The Slow Food Revolution

We know that the migration of farmers into urban settlements has been a cause and a consequence of the imposition of an industrial model of agriculture.

This agro-industry model saved us from famine in the dark times after wars. Yet, it has not entirely solved the problems of many peoples. Above all, it has not solved the problem of the the countryside, which continues to be plagued by poverty. Moreover, methods of food production are largely responsible for the unsustainability of human activities. The indiscriminate use of chemicals, increasing CO2 emissions and the loss of biodiversity are just some of the major forms of destruction we are inexorably wreaking on a sick and stressed Earth, all because of food. If urban metabolism is consuming all the natural resources, the countryside must become the bulwark of defense and the prime example of how to apply new, non-invasive technologies and philosophies of sustainable production. The countryside cannot continue to be a place to be plundered, from which people, not without reason, want to flee. Instead, the countryside is going to be in the vanguard, and the new ways of producing and distributing food it defines will invade the towns. A progressive but inevitable re-localization of food systems is part and parcel of this process. Signs of this re-localization are already in evidence. Cognizant of this, young people in the countries of the North are introducing in the process innovative forms of agriculture and commerce. Organic methods are for these new farmers a sine qua non. These new farmers are trying a mix of new technologies and old farmers’ practices that is proving far more useful and healthier than the indiscriminate use of invasive, massive monoculture techniques. If on the one hand there is great attention to the ecological side of rural activities; at the same time there is also a trend to get closer to the customer. This breaks the rule of large-scale distribution, which has imposed itself as the sole intermediary between the countryside and the towns, setting up systems and creating habits that have proved unsustainable and causing a total disconnect between the two dimensions. Farmers’ markets in the United States and Community Supported Agriculture are just two examples of this new process. The patterns show one of the ways to re-localize agriculture, a phenomenon at least to be hoped for, and ultimately inevitable. This is the future scenario for the countryside: multiple small-scale production communities, integrated into a livable rural context, connected with the rest of the world, able to use local resources while respecting the environment and local cultures. Crucial will be the proximity of growers and customers, who, supporting each other, will be able to make their respective aims converge for a better quality of life. Technology will play an essential role in this sustainable rationalization. As for cultivation, by preserving and improving traditional varieties and species, by protecting the ecosystem and by implementing the potentialities of the ‘terroir’,  renewable energy sources will be exploited, and new services will be offered to farmers so that they will not feel cut off from society. Indeed there will even be ‘urban’ farmers. Following the example of many towns of the global South, politicians and town planners will have to deal with how to guarantee that their citizens to ‘grow the cities’: roofs, terraces, green areas, private and school vegetable gardens, public areas all dedicated to the same use. In Havana (Cuba) and Freetown (Sierra Leone) there are already excellent examples of how to ‘grow’ a city in order to assure a food supply to the population. In St. Petersburg vegetable gardens are used for social programs. In the United States more and more gardens are being converted to food production. In San Salvador, citizens protect the soil from erosion by cultivating the main green areas of the city. Cultivating in the city not only provides the urban population with fresh, cheap seasonal food, it is also a perfect opportunity to earn money in the framework of local community economies. In the suburbs of Hanoi, for example, agriculture still accounts today for more than 50% of the people’s income. Re-localizing food production does not mean reverting to obsolete agricultural models, or proposing early 20th century scenarios. Even with its limitations, it is a way to let agriculture become the protagonist again, in harmony with nature, which we will learn to use without destroying it. Sustainably integrated in a network, localized systems will reduce waste and the exploitation of resources, providing us with better food and guaranteeing the deserved dignity of farmers, to whose profession young people will again aspire. In this way, the countryside will become the protagonist again, a livable place of beauty where good quality food is produced for the local community, and where the environment and our planet are protected--chosen places for reclaiming a substantial portion of the urban environment. The countryside is not only the wave of the future, it is the future of our cities as well.

In the early 1980s Petrini laid the foundations for Arcigola, an association which eventually developed into the Slow Food movement in 1989. Among his many achievements is the creation of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. His latest work entitled Buono, pulito e giusto. Principi di nuova gastronomia (Good, Clean and Fair: Principles of a New Gastronomy) was published in Italy by Einaudi in 2005 and translated into many languages. In 2008 he was the only Italian to appear in the list of ‘50 People Who Could Save the World’ drawn up by the prestigious British newspaper The Guardian.