364 vs. 162. Victory. 1000 of 6000. Youth.
As of the results of Tuesday night, the spectacle and excitement of Terra Madre is no longer quite so awe-inspiring as it was at the time. The election of Barack Obama struck me, and many of my friends, suddenly full of adrenaline, primarily with the knowledge that so much more than the majority of our nation is ready to opt for courage rather than fear. Whether or not Obama will bring the future we seek, and the changes for which we hope, is hard to predict. The true reason for celebration in him can only be in the racial barrier he has broken. Our exuberance, to quote his latest speech, is not about him. Considering the economy, the environment, our health, and our war, we can only anxiously trust him to act well. Our excitement, the true source of our excitement, is the change that has taken place in us as a people. We have proven ourselves ready to change course, and we have collectively made the first empowering political decision of my lifetime, with the choice of a young, black leader.
The results of the five-day gathering in Turin, Italy known as Terra Madre, are about as unpredictable and impossible to define as the future meaning of Obama’s election. Like Tuesday’s TV screens, the event empowered participants with the knowledge of numbers. The knowledge that this many people believe in something. In this case: this many people consider themselves part of agricultural and food communities, and consider this identity important enough in their society to merit the dedication of their life’s work. More specifically, in this first year that young people were invited to participate in Turin, we youth had an exhilarating chance to see the extent to which our group has grown, and to feel the height of the energy in the coalitions we have built.
Terra Madre gathered 1650 food communities from 153 countries around the world. Over 6000 delegates included 1000 cooks, 400 university representatives, 1000 youth under 30-years-old, and 250 musicians. We came together in the name of Slow Food, for the sake of our work “towards a new food economy based on fairness and well-being.”
It was sort of like an enormous, celebratory vacation. While workshops and informal discussions filled auditorium-size spaces and cubby-hole conference rooms throughout the building, one could not very well rush from one thing to another. This was not an event for rushing. It was a time to be jostled in crowds murmuring with the swelling satisfaction in their stomachs, to listen to snippets of hundreds of languages, to phrases of attempted Italian. It was a time to speak to whomever you found at your side – the Thai farmer who had never been to Europe, with whom I found only the common language of hand gestures; the Californian couple who cultivated ¾ of an acre and that gave them reason to be in Italy; the young Scottish woman, a chef, who grumbled at the quality of the food in our hotel; the Irish boys whom I heard at night and never saw in the morning; the students studying gastronomic sciences in Bra and Colorno, still glowing with the newfound pleasures of Italian life. We ate the meats and cheeses of the Salone, learned of and tasted the dozens of unique products presented by the Presidia, and listened to speeches by the names we know: Carlo Petrini, Vandana Shiva, Alice Waters, Will Allen, and now Josh Viertel.
While the repeated references to Obama and a general hope for his election may have struck some as inappropriate to a global gathering, many delegates expressed remarkable, positive surprise at the strength of the US presence in Turin. Many of the young people, particularly those from Italy and the UK, voiced their fascination with, and admiration for (even jealousy of), the spirit and dedication of the youth delegates from the United States. We were 600 in number. And I would agree, that over the past five or ten years, we have learned well how to organize each other, how to run a discussion so that it’s productive, how to share the information we need most, how to identify where and how we can change policies and actions in our homes, our universities, our communities, our states, and our nation. Many of us act upon the idea that our life, rather than a resume, is a tool belt, to be filled year after year with the skills, the experience, of our hands. We consider carefully when to organize, and when to act. We made an impression, in any case. We are no longer a scraggly bunch of individuals acting each on our own, and I think we gave dozens of other young people hope in the community they seek to strengthen back home.
Terra Madre inspired us with its magnitude and its optimism. Yet few of the speeches and workshops truly approached the grit of the future. President of Slow Food USA Josh Viertel pronounced that the Slow Food movement is and will focus upon being: a movement for Social Justice. Executive Director Erika Lesser said loud and clear, that Slow Food USA would get political. All I can say is, it’s about time. Terra Madre was a party, and well deserved by many of those who came. But now we, particularly in the United States, have work to do: we have to become farmers, first and foremost. We have policy to create, and we have a food system to rebuild. Obama won’t do it. We will.