Slow Food is a global organization founded in Italy in 1986. Its purpose is to support small-scale producers who use traditional and ecological methods of production. The original Slow Food Manifesto was signed by 15 delegates in Paris in 1989. It read:
Let us defend ourselves against the universal madness of ‘the fast life’ with tranquil material pleasure…let us rediscover the rich varieties and aromas of local cuisines. Real culture is here to be found. First of all, we can begin by cultivating taste … Slow Food assures us of a better quality lifestyle.”
By 2012 the manifesto was more specific, defining the organization as democratic, international, and community-based, “taking the food production and consumption system as a starting point for promoting ways of life that respect people and the social, cultural and environmental context in which they live and work”. The 16 points which operationalize this definition assert: the entitlement of everyone to sustainable, delicious, healthy, high-quality, and socially just food; food sovereignty as safeguarding of natural and cultural biodiversity; protection of animals; reduction of waste; respect for indigenous people and local and traditional knowledge; and “a different quality of life, based upon respect for natural rhythms, the environment and consumers’ health, encouraging the consumption and enjoyment of food of the highest possible quality.”
In 1996 Slow Food created the “Ark of Taste”, “an international catalogue of rare heritage foods at risk of extinction within a few generations. The Ark is designed to preserve at-risk foods that are sustainably produced, unique in taste, and part of a distinct ecoregion.” In 2017 the Ark included nearly 4000 products from more than 50 countries, including livestock breeds, fruit and vegetable cultivars, as well as prepared foods (such as cheese and salami). In conjunction with the Ark, since 2000 Slow Food helps to organize 500 local Presidia:
small-scale projects to help artisan food producers preserve their traditional processing methods and end-products… Presidia projects are based in specific local geographic contexts around the globe. Strategies vary according to project and product, but whether they involve a single small-scale producer or a group of thousands, the goals are always the same: • to promote artisan products • to stabilize production techniques • to establish stringent production standards • to guarantee a viable future for the food in question.
This post begins with the Setting, a description and gallery. Then I discuss the Marketplace, with a second gallery of the Producers, and then a list of the most interesting products I found. Finally I end with the Experience, a third gallery of food porn, and a final gallery of the people who were there.
Every two years, in Turin Italy, Slow Food hosts the Salon del Gusto and the Terra Madre meeting of Slow Food Communities. In 2018, the Salon and the Terra Madre were combined into a single 5-day event from 20-24, September, open to the public, intended to educate and celebrate ecological and ethical perspectives on food, as well as to discover and enjoy small producers’ fine products.
The location was the Lingotto Fiere, a large convention center with 4 Pavilions and two outdoor areas. Inside the 4 Pavilions were 14 educational arenas, of three different types:
There were also events at other locations, in public spaces of the city, and agronomic and gastronomic education tours of the city and region. In total there were 600 educational events in 5 days, translated into 7 languages. Here are just a few examples of topics:
Surrounding the education arenas was the Salon del Gusto marketplace, organized mostly by the regions of Italy, and then in one building, areas for Africa, the rest of Europe, Asia & Oceania, and the Americas. The heart of Slow Food are what it originally called ‘convivia’, now called ‘communities’ (2400 globally). These are local or regional associations which gather regularly to enjoy local products and develop slow food concepts. As part of the area for each region’s Marketplace, were spaces for each community to meet, celebrate, discuss, and share the culture of their region or locality. Not every region of Italy did this but I estimate there were at least ten Community Education centers in addition to the 14 Education Centers listed above. Every workshop I saw throughout the 5 days was full and overflowing with interested participants.
The whole event was designed with maximum attention to ecology and social justice. The most apparent enactment of this was the commitment to recycling. The tidy and attractive waste/recycling stations were each staffed by a guardian who intercepted every deposit to make sure it was sorted correctly. Due to the use of bio-plastics, much of what appeared destined for the ‘plastic’ bin gets rerouted to the organic bin.
Other aspects of the eco-social integrity were less obvious, but were presented in an exhibit viewable along the walkway from the Italian Pavilians to the International Pavilion. Here it was explained that as part of the Salon 5000 “barrachin” meals were being given to hungry people (served in re-useable glass canning jars) as well as additional meals for homeless people. LED lighting throughout and low-energy cooling and coffee machines in the larger cafés. Used cooking oil, coffee grounds, and wine corks would be collected for re-use projects. Nose-to-tail use of agricultural products was encouraged and many systems were in place to reduce food waste. The delegante lanyards were made from recycled PET and the staff tshirts from organic cotton, and timber was from sustainable sources. 7 Research labs studied the event itself, to understand the social, economic, and cultural impact and future possibilities. 20 events were focused on migrant issues and 200 events touched the city outside of the convention center. The price of the event was €20 for 5-days admission. Disabled people were given free entry. The walkway also encouraged civic and personal innovation for ecology and society, such as urban biogas and home frugality in using energy for cooking, food-sharing systems, and urban community purchasing programs.
Many of the products presented are part of the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, for food) and DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, for wine) systems, established respectively in 1951 and 1964 and updated through the EU in 1996. Each specific food item protected by the DOP, such as Parmiggiano Reggiano, must meet a set of rules of quality and authenticity. (For wine, only authenticity of the vine DNA and the terror is asses, not flavor. For food the taste is part of the regular inspections of DOP products.)
The Italian Presidium foods include some DOP foods in cases in which there are issues of authenticity and quality which are not addressed by the DOP. For example:
The Presidium foods also include foods not protected by DOP, such as:
Among the non-Presidium foods, of special note were:
The Salon happens only once every two years, and it’s huge. I couldn’t rely on being able to “come back later” for anything. Every moment was potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would think “I really need to sit down and have a coffee”. Before I had taken a few steps, someone would hand me a glass of wine. While I stood drinking it, the next vendor would ply me with a sardine. I finish the wine and take a few steps, to be offered a taste of mascarpone (sheepsmilk ricotta with sugar, the filling for cannoli), a few steps more and there would be a special cheese to try, then onion jam, then panettone, then salami… It was an impossibly disconcerting menu. Eventually I surrendered to a chaotic rhythm of sweet and salty, alcohol in the morning, coffee whenever I could get one…
At home at night, my stomach would growl as I hadn’t eaten much, but I couldn’t face any flavor, so I let it be.
At the Salon del Gusto, the most overwhelming experience is pleasure and warmth. The producers want you to try their products and they want to explain their stories.
In addition to the marketplace and education there’s a street food and craft beer area, and a barbecue area. There’s also a “kitchen” where chefs from all over the world serve four international meals at the same time, one from non-Italy Europe, one from Asia-Pacific, one from Africa, and one from Americas.
All kinds of people are enjoying and learning. It’s also serious business. The guys in the red ties are here. Everybody is here.
Next time, you want to be here. In the meantime, read the Slow Food Companion and join the international organization and/or your local Convivia.