Carlo Petrini
magnify Click image to view more.

Carlo Petrini

Roberta Corradin / April 2007

Food Arts presents the April 2007 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Carlo Petrini, the visionary Italian political activist who spearheaded the foundation of the worldwide Slow Food movement, the preeminent force advocating traditional methods of raising, procuring, marketing, and preparing food. When Petrini and the other 62 founding members established Slow Food 21 years ago in his native Bra, a town in the Langhe hills of Italy's Piedmont region, they couldn't have imagined that their group would someday attract thousands to Turin to graze and gab at their biennial exposition Salone del Gusto and sidebar gathering of indigenous food producers from around the world called Terra Madre.

"Our goal at the beginning was simply the preservation of different food cultures as an answer to globalization and taste standardization," says Petrini. "The name Slow Food was chosen in opposition to fast food, which seemed to be the main trend in the 1980s."

For Petrini, food and gastronomy have acquired a deeper meaning since then. "The concept of food today implies history, microbiology, health," he says. The charismatic leader of Slow Food, and its only world famous organizer, Petrini stresses the key role of a team of co-workers based in Bra. "Our founding group is an expression of the big heritage of the Italian countryside. We share friendship as a core value; many of us gave up more lucrative careers to follow this dream."

After studying sociology in the 1970s in Trento, at a university noted for brilliant, left-wing students, Petrini, 57, engaged in politics, organized cultural events, and wrote about gastronomy for several Italian publications before founding Arcigola Slow Food in 1986, which was soon simply renamed Slow Food. Despite his curiosity about other culinary cultures, Petrini, deeply bound to regional Piedmontese cooking, was very excited to know that an English edition of Nonna Genia's by Luciano De Giacomi and Beppe Lodi—"It's not a cookbook, it's the bible for Langhe and Piedmontese cooking"—will be presented by the publishing house Araba Fenice during the Pied­mont­ese week scheduled next month at the United Nations' Dele­gates' Dining Room.

"The interest in food has grown bigger and bigger but too often focuses merely on its consumption," says Petrini. "Terra Madre keeps the emphasis on the moral aspect of food: a story of personal, social, and commercial relationships." To fully understand Petrini's statement, it's enough to recall a scene from last year's Terra Madre: coffee growers from Ethiopia, Honduras, and Laos locked in discussion, something that could never have happened if Slow Food had not flown them to Turin.

"The possibility to discuss and confront their own experiences nourishes the self-esteem of those workers," Petrini notes. "Back home, communities facing similar issues stay connected; in many cases the sharing of experiences has been followed by commercial relationships. I strongly believe that this world will be saved by local food economies."