Viva slow food!

FOR THOSE who see food only as a means of satisfying hunger will not comprehend what Carlo Pettrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement, means when he talks about food as a gift of nature to humankind. Food is what creates a shared humanity. For too long, the growers of food have been taken for granted even while corporate have reaped the profits. Now, Pettrini says is the time to defend the farmers against the profiteers.

The first Ark of Taste (Salone del Gusto) out of which evolved the Slow Food Movement now commonly known as the Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Movement, started in 1994. The philosophy behind Slow Food is ‘Good, Clean and Fair.’ Many believe that the Slow Food movement is a throwback to the Fast Food McDonalds or KFC culture but Pettrini says it is more than that.

Food produced by farmers must be Good hence it must not be genetically modified; it should be Clean of pesticides and chemicals and Fair to those who produce it. Farmers must get the right price for the efforts they put in. And Pettrini is talking here about small producers who are often at the receiving end of the contract farmers.

“The Movement is also about going back to our roots and helping the present generation identify the vegetables, herbs, trees, nuts, mushrooms and forest products that used to provide the nourishment we needed but which are slowly becoming extinct because we have all become consumers of food sold in super markets, food that we buy unthinkingly and which lead to the health problems we experience today” Pettrini said at the opening ceremony to an audience of about 5,000 people.

More and more countries are joining this movement. This was evident from the number of representatives of each country present at the inaugural who registered their presence with their country flag.

In India, for instance, millet which used to be the staple food of most indigenous communities including those of North East India had begun to be forgotten although the communities themselves claim that it sees them through those periods of food scarcity. The North East Slow Food and Agro-biodiversity Society (NESFAS) along with other farmers’ groups from India is networking with other millet growing farmers from south and central India.

The International Terra Madre (October 23-27) currently under way in Turin, Italy saw a contingent of 14 members from the NESFAS registering their 100 food products (vegetables, grains etc) from Meghalaya alone, in the Ark Of Taste at the Salone del Gusto the ITM venue.

Noted fashion designer, Daniel Syiem who recently returned from the London Fashion Week is part of the contingent. Daniel specialises in ethnic designs and uses the indigenous weaves and designs to highlight the fact that fashion is not only about looks but also about the producers of those looms and yarns who are often forgotten.

In the three days that the ITM conclave has been on, the NESFAS stall has had hundreds of queries about the products displayed. Of particular interest was the Garo Hills ash used as a soda to cook Nahkham (a mix of fish or pork and vegetables with chillies and soda). NESFAS’s grass-roots communication personnel Dharmen Momin had a whale of a time explaining it to a avid European and African audience.

Daniel Syiem has had several queries from people across the globe who want to know how he decides the colours for the indigenously produced Eri material and whether they would work as a fashion statement. In the new few months Daniel will have a lot of networking to do with those who have taken his visiting cards.

The really huge varieties of pumpkins and fruits (from Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, Australia, Europe, USA including smaller island countries) are simply mind-blowing. There are Japanese stalls explaining how to make tea. The Chinese stall with its varieties and exquisitely designed tea pots made out of cast iron which is what the Chinese believe produces the best quality tea, is always crowded with visitors.

Then there are as many varieties of cheeses as there are countries and you just have to move around from stall to stall to taste them. At the end of the day you are fully fed and need to lunch or dinner. Nevertheless the dining area which can house about 3000 people at a time is amazingly well managed. Food is served free to all the participants.

Meghalaya is hosting the International Terra Madre in 2015 and one of the reasons why NESFAS is in Turin is to learn how to organise the event which is huge in its scale and impact. “We have to learn what to do, how to do and what not to do, from this event, says Phrang Roy, Chairman, NESFAS.

What’s interesting about this conclave are the little pow-wows held in small rooms holding 20-30 people who listen to different food stories from across the globe. You can see the pride, joy and passion in the faces of those who are showcasing their food products to the continuous stream of visitors – a sea of humanity actually.

There is a huge area only for wine – thousand of varieties of them and people tasting away from one stall to the next. There are hundreds of varieties of olive oil and cured meats of all kinds. Its spectacular sight that must be seen to be believed says a couple from Malta who also are devotees of the  Slow Food philosophy.




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