Petrini: «There is still lots to be done»

Small farming is in danger. The role of chefs. An interview with the patron of Salone del Gusto

22-10-2014

Carlo Petrini, 65 years old, founder of Slow Food, presents the tenth edition of Salone del Gusto, an event that starting tomorrow until October 27th will attract thousands of food lovers to the Lingotto in Torino (photo credits www.educazionesostenibile.it)

The tenth edition of Salone del Gusto and the sixth of Terra Madre open tomorrow at the Lingotto in Torino. Two parallel events which, every two years, analyse small productions of high quality food, in Italy and abroad. A meeting not to be missed, to discover the work of thousands of farmers, breeders and fishermen who populate the food community.

A maxi-meeting that this year will be marked by the crucial macro-themes of the Taste Ark and of family agriculture, tied very closely to each other: the first is the project cataloguing products at risk of extinction, since 1996. The second coincides with the theme launched by FAO for 2014, that is to say the urgency of highlighting the real pillar in food agriculture: small family-run farms, «the true custodians of the great heritage of biodiversity», says Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food in 1986.

The Salone has reached its tenth edition, would you have bet on this?
Yes, of course. People once said the future would be in the hands of the food industry. That Slow Food was using an old-fashioned logic, following a fantasy. Today, instead, our values are a unique character of made in Italy. But there’s still a lot to do.

Terra Madre has been a parallel event to Salone del Gusto for the past six editions: farmers, fishermen, breeders from all around the world

Terra Madre has been a parallel event to Salone del Gusto for the past six editions: farmers, fishermen, breeders from all around the world

What message would you like people to understand with this event?
I would like people to understand the problems affecting small agricultural and food economies, the custodians of an immense treasure. The more we contribute in reducing these realities, the poorer the genetic heritage of all edible food becomes: fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. This is why we need to bet on those who support and renovate and we need to contrast those who are opposed to them.

For example?
Great seed multinationals, which are certainly not working in a sustainable way. The ownership of seeds cannot be privatised or become the subject of speculation: the farming culture has worked for millennia to guarantee the extraordinary biodiversity on which we count today. People are more sensible to this element but it is not enough yet.

In 2010 you opened the Identità Golose congress (video) declaring that the love with which one presents a dish must be more important than technique. Do you believe chefs have accepted this?
I should really say so. At that time I seemed to be an outsider by expressing a similar concept. Today, however, the importance of raw materials is one of the most distinctive elements for all the greatest chefs around the world. This is proven by congresses such as yours: there’s more attention to the ingredient than to the way it is processed. The proof of a renewed disposition towards these themes.

This year’s theme: small family run farms, the same Fao theme for 2014

This year’s theme: small family run farms, the same Fao theme for 2014

You said that there was no section, within agriculture, that was not suffering. Is this still the case?
Today there’s more awareness: there are more of us who understand that things are not going well. To be honest, however, the state of agriculture has certainly not improved. The day when we will be able to consider the work of farmers, fishermen or shepherds just like the one of poets or politicians is still far way.

The allegiance between producer and chef, however, is as close as ever.
Certainly, even though in Italy it is still not such a distinctive element as in the United States. Over here, and also in Spain, it’s taking longer to accept the crucial character of this relationship. On the contrary, I’m surprised that in France the relationship between farmers and chefs is as fertile as ever, in a country that has built its tradition on savoir-faire rather than on raw materials.

After the Salone there will be the Expo. You were very disapproving recently.
Yes, but I hope that once the event is finished, the world will be able to acknowledge our authority with regards to food and nutrition. Enough of wishing bad luck: we’re all part of the same team. Most of all lets stop self-hating ourselves.


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Gabriele Zanatta

born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, he's been working as a co-author and coordinator of both Identità Web and Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook for the past 7 years
twitter @gabrielezanatt