Loving the earth, through your gut

At the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin, which champions sustainable food systems

A Slow Food exhibitor showcasing indigenous cheese made by shepherds from the island of Sardinia, Italy. Photo: Ananda Banerjee
A Slow Food exhibitor showcasing indigenous cheese made by shepherds from the island of Sardinia, Italy. Photo: Ananda Banerjee

For five days in September, the Italian city of Turin was transformed into a gastronomical wonderland. For the first time, the biannual Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, which champions sustainable food systems, global cuisines and biodiversity conservation, became a mass event. Exhibitions were held from 22-26 September in the picturesque parks, historic palaces, castles, piazzas and streets of Turin.

The theme of this 11th edition, “Loving The Earth”, was an extension of the slow food movement, which strives to bring flavours from “the farm to the fork”, so people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for biodiversity.

Sample a few delights: fried river grass with a spicy sauce from Laos; Icelandic fried cod; braised rabbit in agave from Ecuador; carbonada criolla (traditional beef stew) from Argentina; Mexican sikil pak (a creamy dip made of pumpkin seeds); meat tagine with apricots, prunes and almonds from Morocco; squash chapatis from Kenya; Villsau lamb with Undredal cheese and tomato salad from Norway; rice with carril de matapa (matapa a side dish for rice) from Mozambique; cassava dumplings with Jerusalem artichokes from Brazil; cassava leaves with pork and tomato rougaille from Madagascar; and buberts (a custard with a sauce made from berries) from Latvia.

The chefs at the fair had sourced their ingredients from artisanal farmers and indigenous food producers who have kept alive the traditional small-scale sustainable production of quality food and are conserving biodiversity in their countries.

“Imagine a Google Map on food. Get the road map to your produce. Like where was it grown, the name of the farm and farmer or what type of soil…were there any pesticides or insecticides in the soil, etc.? Believe me, considering the mayhem that multinational food chains are creating, this will be mandatory in the near future,” says Sunil Gadihoke, executive chef, ITC Hotels.

At the Terra Madre event, he cooked a dish of Tehri rice with pomegranate sauce for more than 100 people. He was assisted by chef Vaibhav Bhargava and chef Gunjan Goela, both from Delhi.

“As chefs, we have a moral responsibility while feeding our customers; after all, ancient wisdom states ‘you are what you eat’. Today, more and more customers demand to know the origins of their plate; they are conscious and concerned in equal measure. For chefs too, in a world of genetically modified food that has no taste, we need to connect to the traditional home-grown food and farmers who are cultivating good healthy produce by nurturing the soil. Single-origin organic produce has remarkable flavours and tastes. Slow food provides this wonderful platform to create networks that connect the farmer, chef and customers,” adds Gadihoke.

A recent report from Oxfam International, a confederation of non-profits, showed that just 10 companies own all the world’s food and beverage brands. But on the streets of Turin, the message was loud and clear. “They are giants, but we are millions,” screamed posters and placards.

Carlo Petrini, founder and president of the Slow Food Movement, claims that a few multinationals are controlling our food system—from seed production, fertilizers and pesticides to the final produce. “But we have the power to change this through our choices, by rejecting mass-produced industrialized food. Food is a human right and not a profit-making commodity which can be forced upon us. We need to change how we look at food. We have to take care of Mother Earth and preserve the ecosystems on which life survives. We are losing thousands of plants and animals every year. Annually, we lose 84,000 sq. km of forest and fertile soil to industrial development.”

The slow food movement aims to raise awareness about our planet and its environment through sustainable farming practices. By promoting a model of agroecology based on local biodiversity, the movement stands for food sovereignty—access to good, clean and fair food for all.

With the chant of slow…slow…slow…ole…ole…ola... terra…madre…, Petrini led a march through the historic cobbled streets of Turin, urging the world to take a close look at food and its source. With him were hundreds of artisanal farmers and fisherfolk, traditional food producers, chefs, activists, scientists, conservationists and delegates from 143 nations.

One was spoilt for choice. There was a variety of bread, cheese, natural wines, handmade chocolates, gelatos, rainforest coffee, various types of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, honey from around the world, assortments of fruity jams and marmalades, smoked ham, pasta, traditional aperitifs made with herbs and flowers collected from the Alps, craft beer and wine. For me, the highlight was the Slovakia stall. They had bear (no typos here) and deer salami! I am yet to get over it.

In India, the movement is catching up slowly. The Indigenous Terra Madre, held in November in Shillong, Meghalaya, saw participation from domestic as well as global chefs, food critics, farmers and conservationists.

Out In The Wild is a column on the good, bad and ugly of nature conservation. Ananda tweets at @protectwildlife.

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