By Cristiano Bonino, Food.Stories.Travel. Founder and Tour Leader
One of my favorite food quotes is from the gastronomist Jean Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.” For as long as I can remember, I have loved to cook. When I am making certain recipes, I feel as though I am back in the presence of those who taught me, such as my grandmother and mother.
However, if I were to point to a single moment that was the seed for my company Food.Stories.Travel., it would be the chance encounter I had with Carlo Petrini in the summer of 2013. A dear friend and I were in the midst of touring the eighteen mainland regions of Italy by bicycle to meet and promote the people behind the production of traditional Italian foods – people who are also working to protect the land and improve the food system.
We had stopped in Pollenzo to visit the University of Gastronomic Sciences. After following Petrini’s work for ten years, I was serendipitously able to finally meet the man. Knowing we have common roots in Piedmont, I addressed him in Piedmontese dialect, which definitely caught his attention. He was very kind to share a few minutes of his precious time with me, and even strike a pose for a picture together! I still get goosebumps remembering this moment. In fact, it inspired me to start my company almost immediately upon my return to the States.
“Good, clean and fair” is at the center of everything we do at Food.Stories.Travel., because it’s how we live. After thirteen years in the travel industry, I understand why travelers travel. As more and more Americans begin to ask where their food comes from and seek to support “good, clean and fair” food makers; now, more than ever, combining the elements of travel and food feels both powerful and obvious. Add stories, which are the greatest connectors between people, and I believe that we can give people an experience of food culture at such a personal level, they cannot help but be transformed. And as we know, food is a deeply communal activity. Our hope is that when our guests come home, the stories they collect and their support for the food makers they meet will spread.
When it comes to food culture and travel, it’s not just about recipes or histories. The journeys we design transport people into new ways of seeing and savoring foods, and we believe they carry those moments home with them as souvenirs. Since we are in Italy, many of the recipes we explore belong to the Mediterranean Diet, which has been inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage List. We hope our guests are inspired to continue investing in their health and the health of their families, beyond the tour.
We know so many unique producers that feature the local produce, artisanal methods, or specific heritage breeds that Slow Food promotes through its 250+ Presidia in Italy. One of our favorites is Daniela Virgona, who cultivates capers on the island of Salina, off of Sicily. For decades, Daniela and her family have worked to protect this unique perennial. To quote Daniela, “the Presidium has really helped us to promote the quality and specificity of this product that is not a fruit, but that consists of flower buds cured in salt, following an ancient method.”
Another place we love to visit is Val di Funes, in South Tyrol in Northern Italy, where the breeders are protecting the most ancient breed of sheep in the region, Villnösser Brillenschaf. These sheep been saved by some passionate locals, including our friend Oskar Messner, who care about keeping the valley’s traditions alive, and who started a local Slow Food Presidium to that end.
The work of Slow Food truly underpins everything that we do. Beyond helping us to find producers and champions like Daniela and Oskar, we have relied on Slow Food Osterie and Locande d’Italia to help us enjoy meals in restaurants that feature Slow Food Presidia. Since the end of the ‘90s, this book has been recognizing establishments that emphasize local ingredients and support endangered food cultures and traditions (it is similar to Slow Food USA’s Snail of Approval initiative, which is already happening in some States).
At the end of the day, connecting to the food we eat by learning the stories behind it for us is one of the most accessible ways we can evaluate our impact on the planet, and understand what we want for its future. At Food.Stories.Travel., our goal is to encourage people to care more about the land, the animals, and all of the people involved in food production. For us, this is the path to a fairer food system that combats culinary hegemony by celebrating local differences in cultures, traditions, and the methods by which food makers are ensuring a more sustainable future for their communities.
Perhaps our lives will cross soon, not only on one of our educational tours, but also at the table, over a meal with local ingredients or a good glass of a local wine – and most definitely with plenty of food stories to share.
Buon appetito and buon viaggio!