Talking terra in Turin: What to expect at Slow Food's international festival in Italy

All eyes are on Turin, Italy, next week as the Slow Food’s international festival returns with more gastronomic experiences in its 12th edition

Karan Pillai Published :  14th September 2018 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  14th September 2018 06:00 AM
Italian Food festivals

One of the slow food dishes presented in the previous editions

The global culinary festival and exhibition organised by Slow Food (the Italian organisation that promotes local food cultures) has always been one of utmost importance for indigenous communities, featuring an incredible number of attendees from around the world. This time at Turin, Italy, the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto will see over 5,000 delegates from over 140 countries attending this five-day event next week, at multiple venues. Besides them, there will be around 800 exhibitors and around 500 food communities congregating at designated pavilions. 
The delegates invited for this edition included four from India — Shiba Desor (Kalpavriksh), Robert Leo (Keystone Foundation), Tomy Mathew (Fair Trade Alliance Kerala) and Manisha Kairaly & Siddharth Rao (The Timbaktu Collective). Tomy, unfortunately, had to back out due to the Kerala floods, but he made sure he expressed his staunch support for the efforts of Slow Food and the importance of its flagship initiative when we caught up with him last week. 
“This festival to me is among the most significant global events that affirms the primacy of diversified food cultures as opposed to the global food industry that promotes standardisation and uniformity,” says Tomy, who himself organises the annual Seed Festival, where a 4,500-member strong gathering of 
farmers come together to exhibit and exchange thousands of varieties of indigenous seeds that have been preserved in situ through the crop and biodiversity programme. 
Tomy is also the founder of Elements, one of the first organic stores in Kozhikode, Kerala, and also deals in spices. He was supposed to participate in the seminar — Where do spices come from? (September 20) — at Terra Madre. “Cloning, hybridisation and genetic modifications, not to speak of synthetic flavours, have all but destroyed the unique essence of spices in the culinary world. The seminar, I am sure, would reaffirm the cultural context of culinary flavours and taste traditions and the provenance of spices,” says Tomy, who reaffirms the importance of the farmers in the growth of the slow food movement in the country. “We need to acclimatise conviviality to Indian realities by bridging the physical as well as emotional distance between the sensitive farmer producer and the conscious consumer,” he shares. 

Clearing it out

Although many may not be accustomed to the concept of slow food, it is common knowledge that the practice has been prevalent in the country for ages, under the garb of different names and labels. Shiba Desor, a member of the Pune-based NGO Kalpavriksh who is attending the festival, echoes the sentiment of many food conservationists, saying that the idea of slow food is not consistent across different classes of society. “These ‘slow-food’ consumers have been or are being pushed into food habits that are destructive for both themselves and the planet through the influence of a globalised culture. Very slowly, this concept has now caught the fancy of expensive restaurants, who serving these as special artisanal dishes,” she says, adding, “What is here being called as ‘slow food’ is simply known as food in many parts of India, especially the so-called ‘underdeveloped’ parts of the country — where most people still procure their own food, process it themselves and eat it, supplementing it with uncultivated and nutritious tubers, leaves and berries. Tomy seconds Shiba, saying, “The slow food concept is vibrant in India, albeit not under that name. The vibrant taste and culinary traditions of India and the expanse of our edible crop diversity is obvious, yet, the slow food movement, admittedly, is nascent and its reach is limited.”

Call of the hills
One can expect a diverse country like India and its multiple indigenous communities to be a good example of the preservation of food cultures. Michele Rumiz, Slow Food’s Programme Coordinator for Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe region agrees, saying, “Safeguarding indigenous people’s food heritage is a major concern, for sure. This is why we have long been working both in the North East of the countries, as well as with Keystone Foundation in Tamil Nadu. India is at the forefront of a huge effort and struggle to save indigenous food heritage. Shortening food supply chain is another focus area, which is why we have been working with Kavita Mukhi’s farmers’ market in Mumbai, and the organic farmers’ market network in Delhi.”

Many of you may be aware of Keystone Foundation’s efforts to uplift the standards of living of the tribal communities in the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats. Robert Leo, an apiculturist at Keystone, who is also a trainer in organic farming and certification, will be seen sharing his views in the seminar — High Altitude Honeys (September 20) — which will focus on the practice of beekeeping at altitudes of 1,200 metres above sea level. “The Nilgiris Blue Mountain forest honey will be one of the highlights among the delicacies this year. Besides this, we will also showcase the Nilgiri coffee at our International Pavilion,” Michele informs, adding that bees are one of the primary focus areas in this edition. “This year, the five #foodforchange areas are Slow Meat, Slow Fish, Seeds, Food & Health and Bees & Insects. There will be forums and taste workshops for each of these areas, designed along with multiple participating communities,” he adds, explaining that there is a strong link between agricultural models and the well-being of bees, different types of bees (black, stingless, etc.), the importance of insects to agriculture and as a ‘new’ food source.  

The plate bait

There is also an eclectic line-up of dinners scheduled over the series of five days, featuring places that blend historical culinary heritage with Michelin-star class. A day before the main event starts, patrons will be witness to some culinary brilliance at Del Cambio, one of the oldest restaurants in the world, where chef Matteo Baronetto will share the kitchen with Paolo Casagrande, who holds three Michelin stars for his restaurant Lasarte in Barcelona. The next day will have the spotlight on Ana Roš, who manages Hiša Franko in Kobarid and was named the world’s best female chef in 2017 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. She will be whipping up her signature dishes with ingredients sourced from her kitchen garden that has herbs, flowers and vegetables. Others in the line-up include chefs from acclaimed restaurants like Villa Maiella, La Taverna del Ciri, Slippurinn and La Madonnina del Pescatore, who will be showcasing their culinary expertise at multiple venues in Turin. Besides the dinners, there will also be a series of taste workshops that will explore the benefits of naturally cured meat and vegetarian alternatives, plus lesser-known freshwater and saltwater fish, ancient grains, Italian wines, cheese pairings and coffee cocktails.

September 20-24. Open for all. Entry from 5 Euros per head onwards (around Rs. 430). Register online.

You can contact The Ventana Group, the hospitality partner of the event, for queries related to transport, tours and accommodation. Email and have your requirements sorted. Children under 12, senior citizens over 70 and differently-abled individuals will be given free access. Timings: 10 am to midnight (Thursday to Sunday); 10 am to 7pm (Mondays).