Amanda Koyama, Calgary convivium
“Terra Madre is a way of giving a voice and a face to people engaged in producing food in their own geographical and social realities” (Carlo Petrini)
I could tell you that “Terra Madre brings together those players in the food chain who together support sustainable agriculture, fishing, and breeding with the goal of preserving taste and biodiversity” but that wouldn’t even begin to describe the experience of attending an international gathering of global food communities located side by side in a former Olympic Oval in Turin, Italy.
How do you articulate the bonds that form from being roomed with strangers who quickly become friends with whom you have to coordinate morning schedules in order to ensure you both make the early morning shuttle bus into the Conference? How do you share the experience of looking forward to hectic bus schedules and 14 hour days because on the dark ride back to the hotel your fellow Canadian partners have all bought their favorite snacks from the day to share in true convivial celebration? How do you explain that despite language, cultural, and social divides, delegates from all over the world connected to one another through shared passion and common experience? Terra Madre is a truly an experience that gets lost in translation.
Despite the time spent wandering up and down aisles of regionally highlighted products, through the Italian street food pavilion, and usually ending up in the promoted region of Sicily with almond biscuits in one hand, and chocolate covered figs in the other, there were incredible opportunities for reflection and learning. Navigating the conference workshop schedule, and narrowing down a selection from the bread and pizza workshops, took almost as much time as trying to sample the offerings of every single booth. From the Earth Workshops discussing ethical meat consumption, to the panels of Indigenous voices, there was barely time to stop at the Honey Bar for a tasting workshop.
Contrary to the popular conversation we have surrounding agriculture here in Canada, the weight of the conversation heard during Terra Madre centered around creating space for regional biodiversity, respecting heritage and traditional wisdom, and paying reverence to the origins of ingredients. There was less discussion of organic, and more excitement for the diversity of products and the stories they told of the regions from which they came. I have to admit, it was also refreshing to have a significant lack of conversation around gluten, and bask in the “culture of dough” that is so near and dear to my heart.
Having built up a personal, and professional, life around diversity, it is not surprising that one of the ideas that most resonated for me was the idea of food as culture. Although Terra Madre was an opportunity for the world to share their culture through food, there is no way true justice could be done to the ceremony, tradition, and ritual behind the representation and history of a region and its people during a 5 day conference. Culture cannot be exported, and food is culture. Maybe it was the overwhelming impact of our first day, or the jet lag, but the first taste workshop I attended shared this sentiment, and it was one to which I returned throughout the length of our experience, and am still thinking about today. Imagine that a space existed where regional ingredients could be contributed in order to highlight culture and artisanal knowledge. That is exactly what the biodiversity of the Ark of Taste offered – a physical experience sharing “the flavors of our collective memory”. It was incredible to see the culture of a region represented solely by food, as I am prone to seeing it through language, religion, and the individual. Watching people share the stories behind their choice of Ark contributions, there was no arguing that food is one of the pillars of foundation from which culture is formed and diversity is identified.
Of course, it is not hard to imagine having an incredible experience surrounded by thousands of individuals who are standing with you in solidarity of good, clean, and fair food. There is no way to deny the inspiration and camaraderie that results from engaging in conversations that quickly result in commonalities. From the stone mill in Wales to the stone mill in Estevan, Saskatchewan, new friendships are quickly formed.
As I learned about the biodiversity of couscous in Northwest Africa, and gained insight on land and ocean grabbing, I had to remind myself that we are but a young country in comparison to many. Rather than feeling a lack of specific history and food culture, I am appreciative of the diverse contributions that do make up our collective future. It is reassuring and inspiring to know that if food is an expression of language, Canada is a region that speaks many different languages.
Terra Madre not only allowed us to connect with producers from all reaches of the globe, but also our fellow Canadian neighbors from whom we were able to gain encouragement and inspiration. From the urban forager and beekeeper from Toronto to the Slow fisherman from both coasts, the value of the incredible network that is Slow Food became incredibly obvious, and inherently bridging. The opportunity to represent Slow Food Calgary to the rest of the world was incredible, and my experience was truly enriched by sharing it with not only fellow Slow Food Calgary colleagues, but also friends. Being able to learn, eat, and travel with good friends from Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farms and Sidewalk Citizen was an incredible privilege.
As we are not yet at the stage where our society just lives the values of slow food, I know that we are doing incredible and amazing things towards making this happen. We have so much more to do and even more to learn, but let me reassure you that we are not just a random cog in a global wheel, but truly part of something amazing from which only good things will come.