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Terra Madre, Slow Food International’s Biennial in Torino

Here Magdalena Vinson, MS ’10 shares her experiences as a student delegate to Terra Madre in October of 2008. Terra Madre is Slow Food International’s worldwide meeting, held every two years. The delegates are chefs, farmers, fishers, educators, academics, youth, and students who come together to discuss food and food issues.

The enormous main building at the Oval Lingotto had the bustling atmosphere of a marketplace, one with a truly international feel as delegates from 165 countries mingled together talking, eating, and sharing stories of their ways of life and food. Food, community, and a desire to effect change were what had brought me here, and they were the common thread linking me with the other 6,000 delegates present. We had come from all over the world to Terra Madre, Slow Food International’s bi-annual meeting held for the third time in Torino, Italy in October 2008.

“I first learned about Terra Madre back in April of 2008, and with a bit of urging from my mother, decided to apply as a student delegate. Little did I know then how much that decision would dictate the direction my studies would take upon starting the Environmental Education program at Antioch University New England. In June I received notice that my application had been accepted and that I would be one of the U.S. student delegates heading to Italy in late October. I read up on the Slow Food movement, took part in some of the online topic discussions taking place amongst delegates, and anticipated the arrival of the end of October.”

“Nothing I had read or heard from previous delegates either before I left or from conversations that took place on the flights from Boston to Milan prepared me for the enormity and intensity of Terra Madre. I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and languages, and the amount of constant activity. At the opening ceremonies, Mercedes Bresso, the president of the Piedmont Regional Authority, referred to Terra Madre as the ‘Olympics of Food’ and I found this to be an apt description of what Terra Madre entailed.

The next three days of the conference were full of talks, panels, meeting and talking with delegates from all over the world, networking with other student and youth delegates, and of course eating. Salone de Gusto, a huge artisan food market, is always held in conjunction with Terra Madre and I spent a full morning wandering through the corridors of stalls marveling at the variety of foods, tasting samples, and attempting to talk with some of the sellers through a continual game of charades and a few phrases of English. Another, more specific, the food market was in the main building at the Oval Lingotto. The Presidia contained foods or ways of creating foods that were in danger of being lost or forgotten. A wheat variety that is grown across Canada on a small farm scale, the Raw Milk Cheese Association here in the U.S., a family in Poland who have been creating mead in the same way for over a century: these were just some of the food traditions on display in the Presidia.

Then there were the Earth Workshops, discussions, and forums on every topic from school garden programs to the issue of bees and pesticide use, from the promotion of natural fibers to Vandana Shiva’s presentation of the Manifesto of Climate Change and the Future of Food Security. Another large part of Terra Madre 2008 was the more than one thousand youth delegates who attended from around the world and the presentation of the Terra Madre Youth Network. This initiative was solidifying Slow Food International’s position in getting young people active in and passionate about their local food systems and food systems worldwide.

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