Slow food movement

The Florence Journals: A Palestinian & Sao Tome’ and Principe Feast, My Introduction to the Slow Food Movement

Slow food enthusiasts from around the world will be gathering in Torino, Italy October 23 – 27, 2014, for the Salone del Gusto, Terra Madre Festival. This is especially fitting this year as the United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming.  (Full information, including a program of the festival can be found here: http://www.salonedelgusto.com/en/). The Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Festival is a celebration of food biodiversity emphasizing species diversity, cultural diversity in the production and consumption of food, and traditional production and food preparation methods.

The festival is the biennial celebration of the global slow food movement started by Carlo Petrini in 1989. On their website, Terra Madre explains their mission. “Terra Madre brings together those players in the food chain who together support sustainable agriculture, fishing, and breeding with the goal of preserving taste and biodiversity” (http://www.terramadre.info/en/ ).  In contrast to often highly processed fast foods, which many of us ingest on a regular basis, and that travels long distances to be consumed, the slow food movement encourages people to spend the time preparing food in traditional ways, from scratch, with locally available ingredients. Not surprisingly, they are concerned not only with species protection and how food is grown, hunted, fished, and trapped, but also with the quality of air, water, and soil that support food production. Their interests also expand to fair trade and respect for traditional growing processes.

I had the opportunity to take part in my first slow food dinner as a serendipitous coincidence put me in the Red (Read, Eat, Dream) bookstore in Florence on Piazza della Repubblica just prior to a special event on October 20. The Palestinian and Sao Tome’ delegations traveling to the upcoming festival were the guests of the Florentine delegation. In appreciation, the Palestinian and Sao Tome’ delegations taught local chefs how to make traditional dishes. Slow food chapters from throughout Italy are hosting international delegations this week in preparation for the festival that begins tomorrow.

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I had the opportunity to eat a 5 course meal that included 4 traditional Palestinian courses and 1 Italian course in honor of the Palestinian guests.

Course #1 – Mutallal (baba ganoush – eggplant) with pita

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Course #2 – PiRa’o, a spicy cream of mashed cassava with swordfish, a specialty from the island of Sao Tome’ and Principe

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Course #3 – Miokhiyeh (a traditional soup) – Our third dish was the most traditional, according to the English speaking guides at my table. It was made of an extremely strong green (think strong spinach), spiced with garlic and lemon, and accompanied by chicken and white rice

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Course #4 – Italian penne pasta with basil and tomato sauce. The fourth dish was a tribute to the Palestinian guests and prepared by the Italian chefs.

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Course #5 – Dessert – The final dishes were two desserts. The first was called Bolo, a favorite from Sao Tome’, a light as air, gluten free, banana cake made from the pureed skins and flesh of bananas. The second dessert, a Palestinian specialty, Muhallabiyeh was a pudding made of milk, rice and flour.

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The delegation from Palestine represents a women’s center in Old City Nablus called the Old City Charity Society Women Centre Bait al Karama. This women’s center also runs a cooking school. Their website states: “Bait al KARAMA is the first Women’s Centre in the heart of the Old City of Nablus, and aspires to combine a culinary social enterprise with activities of art and culture, run entirely by women. Bait al KARAMA is the first Slow Food Convivium in Nablus.” It is the hope of this delegation that their sustainable food practices might become a hub of agri-tourism in the Middle East. To find out more about their efforts, visit their website: www.baitalkarama.org.

As always, my Italian hosts and hostesses were incredibly gracious. I was seated at the central table with AnnaLisa Nardi, an Italian teacher who specializes in teaching English speaking natives, primarily college students, to speak Italian. AnnaLisa volunteered to be my translator for the evening. Two other guests at the table, members of the local slow food group, Francesco and Salvio were also extremely helpful throughout the evening.

Finally, I must make note of the amazing flowers. One of chefs from the island of Sao Tome’ and Principe hand carried the flowers from her garden for this event. I’d not seen anything like them.

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Terra Madre and the slow food movement boast over 100,000 members worldwide. An anticipated 3000 will be in Torino this week for the Salone del Gusto. I wish I was able to be one of them! Ciao!

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