Having survived hurricane Sandy, the madness of the holiday season and simply and gratefully, just a lot of work, I am finally able to post my second piece about my experiences and thoughts following my attendance at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre last October.
As mentioned in my previous blog-post, my main focus during Terra Madre was on the issue of GMOs which I will comment on again later, but one other conference caught my attention particularly given the proximity of the elections in the USA at the time and its sad aftermath-the defeat Prop. 37 in California.
The conference topic was “Le Etichette Narranti” loosely translated: “The Labels that Tell a Story” and what a story they tell!
According to Slow Food, the “story” of food products begins at their very origin-all of which encompass their provenance, their natural habitat, diversification of a species, cultivation by sustainable farming methods as well as energy consumption and more.
Within those parameters and taking this concept many steps further, the Etichette Narranti initiative launched by Slow Food, supports small, family-run farms that cultivate products as diverse as the regions that spawned them, often recuperating indigenous varietals/breeds that were on the brink of extinction, and whose farmers have committed themselves to preserving and maintaining their natural habitats natural and evolution.
Progressing along this concept then, when bringing their products to market, the farmers that adhere to this concept, indicate on the label or visibly post at their farms or estates, how their product came to being, specifying how it was produced, the energy consumed to produce it, and of course the true nutritional value.
Thus, just as a Slow Food is the opposite of fast food, Etichette Narranti is the total opposite of what the multinationals are fiercely fighting against-posting truthful labels on products-be they vegetables, breads, pastas or other prepared foods-that clearly indicate whether GMOs were used to produce them or as feed for the animals/fish that we purchase.
Keep in mind for instance that indigenous varietals of beans contain far less carbohydrates and much more protein than the GMO produced counterparts; furthermore as also in the case of flour/breads, they are a better nutritional option for those who suffer from diabetes and other ailments that are currently reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world.
In addition much more energy is required to produce the GMOs whereas the only thing that the indigenous seeds require is that the farmer save them from one harvest to the next-thus not having to depend on purchasing them from and be beholden to the multinationals and in doing so, simply employing his/her skills as well as knowledge about/and/respect for the environment while working with nature to bring his products to harvest and to the marketplace.
Alas, given the millions that the multinationals devoted to their cause, Prop. 37 was defeated but not all is lost in the battle for the right to know what we as consumers serve on our table. The future looks bright if schools, many with the support of their local Slow Food chapters throughout the world, run programs to encourage healthy eating by cultivating school gardens as championed amongst many others by Alice Waters-a very good friend and supporter of Slow Food and its founder Carlo Petrini.
In addition, programs such as University of New Hampshire’s Dual Major in EcoGastronomy ,whose Director, Dan Winans, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting during Terra Madre, train students to integrate sustainable agriculture in whatever fields their future careers will take them. Dan was accompanying a delegation of such young and enthusiastic UNH students who while in Italy taking part in UNH study-abroad program in the Marches, attended Terra Madre as shown above, proudly posing with Carlo Petrini whom I too had thehonor of hearing speak and meet at a press conference.
Surely these students and others like them, will have an impact in the fight to protect sustainable farming methods and for the right to know what we ingest.
But in addition to these wonderful young people, there is light that is starting to shine at the end of the dark GMO and land grabbing tunnel. Main-stream journalists have been writing more about this subject such as NY Times Mark Bittman’s articles A Simple Fix for Farming of Oct. 21, 2012 and Fixing our Food Problem-Jan. 1, 2013; NY Times Michael Kugelman the Global Farmland Rush Feb. 5, 2013.
And in February 22 Wall Street Journal’s What’s Lurking in Your Pantry/Applied Food Chemistry by Michael Shermer’s, illustrates just how daunting of a task it is to make informed decisions about the food we eat. But I take issue with a comment made by author of Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss’s who states “”we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.” because the tragedy is that most consumers have no idea about what they are eating thanks to the intentionally confusing or incorrect labeling on many food products being sold in supermarkets in this country-not to mention the sale of fish that proclaims to be what it is not or horse meat in their hamburger patties and meat balls!
There may also be an ally in the fight against GMOs in Montana’s Senator Jon Tester, who, as a guest on the John Maher show on January 25, 2013, spoke about also being a farmer but stating that he and his wife choose to reject mass-market farming methods refusing to plant and harvest crops utilizing GMO seeds, thus operating their farm following strict sustainable farming methods.
But what about the US Government agencies and officials that are meant to protect our health and food supply? Having a White House garden is wonderfully symbolic but perhaps our First Lady Michelle Obama might want to consider furthering the cause of ensuring a nutritionally sound food supply which would certainly make “Obamacare” a lot more cost-effective in the long-run or perhaps our current Surgeon General, who, not unlike her predecessors, keeps a very conspicuous low profile on the subject as reported by Mark Bittman in his Feb. 20 NYTimes column: Our M.I.A. Surgeon General.
I realize that organic, GMO-free products, grass-fed meats, free-range-heritage poultry or wild-caught fish may not be readily available or affordable for many consumers, but everyone should have the right to know what is contained in the food they ingest and be able to make informed decisions about how they choose to feed themselves and their families.
Alla salute e buon appetito!