As you might expect, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini best captured the challenge of really absorbing the significance of the biennial Slow Food festival Salone del Gusto and the Terra Madre World Meeting of Food Communities, held side by side at the historic former Fiat headquarters and manufacturing plant in Turin, Italy.
“I feel like I wear my gustatory hat to the Salone,” he said, “and then my political hat to Terra Madre.”
The problem, he said, is he (and all of us, we thought) should be wearing the same hat to both. Despite the fact that the Salone del Gusto consists of quality, small-scale producers from around the world with a major focus on foods at risk of extinction, it has always felt somewhat discordant with Terra Madre, the food producers, cooks, educators and students from 150 countries who gather a hundred yards or so from the Salone “to share innovative solutions and time-honored traditions for keeping small-scale agriculture and sustainable food production alive and well.”
The food and wine show feel of the Salone, and the United Nations vibe of Terra Madre’s four days of sessions on the economic, cultural and political components of food communities from around the world, can provide a bit of cognitive dissonance. But when they come together it can be very powerful.
And thus it was when, near the end of Petrini’s traditional news conference, we noticed what appeared to be young Italian military members gathering in the back of the room. We were told they were going to follow Petrini with a news conference of their own. Since this conference would be in Italian only, our colleague Rossana Strunce, a Milan native now living in Madison, agreed that she would stay for it. The people in uniforms were members of the Taurinense Alpina Brigade.
The Alpini are engaged in Afghanistan, and as part of their duties are working with Afghans, many of them women, to grow saffron in place of the poppies grown for opium. While Rossana collected information on the effort, we headed to the Salone and the booth where two female soldiers from the Brigade were selling the saffron. The idea was such a smash there were no small containers left, despite the fact that saffron is a pricy spice—the reason its substitution for the drug-producing poppy is working. We congratulated one of the soldiers—and she beamed.
The whole concept reminded us a bit of the idea of medical diplomacy developed by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, but instead of American ships delivering doctors and drugs to needy nations, these Italian soldiers were swapping food for drugs and bolstering a shattered local economy at the same time. It was a day during which we comfortably wore one hat, combining the pleasure of food with the politics of food into one genuine article.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to email@example.com.