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By Kevin Mitchell 

In October of 2014 I was chosen as a United States Delegate to represent the state of South Carolina via the Slow Food chapter at Terra Madre, Salone del Gusto. Salone del Gusto is Slow Food’s international food fair and sustainability conference that takes place in Turin, Italy, once every two years. In 2014, the conference took place October 23rd through 27th. In attendance at this conference are 200,000+ participants – Slow Food leaders, activists, educators, and farmers – who partake in educational sessions focused on animal welfare, health and social issues, and food waste. These participants also attend taste workshops featuring wine, craft beer, cheese, and artisanal food.  Among the speakers at the event’s opening ceremony were Alice Waters, Slow Food International’s vice president, and Carlo Petrini, president, and several other leaders in food and sustainability.

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I left Charleston on the 21st of October and arrived in Milan the next day.  Once at the airport, delegates were rushed onto a bus and taken to the Pala Alpitour in Turin to prepare for the opening ceremony.  Once inside I was greeted by the echo of the many different languages from people from all over the world. There were over 150 countries represented: approximately 3,000 delegates, members of Slow Food’s global networks, the people of Turin, and the global press, all ready to celebrate the opening of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.

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Throughout the evening, we were inspired by the speeches of delegates in the room and messages from Michelle Obama and Pope Francis. Michelle Obama thanked Slow Food for promoting healthy eating and good nutrition, singing her praises for the Slow Food initiative “Gardens in Africa,”  through which Slow Food is helping the people of Africa create gardens, with the ultimate goal of 10,000 gardens. We were also inspired by a talk from Chef Alice Waters, who spoke of her program “Edible Education,” an initiative that encourages all of us to get in the business of educating young people about the importance of making healthy choices and school gardens. Although we were there to celebrate, we were also reminded of the challenges we face in our own communities.

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Carlo Petrini gave a rousing speech and summarized his zeal for what Slow Food does by exclaiming, “Defending the earth means safeguarding biodiversity, the landscape, and farming. Those who haven’t seen the importance of farming haven’t understood anything!” He also stated, “You are the real intellectuals of the earth and the sea. Don’t be scared or shy. Teach what you know to others. Speak and tell your stories. We need your knowledge and practices to defeat the great evils of the world like hunger and malnutrition.” I was incredibly moved.

Now, humor me: I’m a chef, so what got me really excited was the food. Here are some highlights of what I saw and ate:

  • Bottarga, paired with everything from Greek sea salt to strawberries
  • White truffles from Molise, Italy
  • Seffa, an African dessert featuring couscous, dates, and dried apricots
  • Carolina Gold rice, paired with, among other things, Sea Island Red Peas, a whiskey from the state of Georgia, marinated pork loin, and pickled watermelon rind
  • Veal tonnato, a dish made with sliced veal and a sauce made from tuna

I had a wonderful time in Turin at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto.  While I went only to Italy, I managed to travel the world through food and drink at the event.  I met so many great people who live the Slow Food mantra.  I know I will leave here inspired, energized, humbled, and eager to spread the word of my experience and the importance of Slow Food with my colleagues and, most important, my students.