Salone del Gusto by Gabriella Paiella
On Friday, October 22nd 2010, four friends and I made our way up north for Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. The trip was initially up-in-the air as we had only managed to secure a spot at a hostel on the outskirts of Torino a few days before – the city had been booked up for the event since July. Bright and early the next morning, we caffeinated and began the brisk forty-minute walk to the old Fiat factory where the event has been held for several years. The festival was a clear economic boost to the city of Torino and signs everywhere advertised the Salone del Gusto and pointed tourists in the correct direction.
The first people we encountered at the fringes of the factory grounds were animal rights protesters brandishing gruesome signs of slaughtered animals with statistics of how many animals had been murdered for Salone del Gusto. We avoided them as best as we could and made our way to the line, which was organized and moved forward quickly despite the extraordinary numbers of people. Because we were all under 23, we could get access to the festival for the student rate of 12 euro each.
The theme of the Salone this year was ‘Food + Places: a new geography for Planet Earth’. Upon entering, we found ourselves in a spacious, and well-lit main room with the atmosphere of an IKEA store. Indeed, every booth on this floor was advertising possible eco-friendly solutions to food packaging. Aside from a few curious visitors, most people avoided this first room in favor of the food fair itself – which was packed to the brim.
Salone was split up into several sections. First and foremost was ‘Italy’, – divided up like a grid according to region. We tried almost everything, including lenticchie from Umbria, peperonata from Piedmont, and cannoli from Sicily. It also seemed as if every other stand was sampling some sort of olive oil and bread. My traveling companions and I were surprised (and pleased), by the overwhelming amount of artisanal beer from Italy. All of the producers were extremely friendly and took the time to answer any questions we had for them about their products.
The international section was comprised of representative producers from everywhere from America to Azerbijan. In the middle of all of the food stalls were tables manned by indigenous representatives from Latin America and Africa. Many of them had spoken at Terra Madre and were selling handicrafts and distributing fliers about the current state of agriculture and small farms in their home countries.
There were also more specific novelty areas – such as the ‘Cocktail Bar,’ ‘Enoteca,’ and ‘Street Food’ area, though those were both significantly less crowded than the other sections. This was most likely due to the fact that visitors had to pay extra to access them.
The demographics of the crowd were incredibly mixed. Every once in a while, a Native American farmer in indigenous dress would pop through the fair grounds with their Terra Madre delegate badge on. At the same time, there were several hundred well-dressed Italians teetering around in high heels and purchasing bags of wine and olive oil – making me wonder if they actually ever thought twice about the ideology of Slow Food. The stark difference between the two groups was interesting.
I was also surprised to see Autogrill and Coop stands scattered amongst the other stands. I knew that the Coop supermarkets had initially started as small cooperative movements on the left, but they have certainly strayed far from that model. Autogrill, meanwhile, seems to exemplify the very nature of fast food.
Even when we left Salone del Gusto and headed back to our hostel, we still felt as if we were in that general atmosphere. Everyone staying with us was in the city for the same reasons we were. For example, I met a girl from North Carolina studying abroad in Dijon and compiling an independent research project on organic food regulations. Another one of my roommates graduated from the college that I’m attending right now ten years ago; she was in Torino visiting her sister who acts as a liaison between farmers and farmer’s market organizers. One girl had graduated college in the States and moved to Rwanda to help AIDS victims set up small, microfinance farming operations. Additionally, we met two chefs: one from Lecce who had previously traveled around Europe acting out in “Chef’s Theater” plays. The other was a Brazilian who was hopping around Europe and getting by working at restaurants all over the continent.
As we all stayed up that night talking, I realized that there was a strong and diverse community of people dedicated to bettering the global food system.