Lessons from Terra Madre 2012

I’m back safely at home! Terra Madre was a fantastic and rich experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have attended as a delegate. Getting to know Kim and Lauren of the Huron Valley Slow Food chapter, and Silvio of  Silvio’s Organic Pizza was definitely a highlight for me. I now have a kinship to folks who are doing very important and meaningful work here at home. There is nothing like traveling in a foreign country with other people to form lasting bonds. I’m excited to get to work with these folks on strengthening our local food system.

Throughout the entire experience I was attempting to construct something clear from all that I was absorbing and not sure that I will be able to effectively do that, but I’ll give it a shot. In general the experience reassured me that the movement for food that is good, clean and fair is very strong and global.  This movement means different things to different people. This makes the movement very grassroots but also perhaps disorganized worldwide? I was very much inspired to expand my mission on my own little farm and work to expand the availability of good, clean and fair food.

Food that is good, clean and fair. When first hearing of slow food, I struggled with what the organization was actually about since it seemed to represent so many different things. From my experience locally and now globally, describing slow food as promoting food that is ‘good, clean and fair’ is perfectly descriptive and broad at the same time. There are as many different ways to provide ‘good, clean and fair’ food as there are farmers in the world. It felt refreshing to be among others who have made these the priority in their work.

Some of the highlights for me from my trip were discussions with others about what the work of the slow food organization should be. There definitely seemed to be a feel of disorganization at the Slow Food USA level. I, as well as several others I spoke with, felt disappointed by the slow food USA meeting we had. Afterward I realized that the entire staff was new within the last year or less. This is because slow food USA has been undergoing a lot of change. Should slow food be about supporting  biodiversity and farmer viability or  about promoting access of good food to all…or both? Kim Bayer led me to this great article written by a recent past Slow Food USA President, Josh Viertel that elegantly describes the issue.

Slow Food is diverse and resilient. My first experience at the conference was during the opening ceremony. I hopped on a train and then hailed a taxi (on my own for the first time traveling abroad!!) and entered into a large conference center filled with people from all over the world. I checked in my bag and checked out a headset with a translator (in several different languages) and found my seat in the gigantic auditorium.

Opening ceremony

The highlight for me was the flag ceremony where a Representative from each country brought their flag to the main stage. It felt like the food Olympics  I cried as I watched each country  pridefully walk their flag to the stage. I sat next to a few folks from Japan who hooted as the Japanese flag went by. I felt more pride than I ever have before as an American there to represent a fast growing movement of real food in our country.

Terra Madre Food!

A second highlight for the actual conference was exploring the Terra Madre and Salone Del Gusto exhibits. Each country represented had booths or several booths highlighting their Slow Food varieties or food specialties. I spent hours walking around talking with producers about their products and just reveling in the energy and passion in the room…

Me eating an oyster from the Netherlands at 8AM

My husband’s family is very much Dutch so I had to visit the Dutch booths. I enjoyed some delicious fresh oysters very early in the morning from the sea in the Netherlands.

My grandpa is from Switzerland so I spend some time chatting with the Swiss folks about the slow food movement there…and sampled some cheeses and kirsch…

Fondue making at the Switzerland booths

Herbs and Spices of France

I volunteered in France for a few months on farms so enjoyed meeting farmers at the event who were from the same areas that I had worked on farms.

Moldy french cheeses….smelled like donkey and burned your throat when you ate them

Rice and tuber display from all over Asia

I spent some time looking at rice and tubers from all over the world. So many colors and textures–most of which I’d never seen before! Each variety is associated with a particular place and region. Its impressive to think about…

The pictures I took don’t do justice to the diversity of the movement. I didn’t have enough time to visit each booth. I sampled dried fruits from Afghanistan, spoke with farmers teaching nutrition to new mothers in Senegal, watched a musical performance from a farmer in the Philippines, sampled pickled fish from Iceland and organic beer from Scotland…among other things.

Regional pride. I was able to spend time in Italy before and after the conference. My goal was to be able to work on farms for a while but the logistics didn’t quite work out (travel is more complicated when not on rail or bus lines). One afternoon (I would say my most memorable), Kim, Lauren, Silvio, Brett (from Renewing the Countryside in Minnesota) rented a car to visit one of Silvio’s wine suppliers in Asti.

We rented a car and Brett drove us the Asti as Silvio (well, Lauren actually) navigated. We drove by small farms and vineyards dotting the countryside. We got a bit lost….

Small vegetable truck on the way to Asti…look at those beautiful fennel!

We asked for directions at this impromtu vegetable truck in a parking lot. How amazing is it that farmers set up in random places any time during the week to sell vegetables.

Wild harvested mushrooms on a car at the gas station

Tenuta Olim Bauda…first built in 1212

Gianni Bertolino (one of the current owners) said the house was built in 1212. It is humbling to think about the fact that this building was standing way before America was even possible….

Vineyard Tour…

Gianni gave us a private tour of his estate and how he grew the grapes.

Wine storage tanks

Everything is done naturally without chemicals. The wine we tasted was delicious! Gianni then took us all out to a lovely dinner at a local restaurant. It was 11 courses…and unforgettable. No doubt that meal will remain the best meal I’ve had in my life (so far).

Rich food culture. Exploring outside of the conference I had experience of the Italian food culture. One of the most obvious and important components of this culture is that the food culture is ingrained on so many levels and age groups. I met a young man in the military on a train who also happened to be an avid mushroom forager and showed me many pictures of porcini mushrooms on his iphone. I met a couple of high school kids who talked about food  and asked me if Americans really loved ‘fast food’?

Silvio, Laruen and I went to EAT-ALY. Its like a huge Wholefoods but all of the products are from Italy. It was really interesting to see in contrast to the markets.


We had fresh roasted chestnuts outside the store…

Chestnut time!

Roasted chestnuts

We also had an opportunity to walk around a local farmers market and chatted with some farmers and food artisans..

Fresh cardoons were in season

Fresh local cheeses

Local fresh pastas

Fresh cured meats…

Olives and pickled things.

Beautiful porcini mushrooms harvested locally

Beautiful greens….too cheap to be true

Fresh seafood–squid and octopus.

Tomatoes and nuts…

I definitely had the sense over the course of the trip that there is a rich regional food culture throughout Italy. Each region has a specialty in vegetables, oils, wine, mushrooms, cured meats, cheeses…you name it. I look forward to the time when we can have those specialties regionally in Michigan. There won’t just be really good Michigan cheese, but cheese that are specific to each region in Michigan. Its exciting to think about the future of our food movement here.

The United States is only 200ish years old. Just think of how young and diverse our country is and what amazing food culture we will be able to establish over the next 1,000 years or more! Thinking about that timeline its amazing what we’ve already been able to establish….

Ok–that might be all for now in terms of Terra Madre reflections. I am now home and back in the swing of things and excited to dig into new projects.

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  • Jon Miller says:

    Ha! Wonderful, Meg! Many thanks for that great report. I can almost taste some of that fare… As you say, it will be great when all that wonderful, healthy diverse food is produced here across Michigan. And great that you are working on that!

  • Colleen Law says:

    Awesome job Meg!

  • Csilla says:

    Wow! All these pictures are such a wonderful reflection of the diversity of food in Europe! What a great summary! Makes me want to pack my bags & book a flight! THANK YOU!!
    I look forward to hearing & learning more from you on what is available her in Michigan!!

  • Diana Dyer says:

    Hi Meghan, Wonderful travel/food log! I look forward to catching up and hearing what new directions you are going to take your farm based on your Terra Madre 2012 experience!

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