“What cannot be identified cannot be preserved.”
– Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder
It was a dream that became reality. Meeting Carlo Petrini in the flesh during Slow Food Korea and spending the most precious half hour with the man who founded Slow Food (www.slowfood.com) is an experience for my journal, my memory bank and my column, of course.
I went to Slow Food Korea last November on the invitation of Slow Food International and to join my colleagues and co-advocates at the Philippine stand managed by the Department of Agriculture and supported by the Department of Tourism.
Slow Food Korea was not just a selling event, but more of a cultural preservation as it also promotes the country as a tourist destination where many endangered species can still be found. Yes, the latter is now a consideration for tourists.
The highlight of my visit, however, was being in a conference big enough to impact the the food industry but intimate enough so I could meet the rock star of Slow Food, the founder himself, Carlo Petrini.
Petrini founded the global grassroots movement in 1986 as an answer to the challenge that our food system was getting destroyed and, in effect, that biodiversity is getting lost. Petrini also founded Slow Food to address challenges on the lost of biodiversity and the lack of the new breed of farmers.
Some detractors said Petrini was crazy for wanting to gather farmers from around the world but since Terra Madre—the group event that assembles farmers to see each other in the flesh—was born in 2004, Petrini may not be as crazy as they thought.
Further, having Chef Alice Waters of USA and Chef Jamie Oliver behind him only strengthens Petrini’s resolve that Terra Madre could become the biggest multinational event in the world. More importantly, Terra Madre involves all the food producers from all the continents. There is absolutely no political agenda in Terra Madre, just a food agenda. And that’s how the world should be looking at food– are no borders, just the same issues surrounding biodiversity.
Here are some tidbits from my conversation with Petrini:
Farmers should see each other. Nothing can replace physical encounter. He prefers meeting farmers at Terra Madre. (Well said in these days of virtual meetings like Skype).
Get the young people involved. He wants young students to understand biodiversity and to go into farming for the future.
“The Philippines has many islands, and many people. You must have a treasure of species not known to the rest of the world.” He reminds us that a farmer from the north, like Ilocos may not know what the farmer from the south like Bukidnon is growing. He said we should let them meet each other.
Petrini also wants 200 species from Philippines listed in the Ark of Taste (www.arkoftaste.org), a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. Why should we do it? Because if we do not preserve biodiversity, the bees will die, lowers will not grow and people will eat the same kind of food everywhere with no variety. Diversity is what Nature intended. Let’s preserve it.’
Think about the food we eat and may soon not be eating anymore if farmers stop planting them: Kadyos, Tinawon rice, Budbugkabog, SilingLabuyo, Barako coffee—these are just some of the food which are already in the Ark of Taste list. Can you name a few more? Do you not miss aratilis, macopa, tyesa, balimbing, and caimito?
In yesteryears farmers planted them because consumers wanted them. How can a child want a fruit he has not even seen nor tasted? How can we share our heritage breeds, our fruits of before, if they no longer exist? This is why we need everyone to help identify what farmers want to preserve. If they plant, will we buy?
This is the message of Slow Food and the plea of Ark of Taste where 10,000 items are already listed globally. For the Philippines, we only have 32 listed and we want to get it to 200 at the very least.
Now, I know it is possible to be up close and personal with the man. He took time out to talk to each country’s representative in Slow Food Korea and I was lucky to have been pushed by my companions to take the cudgels and talk to the man. I am a fan forever.
Who knows, in Terra Madre in Italy, it might be up close and personal with Jamie Oliver or Alice Waters. Dreams are free and I keep pinching myself to wake up after spending those moments with Petrini.
Our mission to preserve biodiversity goes on. Let’s talk to the farmers. Let’s ask them what they want to protect.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City, Antipolo and Iloilo City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org