We never think about eating as a political act, even though our choices are directly linked to social and environmental issues. Fair production and trade, water consumption of each product we buy at the market and carbon footprint of food transportation are only a few of the concerns we should take into consideration before giving the first bite in an apparently innocent snack. The organization Slow Food International does a great work raising awareness into the civil society and promoting fair, healthy, harmonic initiatives that both respect the environment and communities. Here are highlights of their interview!
1. What is Slow Food International’s purpose?
Slow Food is committed to restoring the value of food and to grant the due respect to those who produce it in harmony with the environment and ecosystems, thanks to their traditional knowledge. Since 1996 Slow Food has started to work directly with small-scale producers in order to help them safeguard agro biodiversity and traditional knowledge through projects like the Ark of Taste, that collects small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet and today have almost 4,500 products on board. Or Presidia, that sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties. One of the projects Slow Food is most proud of is “10.000 Gardens in Africa”, launched in 2010. The Gardens are created by local communities who plant traditional vegetables, fruits, culinary and medicinal herbs using sustainable techniques, involving young people and drawing on the knowledge of the elderly. The aim is to promote biodiversity, value African gastronomic cultures and raise awareness about big issues like GMOs, land grabbing and sustainable fishing. Around a third of the gardens are in schools, serving as open-air classrooms with an important educational function and often supplying healthy, fresh vegetables for school meals. This, in turn, is training a network of leaders aware of the value of their land and their culture. The other gardens are run by communities, and the produce is used primarily to improve the nutritional value of the community members’ everyday diet, while any surplus is sold to generate supplementary income.
In 2004, Slow Food launched the Terra Madre network, which brings together food producers, fishers, breeders, chefs, academics, young people, NGOs and representatives of local communities from 160 countries. In a world dominated by industrial production, Terra Madre, which means Mother Earth, actively supports the small-scale farmers, breeders, fishers and food artisans around the world whose approach to food production protects the environment and communities.
2. What is your mission and vision of the world?
Slow Food was founded to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and to encourage people to be aware about the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. Slow Food envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good, clean and fair. Good, because it is healthy in addition to tasting good; clean because it is produced with low environmental impact and with animal welfare in mind; and fair because it respects the work of those who produce, process and distribute it. For this reason Slow Food works to defend biodiversity and to promote a sustainable and environmentally friendly food production and consumption system; to spread sensory education and responsible consumption; and to connect producers of quality foods with co-producers (conscious consumers) through events and initiatives.
3. The Slow Food movement has gained more momentum in the last years. What would you consider as the main reasons behind the increased global awareness of the way we consume food?
We think that today, due to the increasing level of illnesses related to our daily food, people are starting to realize that their actions and daily choices have a repercussion on their health. People are starting to be more accurate in their food choices, on where they buy their food, on what’s inside what they eat. Also the concerns about the environmental challenges, like climate change, has increased the attention consumers are paying to how their choices can mitigate them. The industrial food system of production and consumption is in fact the first cause of pollution, CO2 production, loss of biodiversity. Today, Slow Food involves over a million activists, chefs, experts, youth, farmers, fishers and academics in over 160 countries. Among them, a network of around 100,000 Slow Food members are linked to 1,500 local chapters worldwide.
4. Are you committed to the Sustainable Development Goals or do you address some of the SDGs with your projects?
Some of the Sustainable Development Goals share our philosophy and our aim. Our philology, good, clean and fair tackles several SDGs, naming good health and wellbeing, responsible production and consumption, decent work and economic growth. We are working to address the huge problem of food waste, by organizing events like Disco Soup through our Young network, where people cook only food that would have been thrown away. That means that we are trying to help reach the zero hunger goal and that we vision sustainable cities and communities that would weigh as less as possible on the environment. Industrial animal production (linked to high levels of meat consumption) is responsible for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, if we take into account the whole chain from food production to final consumption. Similarly, aquaculture consumes immense quantities of fishmeal, pollutes the water and, in many parts of the world, is responsible for the destruction of wide swathes of mangrove forest. On 2015 Slow Food launched an appeal called “Let’s not eat up our planet! Fight Climate Change” which aimed to sensitize the public on how much the agriculture weights on the climate change issue. Also for the “life on land and below water”, we are really sensitive about animal wellbeing, and we organize every two year an event called Slow Fish completely dedicated to sustainable fisheries and marine ecosystems.
5. Do you think food industries are getting more committed to producing food with less environmental, health and social impact? What are your main challenges to get them on board?
We have recently seen an increase of attention regarding these aspects. If industries are interested in finding more sustainable solutions for the environment and the health (in a serious way and not for marketing reasons) we are ready to facilitate the process and give advice.
6. Horyou is the social network for social good. What’s the importance of internet and social media to spread the message of movements like Slow Food and other positive initiatives?
We think that internet is a fundamental tool that can be used to share ideas, visions and experiences all over the world. For example people, especially youngsters and producers, could share their experiences to see how a same problem is tackled in different areas of the globe. Conversely, we don’t think it’s a useful tool if it takes place of human interactions and communications.
Horyou is the Social Network for Social Good, which connects, supports and promotes social initiatives, entrepreneurs, and citizens who help the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to build a more harmonious and inclusive world. We invite you to Be the Change, Be Horyou!