Now-former Slow Food USA delegate Michael Lantow shares his reflections on his experiences at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018, which took place in Turin, Italy, from 20-24 September. His trip was additionally supported by Slow Food Columbus.
On my first night at this year’s Terra Madre convening, I found myself eating dinner with friends at a spot that’s off the main drag in downtown Turin. There were no flashy advertisements of “authentic Italian” and the menu wasn’t overtly Italian. Right below the ravioli and tagliatelle was lo mein, English breakfast and Senegalese mafé. To my surprise, this not-explicitly-Italian menu didn’t seem to be an issue to the public. In fact, we had been lucky to get a table.
Italian food identity fascinates many of us. Perfectly thin prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes...the list goes on. Equally important are themes of conviviality, complexity in simplicity, and cultural history. Italy has been a prime example of “slow food” due to its ongoing embrace of food tradition. It was surprising to see so many globally influenced dishes at this popular trattoria. Of course, it would be ignorant for me to think that Italians only eat what is largely defined as “Italian food” (e.g. pasta, pizza). With that said, I would be shocked to see mafé and lo mein representing Piedmontese cuisine at Terra Madre (and as far as I saw, these foods were not present in the European section of the convening).
At Terra Madre, there were countless discussions about topics ranging from technique to familial history, poverty to health, and obesity to feeding the world. I learned about the past while not being naïve to the present. The focus wandered from food to well-being, to culture, to human connection, to current global and political issues, and right back to food. I was privileged to hear Denisa Livingston, a member of the Diné Nation, speak about the “scrapfood” epidemic that has plagued her indigenous community due to systematic marginalization of her people. I heard a chef from a Tanzanian resort offer insight as to how he can feed both tourists and locals through native plants to the area. I was also lucky enough to talk with peers from around the globe about the intersection of Slow Food’s “good, clean, and fair” and food insecurity. All of these conversations revolved around themes of bringing a local issue or solution to a global level in order to bring it back to the local level.
As I looked over the menu to decide between the brandade and rabbit ragù (I ended up ordering both), there was a small stir behind me. It was Carlo Petrini. He came in to eat where Italian tradition and global perspective collide. And that is Slow Food.
Slow Food is not a choice between local or global, or old and new. Maybe most surprisingly, Slow Food is not a choice between slow and fast. Slow Food, and perhaps “slow food,” is local and global, old and new, slow and fast. We should enjoy foods with rich tradition and history while acknowledging our existence in an evolving and changing world. To embrace only local food, or only slow food is to not exist in this world and is largely missing the point.
Carlo’s presence at that restaurant with both the English breakfast and ravioli was a testament to living in the gray area of local and global, old and new, slow and fast. And that, to me, is truly slow food.
(Photos courtesy of Michael Lantow)