Last week I traveled to Turin in the Italian region Piedmont to attend Slow Food’s biannual Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, often nicknamed the “Olympics for Food”. The two events are held in unison: the Salone del Gusto is an enormous food and wine fair and Terra Madre is an international conference covering a broad range of topics related to sustainable food and agriculture. Slow Food is an international organization with branches in over 150 countries. The organization’s mission is to promote food that is good, clean, and fair (buono pulito e giusto), to preserve local food culture and traditions, and to protect food biodiversity. Terra Madre is the largest and most celebrated gathering of the Slow Food network, which takes place in Turin every two years.
I initially didn’t think I’d still be living in Italy this fall so Terra Madre was not on my radar until a few weeks ago, when one of my friends from Slow Food Bologna was discussing her travel plans to Turin in front of me. Everyone I know who has been to Terra Madre has shared great experiences with me. I knew I needed to see it while I was still living in Italy, especially considering Bologna is only a two and half train ride from Turin, so I made myself some last minute accommodations.
As promised, it was a great experience. I spent most of my time getting lost and trying samples in the massive Salone del Gusto. Most of the stands in the Salone del Gusto featured food, wine, and beer from Italy with sections organized by region (Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio, etc). There was also an international section that included stands from elsewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America (including the US), and South America. Entry into the event was 20 Euro for regular visitors and 10 Euro for Slow Food members, which included both access to the food fair and the conferences. Some vendors provided free samples and others offered larger samples for sale. I sampled various cheeses, prosciutto, yogurt, pestos, cannoli, olive oils, cured olives, preserved artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, hazelnut spreads, rare fruit juices and jams, fig cakes, sapa (cooked grape must), botargo (cured fish eggs), and more. I enjoyed scoping out the regional specialities of Molise and Calabria, where my great grandmother and great grandfather were born, respectively.
I had fun talking with the USA delegates at the US stands in the Salone, who were mostly farmers, young activists, and other leaders in the US food movement.
I attended a conference talk titled “Insects and Weeds on our Plates” in which panelists, including founder of Little Herds in Austin, Texas, discussed eating insects as a sustainable alternative to eating meat and ideas on how we can challenge the stigma associated with eating insects and weeds. I tried a couple of crickets too (and I liked them! They reminded me of sunflower seeds).
I caught the end of a lecture by a journalist who’s work I admire, Tom Mueller, author of “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil”, which is an expose on fraud in the olive oil industry. I read Tom’s book shortly after moving to Italy. His book has inspired me to hunt down and taste as much genuine extra virgin olive oil as I can while I’m living in Italy so that I can educate my taste buds to detect good versus bad oils. As I’m learning the only way to be sure that you are buying genuine olive oil is to know what good oil should taste like. Funny enough, I missed the start of Tom’s talk because I was busy tasting oils and chatting with oil producers in the Salone del Gusto.
There were conference talks, that I unfortunately was not able to attend, that featured some of my idols in the food movement including Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley and founder of the Edible Schoolyard project, Jamie Oliver, UK chef behind the American TV program “Food Revolution”, and Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food.
During the conference, Carlo Petrini announced two interesting initiatives. The first is a partnership between Slow Food and Google to digitally preserve Slow Food’s Ark of Taste– a catalogue of endangered food products. The second is Slow Food’s endorsement of the Milan Protocol, a set of guidelines being orchestrated by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition which will serve as a formal international agreement between participating countries to eradicate hunger, fight against obesity, promote sustainable agriculture, and reduce food wastage. The Milan Protocol will be the policy document of another major food and agriculture event taking place in Italy this year, Expo Milano 2015, which will be open from May 1 to October 31, 2015.
In addition to the food fair and conference, participants could sign up for numerous workshops (related to wine, beer, cheese, coffee, cocktails, tea, chocolate, and more), special dinners, and cooking classes, which mostly needed to be booked in advance.
It was inspiring to be surrounded by so much quality food and so many people passionate about preserving regional food cultures and sustainable agriculture. It was nice to see small producers be able to introduce their products to a large audience, especially since many of the Salone attendees were Italians with their families. If the opportunity arises, I would definitely attend the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre again. While I had fun getting lost among the endless goodies in the Salone del Gusto, next time I would have a better game plan and attend more of the conference sessions.
Did you attend the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre this year? What were your biggest takeways?