While our connection to an agricultural past may be quickly slipping through our fingers, it is never to late to scoop up some dirt and remember that food unites us with every individual on the planet.
What do you see when you envision a conference? I generally think of fifty people or so gathering in a hotel ballroom and nibbling on crackers and cheese while they watch Powerpoint presentations. But how about a conference with more than 7,000 delegates from over 150 countries, whose primary goal is to completely revolutionize the way we produce and consume food globally? Welcome to the Terra Madre summit.
Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, by Carlo Petrini, brings this conference to life. The Terra Madre Conference will occur for the fourth time in October 2010, in Torino, Italy—the home of the Slow Food movement. The aim of Terra Madre is to unite small-scalle farmers and food activists from across the world to explore methods of local agriculture, share traditional technique, and preserve a food culture that is quickly being buried in an age of pre-packaged and genetically modified foodstuffs. The attendees of the conference include farmers, professors, researchers, students, and Slow Food lovers of all sorts.
Petrini goes into deep detail about the problems of our food production systems—surprising, given the diminutive size of this book. He speaks emotionally, discussing our loss of connection to the earth and the high value of keeping alive the knowledge of our agricultural ancestors. His Wendell Berry-like perspective is not often heard now that agricultural reform often means turning to technology first and history second. He does turn to statistics to underline his points, but often his primary concern is conveying the importance of returning to the land.
I found Petrini's style pretty hard to plough through. Part of the problem, I believe, is that the book was adapted to English from Italian. The language is therefore very figurative and flowery, and often he uses too many words to convey too little content. It is clear that Petrini's heart is in the right place, and I believe strongly in the work that Terra Madre is doing for global agriculture (in fact, I applied to attend this year's conference). But somehow I felt that this hundred-page mini-book was far too long.
Petrini, though, is only a small part of this expansive network for change. He shares many stories of farmers from the most rural places on earth, who travel for the first time in their lives to share their stories with others at Terra Madre. The nature of the conference is intimate and supportive; for instance, attendees stay with local families rather than in hotels. This connection leads to even more sharing of cultural knowledge, and often to lifelong friendships.
While Terra Madre is a bit hard to get through, I highly encourage researching the conference and its aims through online resources. The Slow Food movement is of particular importance to those of us in industrialized countries who have perhaps most significantly lost our connection to food production. And to realize that there is enough passion and knowledge to support a conference of 7,000 individuals, who surpass language and cultural barriers to share their love of food with one another, is inspirational. While our connection to an agricultural past may be quickly slipping through our fingers, it is never to late to scoop up some dirt and remember that food unites us with every individual on the planet.