Carlo Petrini on the Future of the Slow Food Movement

In a world in which 800 million malnourished people co-exist alongside almost 2 billion who are obese or overweight, food remains a central question to defining the future of human society on this planet. This assertion is only further supported by the fact that the production, distribution and consumption of food are among the main factors driving climate change and social injustice. Clearly there is no doubt that working to change a fatally flawed food system is a challenge that should involve all of us, from activists to citizens to food industry professionals. Hence why a movement like Slow Food, which has made the centrality of food its distinctive, characteristic feature, must be a pioneer now more than ever, proposing solutions and visions and having the strength to influence a debate that demands new paradigms and new approaches.

Based on this, in 2004 we founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo as a way to understand the complexity of food. It was the first academic institution of its kind in the world and was recently rewarded with the official recognition of a new degree category from the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research. Despite this major step forward, it remains the case that 30 years after the association was founded, the global context in which Slow Food is working has changed radically, making an evolution of method and content indispensable.

We live in an increasingly fragmented society, in which the strength of the great narratives that for decades brought people together and inspired their commitment have lost their power of attraction, especially among the younger generations. What’s more, we are seeing a growing mistrust of the classic association models that arose in the 19th century, which are progressively being marginalized by the communicative dynamics of new technology and media. Faced with this landscape, we must ask ourselves some tough questions.

What future is there for social engagement and activism? Are we condemned to impotently stand by and watch the definitive affirmation of an individualism impermeable to the major global issues that humanity is facing?

I am strongly convinced that the answer to the second question is no. Wherever I look I can see a great hunger for engagement and change, and awareness of the global consequences of our local actions is growing fast. Young people in particular are no longer content with pre-packaged formulas; they want to be the active protagonists of their existence precisely due to this close connection with the world that the digital era paradoxically renders tangible. And so associations must adapt. Ideas must once again become the driving force behind collective action.

This is what in the last few years we have been constructing with Terra Madre, which has made Turin a focal hub for the development of thinking, where the cultures of the world can meet to dialog on concrete issues, in harmony and without distinction. We need to overcome the bureaucratic barriers that the old models bring with them. Inclusion, horizonality, fluidity, freedom of action and openness must be the watchwords for a new participation. This is the path that Slow Food must follow in the years to come.

The demands for good, clean and fair food for all continue to spread. Attention towards what ends up in our plates is increasingly interdisciplinary, with interest growing even among those who don’t know of the existence of an association that has made these ideas its raison d’être.

For these reasons, it is imperative that we be open and inclusive. We must ensure that our movement’s ideas can walk on the legs of others, because they are right and because the war is still far from being won. This is why the organizational challenge will be to encourage local action, to give everyone the strength and the cultural and coordination tools to become active subjects and actors of change. Only in this way we can truly shape the future of food.

When the Slow Food adventure started, over 30 years ago, in Bra, we established two foundational pillars as the necessary elements to our actions as an association: emotional intelligence and austere anarchy. These concepts are more topical than ever before, and necessary to our future. But we must truly be able to practice them every day, because only with the capacity to understand our weaknesses and those of others can we make fraternity with other human beings a reality, and only with the awareness that each of us must be able to act in autonomy can we call ourselves truly free and inclusive.


Carlo Petrini
from La Repubblica (Italy), February 6, 2018
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