The Highlights of my Time at the Terra Madre Conference.
I sat sandwiched between two women from Burkina Faso and Kansas City. After 48 hours of planes, trains and automobiles, I was exhausted to the point that I could barely keep my eyes open. I heard French on my left, Chinese on my right and Italian all around. The lights dimmed and the music began. I had arrived at the opening ceremony of Slow Food’s Terra Madre Conference.
Slow Food is a non-profit organization that promotes good, clean and fair food. Chapters across the world use these values to host gatherings, promote social change and invest in heirloom and specialty foods so that they can flourish in a world where commercially produced foods reign supreme.
Every other year Slow Food International hosts the “Terra Madre” (Mother Earth) conference in Turin, Italy. The conference is made up of representatives from every country around the world (including Antarctica and Syria this year) coming together to talk food. The intent is to listen, discuss and share ancient traditions and new innovations in food production and consumption. This year, Slow Food selected me to attend as a participant, and further as a Slow Food Congress Delegate from the United States.
The conference was overwhelming in its bounty of endless inspiration, but there were a few specific highlights I’d like to share with you here.
I started making friends in Paris as we waited for our flight to Turin—and the friend making continued throughout the whole experience. While on the Paris/Turin flight I met Kathryn Underwood, a city planner who is creating food policy in Detroit. While on the bus from the airport to the opening ceremony, I met an Ethiopian archeologist helping to preserve seeds and food traditions. At my hotel, I quickly became friends with Gabriela Othon Lothrop, the president of Slow Food Orlando who has created a three-tiered events system where they throw inexpensive to no cost events like potlucks, mid-range events like biking farm tours and high-end events such as fancy farm dinners. This way, Gabriela’s Slow Food chapter is able to reach all audiences at all price ranges. She says the expense of the event is dictated by the talent of the chef, while the ingredients used are all high quality and sustainable.
The conference continued to serve up an inspirational person around every corner. I met my food world heroes: Alice Waters, Vandana Shiva, Nikki Henderson, Curt Ellis, Carlo Petrini (founder of Slow Food), as well as many others. But just when I was beginning to think the conference was all about getting to know amazing people, I began to taste.
Walking through the conference center, countries were arranged by world region. As I traveled from place to place, I sampled food from as many booths as I could. I had ancient grain crepes filled with fig spread from France, sliced melon from Northern Italy, maté tea from Brazil, cured white fish from Norway, real vanilla bean from Madagascar, all while walking from one end of the arena to the other. It was a true celebration of food.
This part of the conference was truly something you have to see to believe. There was a street food from around the world section, an entire room dedicated to wine tastings and an indoor “African Garden” created with fruit and vegetable plants from all over Africa. There were taste workshops for everything from wine to coffee to bread. In these workshops you heard from the farmers, chefs and creators of the product you tasted.
I participated in two workshops. One was presented by Lavazza, an Italian coffee company, and included coffee from around the world as part of their fair trade initiative. I also attended a taste workshop entitled “Awaken the Senses,” organized by students from Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy. This workshop included an exploration of taste, sound, touch and scent—all to discover ingredients making up a meal (which we had to guess). Then we dined on re-creations of classic dishes, such as caprese gelato. My exploration of food continued post-conference in Italy and led to the following experiences.
When the conference ended I had nine days to spare, very little money in my pocket and no plan. Through the friends and connections I made at Terra Madre, I capped off my adventure with trips to Cinque Terre, Florence and Rome, followed by a three-day farm stay. I traveled with two wonder women: Stephanie, who works for Georgia Organics connecting organic farms to citizens in Atlanta, Georgia and Nicole who is starting a local foods co-op in Bent, Oregon. We navigated trains, drank lots of espresso and wandered around these magical cities together.
In between these adventures with friends, I broke off to work at an olive farm an hour north of Rome. I picked olives all day, climbing trees to reach the little red and green harbors of delicious oil and ate delicious meals the rest of the time. Two chefs from Canada were visiting the farm and cooked for their stay—much to my reward.
It was the most exquisite food I have ever tasted, wild boar sausage with roasted fennel, freshly baked sourdough bread, apple torte made with wild apples chef Dana found and the list goes on and on. While the work was hard—it was worth every meal a hundred times over.
One night, I was able to see how olive oil is made by visiting the ancient olive stone press in town. Olives must be pressed with stone so that no heat is conducted at any point in their processing into oil. Did you know fresh, delicious olive oil is green at first?
The farm trip rounded out my trip to Italy and brought everything together for me. I learned that farming is hard work, food is love and enjoying food with others is one of the best ways to create peace.
There is no other event such as Terra Madre in the world. Closest would be a United Nations conference or the Olympics. Terra Madre brings together a unique crowd of farmers, chefs and activists alike—all passionate about good, clean and fair food. These values are more important than ever as the world confronts staggering numbers of undernourished people—both hungry and overfed. The conference reinforced my own mission to create a paradigm shift towards delicious, healthy and reasonably priced food for all.
I am one person, but being a part of this conference assured me I am not alone.
As I embark on a journey here in Mississippi to help create better school lunches for the students of Oxford Public Schools, I feel more ready than ever. The ground is moving, these changes are coming and we can all look forward to sharing many good, clean and fair meals together. I encourage everyone reading this blog to explore food—meet your local farmer and discuss their struggles, eat a locally grown meal with friends and family, discover the food scene in your town. There are many avenues to make these delicious discoveries and I look forward for what is to come.
To learn more about Terra Madre click here.
To learn more about Slow Food click here.
To find sustainable foods where you live click here.
Sunny Young is a healthy food consultant for schools, universities, and communities in North Mississippi. Her passion for good, clean, and fair food arose from a stint on the great island nation of Madagascar while working on a fair trade vanilla plantation. Soon, Sunny’s interest in food policy turned into a passionate career choice. After graduating Hendrix College in 2009, Sunny moved to Boulder, Colorado to join the Renegade Lunch Lady, Chef Ann Cooper, in her mission to change the way kids eat. After a year-long internship with Chef Ann, Sunny was hired to become a Jill of all Trades—working with the Boulder Valley School District’s School Food Project as well as with Chef Ann’s Food Family Farming Foundation and The Lunch Box website which provides free tools and resources to anyone who needs help changing school food. Three fun and challenging years later, Sunny served as projects coordinator for the Food Family Farming Foundation—running two grants, managing thelunchbox.org, and blogging on healthy food in schools. She has since moved to the great state of Mississippi (for love) and is heading up the Oxford Public School’s Farm to School Project, the first of its kind in the state. In addition, she is preaching the good word on healthy but delicious foods and listening to the pride and problems related to food in the area. Sunny (whose real name is Sara) earned her nickname in college when she played on the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team- the Sugar Gliders. She loves: her job, perusing the farmers market, listening to Bob Dylan, eating delicious foods, and swimming in rivers.
Editor: Maja Despot
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