I attended the Slow Food conference (Terra Madre Salone del Gusto) in Turin, Italy from the 22nd till the 26th of September 2016. I was able to participate in a rich human and gastronomic educational and fun festa that I have sat on now for 3 months with no sharing. I’m fit to burst.
Over January I am going to post something each week that was key for me, to make up a picture of my experience of this event and try to show what Slow Food means to me.
It will speak of Italy, Turin, Slow Food, tastes, people and joy. It is educational. I hope you will enjoy.
I should describe the conference layout. It is hard to fathom but Slow Food had taken over the entire city of Turin. In every piazza and public building of historic significance it seems, Slow food is utilizing spaces for talks and tastings and food stalls from around the world and every region of Italy. There were conferences on an array of topics, forums to listen to experts speak and art exhibitions with Slow Food themes. There were musicians and markets and parades through the streets. It was truly a whole city extravaganza where an estimated 500,000 delegates and non delegates from every corner of the globe attend as well as local Torinese that attended en mass.
Saturday the 24th of September
It was day 3 of the conference and I was struggling with fatigue again. There is simply so much to see and do and I keep becoming overloaded and unable to do anything. It is extraordinarily frustrating. Once I finally could move from my bed I made my way on the tram back to the Torino Esposizione to queue for the Slow Travel forum. The room is a lecture style room with rows of seating and super uncomfortable seats at that. The kind you sweat against and stick to the hard plastic. We all filed in and quickly the space is overfull and standing room only. I am never good with enclosed overfull spaces and as the room starts to heat up, (so that we all fan ourselves with our papers), I was having to talk firmly to myself to remain seated and not panic…
There was a panel of people, at the front and once they started talking I was so very inspired I forgot my claustrophobia right away.
I thought it was already a well-established thing. I had done a bit of reading on slow travel prior to this 2016 travel to Italy for the conference. I incorporated it into this trip as best I understood it. I had spent two weeks in a tiny village prior to arriving here. I attempted to not tick off key tourist destinations but to spend my time and money in the village and surrounding villages and natural sites. The theory being the money you would have spent on accommodation and food and sightseeing goes directly to the villagers. And that there is much to be gained in experiencing another culture by being present, sitting in the Piazza, talking with locals, practicing Italian, going to the market on Wednesday morning. And slowing down, truly resting and having a break that resonates in your very soul.
It turns out Slow Travel is a new thing when it is in relation to the Slow Food organisation. What I was reading prior was, with hindsight, people’s ideas on the concept and commercial operators selling their agritourismo or food production. All strength to them, it can only do good but it is not Slow Food endorsed or accredited.
Slow Travel at this stage is currently being trialled and formal structures are being put into place to formalise it, with those involved having to jump through many hoops to ensure that what they offer truly meets Slow Food principles.
The pilot project has been undertaken in an area in Austria in the Danube, Carinthia. This project has seen a group of Italians tourists taken to, accommodated and fed in the area, meeting the producers and locals and learning while they holiday. The visitors get a truly cultural experience being fully immersed in local life and finding out how the locals live and eat. The local producers are expected to join Slow Food and to offer traditional fare. In some cases they needed to be encouraged to go back to old products that they had stopped making as they had been considered old fashioned, undesirable and therefore uneconomic.
Unexpected effects have been that the producers get their pride back in the local traditional products, and in one case children who had given up on taking over the family business have returned from the city as it looks to becoming a viable, exciting and invigorated business with hope for the future.
This project could change producer’s lives dramatically as their businesses are rejuvenated, with even the locals getting on board purchasing traditional local products too.
For this to get off the ground it needs to involve a range of stakeholders including not only Slow Food and the producers but also restaurants, tourism operators, accommodation providers and artisans all in the same area. Local heroes need to be identified that have the community’s trust and support and of course, funding is needed.
A second speaker discussed a project not yet underway but being scoped in Kenya. It is the Kenya Slow Safari idea. Apparently very few Kenyan restaurants offer authentic Kenyan food. They currently cater to tourists with international food offerings and the profits don’t make it into local’s hands. In fact some tourists come to Kenya, go on safari and then relax at the beach without ever participating in any locally run business venture. The project aims to offer community and cultural tourism. This campaign is called ‘Eat Kenya’. Look out for it as it develops. It was so exciting to hear about and makes so much sense both for the locals and for the visitors to get a far more authentic cultural Kenyan experience.
The recurrent themes were that Slow Travel needs to be sustainable, responsible, help economies, and be good, clean and fair. It needs to connect tourists to local producers so that the locals see the economic benefit. Strict guidelines are needed, along with principles and criteria’s. A local value chain needs to be established where money stays in the region. Business development assistance with these features in mind is needed. And of course, the future needs to be centred firmly in farming as opposed to the current situation where farmers are walking away from their farms, with their returns unsustainable.
The plan is that if an area applies and is accepted as a destination, the logo of Slow Food and Slow Travel can be used by that business. There would be a guide or compendium of all those accredited so that travelers could select from the available options when choosing their travel. These places would then offer a unique experience, build Slow Food membership, and nominations for ark of taste products will grow off the back of it. It is envisaged that international networking for those involved will contribute to the building of successful ventures.
It was a fabulous meeting and as we made our way out I was just buzzing with excitement for the whole concept, it makes sense. It is light on the earth, supporting healthy, natural, environmental activity and behaviour. It seems the way of the future for travel. I was also brimming with ideas for what I could do at home in New Zealand, the home of fast paced, adrenaline inducing fast travel, (think skydiving, heli-skiing & bungee jumping!). I would love to be a part of this somehow…So now I need to put my thinking cap on!