Words and Photos by Carla Capalbo

“Climate change – and global warming – are the biggest thing that has ever happened in human history”, said Amitan Ghosh during Terra Madre – Salone del gusto 2018 (read more about it here).

What are some of the solutions proposed at Terra Madre? Returning to low-impact ancestral methods of crop cultivations that don’t impact so negatively on the soils. Banning poisonous pesticides and weedkillers, and of course monocultures of genetically modified and sterile seeds. Eating more plants and definitely much less meat. (Indeed, the hope is to reduce the west’s consumption of meat by 50%). Use crops that have natural resistance to heat and scarcity of water rather than those that need constant irrigation in areas with limited water resources. Fonio, a forgotten ancient grain from sub-Saharan Africa, is such an ingredient, and has become the project of chef Pierre Thiam in New York who sees it as one of the nutritional super-foods of the future.

For chefs, one solution may be to rethink the use of meat as the main attraction in a meal. “You need to reinvent yourself completely, and to forget everything you learned before because it was based on fossil fuels,” says chef Xavier Hamon from France, who heads the French Slow Food Chef’s Alliance. “We long ago decided to work responsibly, in particular on the use of meat in the plate. This does not always mean reducing the amount of meat in a dish, though of course that’s part of it, but also changing the way we cut and store it using ancestral methods of salting, smoking and drying.”

Multi-starred French chef, Olivier Roellinger, is spearheading a joint venture between Relais et Châteaux and Slow Food to develop a manifesto for the kitchens of the world’s top tables. “The world’s larder is in extreme danger, and chefs can and must make a difference too with big changes in their attitudes, reducing waste and saving energy,” he says. “In haute cuisine there is plenty of room for imagination to be applied to this approach to food,” says Anatoly Kazakov, one of Russia’s foremost young talents who cooks at Selfie in Moscow. “In Russia we face challenges from embargoes and unsustainability but we have used them to help us focus more on local ingredients – such as tiny cucumbers and seafood obtained from free diving – that are available within a radius of 100 to 200 kilometres from Moscow.” He showcased three delicious and subtly complex dishes that each featured just four of these natural ingredients, including fermented green tomatoes, sweet raw scallops, sour sorrel and young almonds.

Slow Food took the opportunity at the Salone to bundle many of these initiatives into its climate-change programme, called Food for Change (#foodforchange). “We need to communicate and share these ideas, regardless of what our leaders do,” says Richard McCarthy, Slow Food’s executive director in the USA. They range from reducing food waste and eating local, to meatless weeks and celebrating local food-producing communities, as well as to the well-established Ark of Taste (for saving endangered foods and their makers) and many other key projects. The Università Diffusa is a notable new project that will see students learn not only from academics but also from people with traditional skills in producing food and working the land. Chef Alice Waters is working on a proposal that would see all the schools in her area in California (and then hopefully many other states) offer free lunches to all their students from ingredients that are sourced locally and produced sustainably.

“These ideas are strong and easy to communicate,” says Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s creator and president. “We need to take on health, climate change and other big themes using the political and social biodiversity that the Terra Madre network brings if we are to fight for the dignity and survival of our planet. We can’t accept our politicians’ defense of national interests in a struggle that challenges our global community. We will join with chefs and farmers in resisting their denial that climate change is happening.”