Hosted by Slow Food Istanbul in the midst of the Taksim Square Gezi Park protests, the June 2013 International Council meeting was exciting, inspiring, and tasty. The International Council includes representatives of countries with at least 500 members. (Slow Food USA is represented by two Board members – Matt Jones and Nazli Parvizi and two Governors — Joel Smith and Charity Kenyon). The Council, together with the Executive Committee, plans and promotes the Slow Food movement’s development worldwide. As a result of action taken at the October 2012 Slow Food International Congress in Italy, the International Council for the first time includes representatives of Terra Madre communities where the convivium structure is not developed, but Slow Food is working with producers and gardeners — largely in the global South. This expansion made for a rich and rewarding exchange that demonstrated the strength and breadth of the organization.
All but one Councilor was able to attend, notwithstanding the close proximity of the meeting to the rapidly developing demonstrations. Our hosts were fully engaged in supporting the protests, even planting a symbolic vegetable garden in Gezi Park. The Council adopted a resolution in support of those demanding: “a new Turkey, able to value simple but important things, like the trees in a park.”
Friday night’s dinner started the meeting – on a boat on the Bosphorus – what more need we say? The pleasure of shared food and conversation helped make and strengthen connections across continents and hemispheres; the weather was calm and mild; the lights on mosques and old palaces was dramatic. The demonstrations were far away.
On Saturday Carlo Petrini welcomed us, pointing out that next year 2014, will be the 10th anniversary of the Terra Madre Network and 25th Anniversary of Slow Food. And there is no going back. The question for the Council was how to manage and lead this complex movement for the common good.
To that end, Slow Food has adopted three areas of emphasis to meet our goals for change: (1) 10,000 products boarded on the Ark of Taste — the FAO recognizes Slow Food as the only movement formally safeguarding the biodiversity and the fight against malnutrition. This gives us the responsibility to follow through. (2) 10,000 Gardens in Africa — a movement spreading education and training with knowledge of local seeds to fight both land grabbing and malnutrition. We cannot close our eyes to the injustice of 24,000 people dying every day from hunger, mostly in Africa. Our 10,000 gardens in schools, at hospitals, and in communities can set an example for other NGO’s and African governments. (3) 10,000 Convivia and Food Communities — networks have knots and we are currently at 1,600 chapters in 170 countries and 2,200 food communities for a total of 4,000 toward our goal of 10,000.
The growing Youth Food Network is under new leadership of Joris Lohman from Amsterdam who sits on the SFI Executive Committee. Foodstock will take place in Polenza in 2014 – 1,000 students from 67 countries are expected. The SFYFN is developing, including its governance, but it represents our future.
Finally, we need to carry out a census that somehow documents all the different SF projects around the world, so that we can more accurately understand and convey our impact.
We next heard about the re-launch of the Ark of Taste, including review of new documents in draft to explain the relationships among AOT, Presidia, and the Biodiversity Foundation. The point is to make boarding products easier, fun, and rewarding. We may make mistakes, but must not hold back for fear of error. Mistakes can be corrected later. The only mistake is failing to act now to capture and document the wealth of our food communities. There was robust discussion of other knowledge we are losing, including methods of production and processing, as well as of the dangers of bio-‐ piracy. The exciting Alliance of Chefs and Presidia is developing as a way to bring AOT products to the attention of consumers and to support markets for producers. Menu language has been approved.
In the afternoon we met as regional groups, including a meeting of the Americas — from Canada to the tip of Chile. And each group reported out on action items agreed upon within the groups. We will be hearing more about these plans, including a likely Slow Meat conference (like Slow Cheese and Slow Fish) in Colorado in 2015. The more we talked, the more it became obvious that we had links already and could use them to build our networks across the Americas — from Terra Madre communities to chapters. A current example is Slow Food Philadelphia’s work with blue corn tortilla makers in Mexico, uniting two halves of a small indigenous Puebla minority and promoting their special corn. We look forward to making more of these connections.
Dinner was in a small, intimate restaurant in the Nisantasi neighborhood. Lovely, diverse, conducive to discussion and very close to the demonstrations. Towards the end of the evening the government ruthlessly cleared Taksim Square, demonstrators fled into the neighborhood, a small hospital was erected around the corner from the restaurant. Our hosts and guests were calm; taxi drivers were able to get us back to our various hotels without much trouble.
Our half-day meeting on Sunday focused on funding, membership: the numbers. We approved the 2013 budget — half way through the year and agreed that future Councils will receive, discuss, and act on the budget at the beginning of the budget year. A lengthy financial report and social report with commendable detail were presented by the external auditor. I, for one, was impressed both by the amount accomplished on a small budget and by the commitment to transparency and accuracy.
Next, we discussed Strategic Goals, which had been presented in draft shortly before the meeting. Another draft will be prepared by October. Councilors are to prepare their responses to the current draft by mid July.
Finally, we were all energized by an upbeat presentation of the Slow Food Youth Food Network, and by a delicious tasting of traditional Turkish foods with a presentation by a well known chef and journalist. Wow! Lots to do and lots of great people to do it with! It was a great honor to represent Slow Food USA in Istanbul.
Slow Food USA Governor, Central Valley Region of California