost from Norway. We spoke with herders from Austria, North American Navajo, Ethiopians and Basque; cheesemakers from Ireland, Norway and Switzerland and many more. I am now in contact with over a dozen Ark of Taste Leaders across the world in addition to cooks and chefs. Terra Madre is a cornucopia of peoples, a melting pot, a
smörgåsbord of communities like no other! Our Scots Cooks Alliance Member Steven cooked up Shetland Reestit Mutton with Bannocks one day and we checked out a scrumptious platter with this jolly Austrian too!
Each evening we met Mario who drove us to his home where he could not have made us more welcome. About 40 minutes west of Torino, the village of Chiusa di San Michele is rural and our room had wonderful views of the peaks. His
garden is an allotment of fine fruit and vegetables, picked daily for our evening meal. What was not from his garden often came from friends and family back in his homeland of Calabria to the south: his sister’s charcuterie was
phenomenal, local cheeses, olive oil and breads. Such incredible feasts of homemade delicacies; we were thoroughly spoilt and overwhelmed by his kindness. One evening he took us to a seafood restaurant and, on heading homewards after the terrific seafood platter, we stopped by a vibrant ice cream parlour for dessert!! Mario is a walking talking advert for all that is wonderful in Italy – their Tourist Board should trademark him!! Our sincere thanks to all at Bra for matching us with
Another evening he drove us up to Sacra di San Michele, the awesomely beautiful abbey perched on the cliffs and the inspiration for author Umberto Eco’s book ‘The Name of the Rose.’ It has become the symbol of Piemonte and still inhabited, holds services and is open to visitors. Quite simply it is stunning https://www.sacradisanmichele.com/en/
Every evening we drank water that Mario had drawn from one of
the village wells where locals could collect mountain spring water and the milk we drank was also local, available from self-service dispensaries at roadside laybys.
Biodiversity is vital for a healthy planet and for that to exist there must be plants and animals in harmony and there is a considerable amount of fake news out there that is very disturbing on such topics as vegan and re-wilding that can impact on the lives and fragile ecosystems of many indigenous folk – and this is against all
that Slow Food stands for. Take the Navajo we met for example: his life depends on herding small indigenous sheep, giving milk, meat and wool. This has been so for centuries so why should anyone have the right to criticise this tradition when the ecosystem in this region is in perfect harmony with nature? There is neither over-grazing nor soya feed, industrial scale or intensive farming. The exact same can be said for the crofters of North Ronaldsay and Shetland who also herd heritage breeds in a sustainable way. The Sapmi of the far north of Scandinavia rely on meat for their diet not to mention the famed hams of Iberico, Parma and Tuscany to name a few.
There are those who are wild about cheese yet may not consider what happens to male calves: another great reason for supporting small scale cheese production where care is taken to give them a good life quality for as long as possible. I thoroughly enjoy non-meat dishes and respect our environment but those who wish to be evangelistic should focus on industrialised meat production, as this is where the problem lies, and celebrate and respect small-scale producers who value the land and their livestock.
Bosse and I have a small organic croft in Sweden with heritage apple trees, herbs and vegetables we harvest to eat fresh or preserve, along with meadow hay for our friend’s goats. We buy Linderöd pig whole that we butcher for the freezer. When in Scotland we do likewise with island mutton and support local butchers and farm shops. We try to be as environmental as possible (accepting the odd flight
as inevitable) and compost everything. Believe me we have more bees, birds and butterflies than you could imagine - the same cannot be said for the vast sterile plantations required for almond, soy or avocado production, or the feedlots of beef and indoor sheds of chicken and pigs. Slow Food should always focus on our rich biodiversity and local small scale food production of
meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and dairy….never straying into judging artisan meat producers, or allowing others to do so under the auspices of a meat free day banner. It should be Slow Meat not No Meat.
Interestingly, I am meeting an increasing number of people who outwardly label themselves vegetarian – even vegan – as a method for being a selective ethical eater when out and about without alienating friends by judging their eating habits. It is easier to say you don’t eat chicken than to quiz your host on their shopping habits! This way they can avoid mass produced meat and elect to enjoy the occasional wild or ethically produced meat as and when they wish. Ethical eaters are definitely on the increase I am delighted to say, consuming considerably less meat but mindfully selected, and we are fortunate in a temperate region such as ours we have the luxury of choice whether to have a meal with or without meat for a balanced healthy diet.
For more updates and articles please do also read https://scottishfoodguide.com/latest-news-2/ on my other website.