After returning from my first-ever visit to the Slow Food Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy, on Monday, I began writing up the event, and looking at the photos I’d taken. As I wrote, I found myself writing a but at length of what this event was, and wasn’t, and how people (including me) perceive these kinds of events. I didn’t go with any agenda; I was simply interested in seeing what the Salone was all about, as I’d heard it was very interesting from some people I respected in the food world.
Unlike the perception I, and other folks have, the Salone del Gusto was not a bunch of rich, elitist folks swilling wine and congratulating themselves on what fabulous folks they were for going “green” or indulging in “peasant foods.”
From what I saw, it was a chance for people from neglected parts of the world, like the women from a remote village in Transylvania who were displaced after the fall of communism and are trying to rebuild their lives while carrying on the tradition of jam-making using native berries from their region, or vanilla farmers from Mexico, who hand-pollinate and harvest wild vanilla beans; this was an opportunity to give their products and their hard work some exposure.
And contrary to what I thought, most of the crowd was everyday folks. Sure, there were those of us that took airplanes and trains to get there, but there was a huge amount of locals, from Italy (the majority of the crowd, from what I saw and from the language I heard spoken) who came to sample and perhaps learn.
Unfortunately the mobs got a bit intense at times. The solution might be to allow less people in, which unfortunately would necessitate a raise in ticket prices (which were €20) to cover costs. Or perhaps the best solution would be to sell or include chits or tickets, which guests would use to obtain samples. That way the exposants would be able to hold back the mobs and have time to explain their products, and visitors would get to taste things without the hectic jostling.
(There was a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the event and some of the comments concerned the “trendy” crowd. Yet I don’t believe that any of those people commenting were actually at the event, so I’m not sure how they got that perception. But I guess I should cut them some slack, since I had similar fears as well.
And for the record, I spent €80 on a round-trip train ticket. I upgraded to first-class for the 5½ hour trip for just €10 each way, so I could’ve gone for less. But I splurged. Our hotel room cost €70/night, which I split with a friend and we took public transit in Torino. I was given a press pass.)
To the folks who say that perhaps the money could be well spent fighting poverty, there were plenty of exhibitors here that obviously have very, very little money. So one could argue that this event gives those people visibility and is helping to rebuild their economies, which have often been unspeakably shattered by war, ethnic cleansing atrocities, famine, and natural disasters. Difficulties that most of us will never be able to comprehend. They came, at the expense of the sponsors, so one could say that the organizers were helping people who have little money. And hosting housing is arranged for participants that request it. I know that a lot of people talk about wanting to help others, but often, too few people actually do it.
Here, it seemed to be happening.
The flip side is that this is supposed to be an event that supports sustainable agriculture and practices, yet the sushi bar served farmed salmon and handed out disposable chopsticks, and many of the vendors were too-quick to put purchases in plastic bags, even though each participant was given a cloth bag, presumably for such a purpose.
I didn’t listen to any of the speeches (how could I, with all that food around?) but the one that I did attend, the speaker raised the all-important question, “How do we pay farmers and the people that raise our food what they’re work is worth, and at the same time, make their food affordable to people of various income levels?” I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that. Factory-produced food is often cheaper, at least in the short-fun, and easier to obtain. Acorn-fed ham, microgreens and farm-raised veal are still a provenance of those with the means to buy them. (Unless you rear them yourself.)
Perhaps because I’ve been living in Europe for a while, where wine drinking and eating artisanal hams, pâté, and the like are everyday fare, and not considered ‘upscale’ activities or the provence of the rich. Indeed, to do those things in America, it does require quite a bit more money then they do here. I had two glasses of rosé at a simple pizza restaurant in San Francisco, which set me back $28, including tax and tip. Here, that would’ve cost about €6.
The Salone del Gusto takes place every other year and I, and my friend David that I went with, agreed that if we weren’t living in Europe, this was an amazing opportunity to sample a lot of things, all under one roof, that one would rarely have access to. My advice would be to try and visit during a weekday, or after 5pm, as the Salone is open well into the evening.
I know there was an event in San Francisco, Slow Food Nation, that raised the ire of some, but this was completely different and, I think, more in the spirit what Slow Food is all about. I don’t know.
I’m not much of a joiner and I’m not a member of Slow Food (the movement hasn’t taken much of a foothold in France), but this kind of event I could support, and in the next post, I’ll be showing some of the unusual, and delicious things, that I tasted, as well as some of the people at the Salon itself. And there was a few things that were so unusual, I couldn’t resist bringing home sacks and bags of them and you can see some of them in Salone del Gusto, Part II.