As a member of Slow Food Waitakere I had the great pleasure of attending Terra Madre 2008 as a delegate in October. It brought together many strands of my life and work, introduced me to a vital and committed community , and diverse cultural experience.
I grew up with a mother preparing traditional New zealand foods of the 60's and 70's [garlic and zucchini were still very exotic in 1970 ] Based on English food it was simple ,nourishing and primarily all home made, including preserves. My father would return from his business travels with sacks of Kerikeri oranges, Kumara [ NZ sweetpotato] fresh oysters, green beans , field mushrooms. He took great pleasure in bringing home seasonal foods and only as an adult am i appreciating the food education of my parents.
In my early adult years I became interested in holistic health. My first cooking job was in answer to an ad for cooks at a health spa..."No experience necessary" ! There I met Daniel and Audrey LeBel, extraordinary cooks ,who introduced me to macrobiotics.In essence it's philosophy dovetails with many Slow Food principles....seasonality, local foods,consciuosness about food and it's preparation, meaningful work and social responsibility. While no longer 'macrobiotic' it's common sense principles still inform my cooking.
Over the next 24 years I continued to work with food as a caterer, deli chef, in restaurants while living in America, designing recipes and occasionally teaching.. All the while experiencing the generosity of others passionate about food , sharing recipes and meals,laughter and discussion, creating events.
Since returning to New Zealand for the birth of my son I have been a caterer , artisan doll maker and teacher of recycled fibre arts. 2 years ago some friends gifted me a Slow Food membership.
Terra Madre has given me a fuller understanding of the broad scope of Slow Food and it's relevance to the health of our planet and peoples.
The area I live in has a diverse and stunning natural environment. It is also home to many food producers .There are orchardists, vineyards, herb growers , artisan breadmakers, cheesemakers, salami producers, organic juices... and flourishing farmers markets. Returning from TM I am even more committed to promoting local producers. A big realisation for me is that it can be as simple as the exchange when some one asks you where you sourced an ingredient.Part of the pleasure is also in the forming of relationships with local producers, many selling from their homes.As mentioned at TM the cook can become a link between the producer and diner/consumer .
I concentrated mostly on education and sustainability in restaurant/food production workshops at TM.As so many speakers stressed.. the children are the future. I am particularly interested in hands on cooking with children, this may start in my own small community as an after school activity in our local hall [hopefully with produce from my garden].I hope to teach children and adults that good food is not difficult or expensive.
The Slow Food Waitakere convivium in partnership with the Enviroschools initiative, are sponsoring schools starting vegetable gardens.
At Oratia school the garden is well established and Alessandra Zecchini had a very successful afternoon with a group of children tasting and cooking the food they had grown.. I would also like to see rich learning experiences where the older members of the community can share their knowledge with the young. I am saddened to see how many older people diminish rapidly when moved to rest homes and would love to see strong links with schools and other community groups, where all would benefit.
Waitakere City is very fortunate to have a forward thinking local government , committed to sustainable practise. Over the next year I hope to build the links between Slow Food and our council's initiatives in the form of community gardens and learning centres. We have a fantastic resource in our area of experienced organic growers.
One of the things i have noticed is that many people consider Slow Food as a gastronomic club or one where you take all day to prepare a meal.I hope that through some small community initiatives the broader vision of Slow Food can be promoted.It is a shame that for many good , clean food is associated with elite food and hope that that can be changed. I am sure that along the way full and satisfying exchanges can happen.
A highlight of TM was my time with my host family, Giovanni and Mavi Dallorto of Bra.Fellow delegate Gretta Carney and I were welcomed so warmly and treated with such generosity. We exchanged wonderful and funny conversations with a handful of English and Italian words. Mavi created superb, simple regional dishes for us every evening, sharing her recipes [her cellar full of preserves which she spends weekends making for relaxation ,after working fulltime]. This embodied so much of the Slow food philosophy for me. Warmth, respect, the desire to communicate, overcoming potentail barriers of language or culture, simple pleasures.
TM has also increased my my thoughtfulness about the products and methods i use. Alice Waters' questions of...What, Why and How do i cook were significant for me, and Fabio Pichi's emphasis on learning to preserve foods, limit waste and the importance of love and spontaneity in food preparation.All of the chefs were looking for practical solutions in our daily practises.
Simplicity is one of the key words for me from my experience at TM
.Simple food,prepared well with love, human exchanges, sharing a meal, tending the soil, protecting seeds.
When I was first invited to be a delegate I thought I was too 'small', not significant enough to attend such an event. I returned from Turin feeling very inspired, that action is local. That even the smallest gesture is significant. I think of my son's friends enjoying homemade bread and recently cooking potatoes over the fire where their own experiments led to potatoes wrapped in leaves with fennel and lavender inside, their exclamations as they ate them hot off the fire...' This is the best potato I've EVER tasted! ' all added to by the pleasure of sitting together , telling jokes, collecting wood as we waited for the potatoes to cook.