By Emanuele Amo
The following wants to be a provocative reflection on the Slow Food movement’s activism within the current day Italian society. The last parliamentary election saw an incredible success of the populist and anti-European political forces and nowadays the Italian Interior Minister is Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega, one of the most infamous European far-right parties. How can Slow Food promote its projects in support of different traditions and migrations within a country that massively voted for a political program never so close to the Italian Fascist rhetoric? Slow Food pleads for the defence of indigenous cultures. At the same time in dozens of Italian squares people demand for the forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of refugees with the slogan ‘First Italian people!’. Paradoxes have always been part of the Italian society and nowadays the main risk of the Slow Food movement is that of becoming an exotic paradise island, that from Italy speaks to the whole world, with the exception of Italy.
The building hosting the new headquarter of Lavazza, the famous Italian coffee company, stands stately in its shell of glass and dark steel. Immersed in one of the historic working-class districts of the city of Turin, the scratchy and dynamic style of la Nuvola (‘the Cloud’) contrasts with the pale yellow of the surrounding houses, as if a corner of New York City had fallen from the sky into this sleepy cross section of Italian suburbs. It is a scorching day of June in my hometown and I am in late. I run between a maze of streets all the same, yellow and dusty, looking for the Cloud. I have to attend the presentation of the twelfth edition of Terra Madre (‘Mother Earth’), one the most important events organized by Slow Food. Fortunately, the Lavazza headquarter is taller than most of the buildings around it and I enter while the other visitors take place. The immense conference room of la Nuvola is crowded of journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs and naturally team members of the Slow Food movement, the global organization founded in 1989 to ‘prevent the disappearance of local food and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat’ (Slow Food, 2015). I was invited to attend the event by the organizers because of my dissertation on the local and global nature of the movement. The occasion was precious since Terra Madre represents one of the most interesting projects managed by Slow Food as well as a fundamental part of my research. 5.000 farmers from 140 different countries will crowd the streets of Turin for a four days meeting with hundreds of workshops, conferences and forums dedicated to themes such as food, environment and social equality, with a particular focus on indigeneity and migrations (Slow Food, 2018).
On the high stage under a giant colourful screen, three women open the presentation reading the Declaration of Chengdu, a synthesis of the future aims of the movement, ratified in 2017 by 400 delegates from 90 different countries during the seventh Slow Food International congress took in Chengdu, China (Slow Food, 2017). The declaration is quite long, two pages of twenty points divided in the sections ‘on behalf’ and ‘we declare’. I look around me. Blank stares maybe addressed to important thoughts maybe to the buffet waiting for us, sniggers, glances, smartphones keep above the knees. From the stage a clear voice of woman reads:
On behalf of indigenous people and those who fight for the assertion of their rights in every corner of the world; on behalf of anyone who has been unjustly imprisoned or rejected or shunned on the account of the colour of their skin, their ethnicity or their place of origin, and of those who are fighting to ensure that this injustice comes to an end.
(Logo of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016, available at www.terramadre.info)
These are really important and complex words I think while I try to mentally connect concepts such as rights of indigenous people and ethnicity with those authors that for many months I studied and discussed for my MSc in Human Geography. ‘Someone really cares about indigenous people and minorities in the Italy of 2018?’, I asked myself observing the elegant, heterogeneous audience. ‘Are these people really interested in the fate of refugees and indigenous cultures and above all, to what extent are they willing to support them?’. Doubts arise from ignorance, an old proverb states, but in this case my doubt is much more related to consciousness. As a matter of fact, I proposed these questions to myself and to my classmates many times with always different and undetermined outcomes. I experienced that indigeneity is not a concept with which we are commonly used to deal. If South America is geographically far away, indigeneity must be for most of the European people a concept light years away, something that has no connections with the reality and it is simply relegated in those cultural boxes named: adventure books and Hollywood movies. There are naturally other more painful thoughts behind my scepticism. In fact, the last Italian election has seen the triumph of populist and anti-European parties, with Lega (‘the Union’), a far-right party well-known for its harsh anti-immigration campaign, emerged as the second political force of the country.
The Slow Food movement was born in the 1980s with the ambitious aim of reviving the Italian wine region of the Langhe that in those years was living a profound social, cultural and economic crisis (Andrews, 2008). The founders were young activists of the Italian communist party and behind the desire to preserve local traditions and to spread a gastronomic education on the Italian territory, there was an important idea of linking different cultures across the world. The movement officially born in Paris in 1989 as a symbol of its international nature (Petrini et all., 2006). Since its foundation Slow Food has always been proud of its intercultural spirit and as one of the founders revealed me the creation of a global movement was in the intentions of Slow Food’ members since the very beginning. From here the incredible success of the Slow Food’s projects, the popularity of the founders and the huge amount of money received every year by international institutions as the European Union.
In this huge hall symbol of the Italian post-industrial age I start thinking that maybe Slow Food is not connected with the Italian reality anymore, even if its headquarter remains in the historical building of the small town of Bra, where the movement was launched and many projects as Terra Madre still involve the Italian territory. How can Carlo Petrini, the president of Slow Food, laid down a call to arms in defence of immigrants and indigenous people from a country that massively voted for one of the most racist parties of the world? It might seem a silly question, but it is not if you just try to read an Italian newspaper, not to mention what usually it is shown on the public television and circulates on social media. The worst of the worst of the human soul, believe me. Then, is Slow Food still an Italian organisation, or rather it is a global movement still operating in Italy? Naturally I don’t have any answers to this question, but I am quite sure that a critical analysis on the huge discrepancy between Slow Food’s beliefs and the Italian social situation is under way in the offices of the movement.
(Matteo Salvini, in the centre, leader of the Lega and current Italian Interior Minister leads an anti-immigration march in Milan. He wears a t-shirt that says ‘Stop Invasion’, one of the slogans of his party. Available at www.tgcom24.mediaset.it)
Carlo Petrini, the heart and the mind of Slow Food, finally takes the stage among the enthusiastic applause of those present. No more glances, no more laugh and selfies, but only a deep, electrifying silence for this solid, withe-hired man that seems the embodiment of the knobby strength and humble wisdom of a peasant world now disappeared. ‘Terra Madre is first of all a community’, he says, ‘and in time of crisis it is necessary to work as a community as the Benedictine ones did during the crisis due to the Roman Empire fall’. ‘Terra Madre’, Petrini goes on, ‘must be a centre for the collective thought and help our society to overcome the current economic and political crisis’.
The presentation is over. The crowd moves towards the splendid buffet at the bottom of the big conference room. It is all an excited talking and one has really the impression of being part of something important and revolutionary, of being part of a smart community of people working on a bright future. For a good half an hour I get carried away by the idea that this can be the future of my country and that Italy is still a land of innovators and activists.
The sunlight amplified by the pale walls of the houses hits me straight in the eyes. The colourful screen, the elegant clothes of the guests, the expensive wine on the tables are disappeared. They are now part of a world of glass and dark steel that does not reflect the peeling houses and the old, rusty cars in front of me. I turn on my phone. Breaking news I read on the phone’s screen. Matteo Salvini leader of the Lega and current Interior Minister declares: “In Italy the fun is over for refugees. No more immigrants watching TV in our hotels”. In 2018 Italy is at a crossroad. It is not the first time and now as in the past, it is not a foregone conclusion. Superficiality or complexity are the two ways in front of this country and soon we will see if it is a place to come back to or from which escape again.
Andrews G., (2008), The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Petrini C., Padovani G., (2006), Slow Food Revolution: A New Culture for Eating and Living, Milan, Rizzoli International Publications.
Slow Food (2015) Slow Food International: About Us [Online] https://www.slowfood.com/about-us/ (Accessed 05 August 2018)
Slow Food (2017) Slow Food International Congress [Online] Available at https://www.slowfood.com (Accessed 05 August 2018)
Slow Food (2018) Slow Food International: Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto 2018 [Online] https://salonedelgusto.com/ (Accessed 05 August 2018)