Slow Food’s Terre Madre

Terra Madre Pic


Slow Food was started in Italy back in the late 1980’s as a revolt against fast food. People in the small town in the Piedmont region were fiercely proud of their local foods and wanted to preserve their traditions. They formed a grassroots organization that would grow to represent this philosophy in 150 countries around the world – 12,000 “Terra Madre” (Mother Earth) food communities.

Every two years, a conference in Turin, Italy gathers representatives of Slow Food and Terra Madre communities from around the world to share ideas and work together to advance the cause of ensuring everyone around the world has access to good, clean and fair food. The conference also includes cooking and tasting workshops and presentations by panels of experts. This last event also combined the Salone del Gusto (tasting salon), an exposition of food products from the various food communities. Imagine, if you will, four football fields of tables with producers sampling delicacies and telling stories of traditional methods and local ingredients.


This year I was a part of the Canadian delegation at Terra Madre, representing the newly formed Thompson Okanagan convivium. A convivium is a local chapter; the word comes from the Latin convivare, meaning “to live”. We know the term convivial in modern usage, as in the convivial family table around which we share a meal.


Vendors braiding tomatoes the regional way

Vendors braiding tomatoes the regional way

The theme of Terra Madre 2012 was “Foods that change the world.” There were keywords mentioned in the opening ceremonies, and I looked back to those to try and focus my impressions from this fantastically overwhelming experience.


I was reminded of the Diversity of the world’s people. I met people from Iceland, where my ancestors are from; I also met people from Kenya, Slovenia, France, India, Holland, Georgia and more, and I learned about all of their countries through their foods. I also learned about the food through the people.  I saw the pride in cultures who had renewed traditions around foods almost lost; I tasted Biodiversity  in the integrity of foods with a sense of place. The magic of these tastes is far more intense on your tongue than processed food, let me tell you. People, information, resources, friendship… it was all available in large quantities at Terra Madre. At times I was tasting new foods that were only described in gestures by someone who didn’t speak English. I soaked it all up and felt the rewards of a whole new kind of Networking.



Edible Education” was also an important topic. Young people in many countries have lost the connection to their food sources. They need to understand, just as the adults do, that the entire community needs to be connected for all of it to thrive. Alice Waters, the American chef, activist and vice-president of Slow Food, said: “If we feed all children delicious, wholesome, sustainable food it can become a right for all and not just a privilege.”  There was education about Energy as well. For example, even sustainable energies should still be smart; I learned to consider the consequences of clean energy along with its advantages. A delegate from Slow Food Fukushima told us, “It doesn’t make sense to use energy sources which destroys connections between people and food, life and our precious land.” Even Waste was discussed as an integral part of how a successful food community survives. The Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization told us “If we could reduce the current wasted food by half, we could feed another billion people.” What a thought.


The Earth is a big place, and it’s our home – there is so much we need to care for and take responsibility for – but it’s also now very small – we all learned how easy it was to connect through food. Every bit, big and small, makes a difference. Something as small as Seeds is a great place to start; I attended a seminar on gardening and learned about not only heirloom seeds but also how to make natural pesticides and planting by the cycles of the moon. Understanding these various methods helped me to realize the importance of growing food and how it has shaped our cultures for centuries. Another resource that has shaped our world is Water. I talked to a cattle farmer who told me grazing animals need large amounts of water, not just for drinking, but to grow food to feed them. I learned that farmers can be more efficient by moving animals more often and keeping smaller herds. What a sensible idea.


For me, learning about people from around the world through their food was enlightening. Working together as a food community can better preserve our culture, support our local producers and educate consumers on the importance of good, clean and fair food.  Food is often a means of Celebration, but having enough food for everyone is a political statement. By sharing a table with people from all over the world, I saw how we can work toward celebrating success.


Our new convivium is hosting the Canadian national Slow Food meeting this spring, where delegates from food communities around the country will share ideas and insights as well as meals. On the weekend of April 25 – 28 in Osoyoos, we will be showcasing many of the local foods and artisans that enrich the Thompson Okanagan so that other communities can learn about our successes and our uniqueness.


There will be parts of the conference that will be open to the public as well. We intend to host the first Canadian “Salone del Gusto”, where guests will be able to meet our farmers and learn their stories. You don’t have to be a Slow Food member to enjoy the experience; the Slow Food philosophy is about sharing the pleasure of eating with a commitment to the food community we live in, and being aware of our world at large as a community.


If you’re interested to learn more, check out or find conviviums in your area at

To follow the Slow Food Thompson Okanagan convivium, connect with us on Facebook at

– Kristin Peturson-Laprise

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