Terra Madre: Opening Ceremony

Terra Madre is the biannual Slow Food Conference to build and connect the movements for good, clean and fair food … and I’m here for the first time. I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, paying homage to the millions of people around the world who grow, process, distribute and defend real food and the hundreds of organizations that work on different slivers of the pie. so to speak.

The opening ceremony last night stirred us all, with production values closer to a rock concert than a conference. Traditionally delegates from every country in the world, when called in alphabetical order, parade out, waving their flags. It’s a tableau that says, “Food is culture. It is the soils and climates of patch of the earth and the diversity of plants we eat and  our traditional ways of preparing them and the cycles of the year that weaves us together as a people.”

Many Italian officials as well as regional Slow Food leaders took the podium to tell a story or make a statement. Courageous locals have reclaimed their rights to their traditional foods, agriculture and wild crafting. In Mexico they are defending indigenous corn varieties from GMO pollution. Elsewhere fisherfolk are reclaiming their fishing rights from corporate poachers.

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse (original local food restaurant in Bay Area) talked about her decade+ working to connect children with food through school gardens. Michelle Obama even recorded a statement for us about the importance of our work.

As the italian government officials were celebrating their own wins and making broad sweeping statements I wondered: “If I had 3 minutes to say something worth saying to these thousand or so people, what would it be?”

1. Live it or lose it: Good clean fair food isn’t just a stand; it’s a way of life. Let your daily life reveal to you the ways that the commodified, corporatized food system has a grip on your craving, behaviors, habits and patterns. The three sirens of consumerism – comfort control and convenience – lead us down a path of least resistance and so we wander into our eating styles barely aware. Defending what we love against the tide of these sirens, and getting out of their grip is real work – but we need to do it. We need to spend more time and money. Maybe circumstances make it really too hard, but any effort points us in the right direction.

2. Power to the eaters. When food becomes a commodity, we forget that it – and we – are part of a living world. We envision a flourishing, sustainable food system and nourishing foods grown in healthy soil – but there are gnarly system conditions of the money economy that undermine our best efforts. Once anything is drawn into the corporate financial system – ourselves included – our power to change it is diminished.

3. Food is relational not just nutritional. This is slow food’s message. Our technologies – from electronics to transportation – makes it easy to slide out of our place on earth and away from communities that care for and about us. So eating becomes a solitary act of fueling, rather than a ritual of connection. Again, keep swimming against this tide.

These many thousands of people surely know this – but does anyone say anything from a podium in 3 minutes that we don’t know if we are gathered around shared concerns. Perhaps some story of triumph or venality will move us, but mostly we listen for the courage to keep up the good work.

I also got to the stadium and back on public transportation which pleased me. To get off a plane in a country where my Spanish and Portuguese don’t match the Italian, underslept, and just jump in and swim pleases me.

On to day one! Lots of tasting. Lots of conversations. My communities at home have asked me to pay attention to how people in cities can feed themselves good clean fair food. How traditional wildcrafting and herbalism is faring in this movement. How children are being educated and included. Justice. and most of all, my “job” is to enjoy the pageantry and food.

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