|SHELLFISH at a restaurant in the Po delta|
Petrini’s hopes for the university and the movement came together unexpectedly at the Slow Food International Congress in November, just two weeks after the Viaggio ended. In the late 1990s he declared that the future of the movement is the developing world, whose rich repository of biodiversity and farming wisdom is under constant pressure from urbanization, agro-industry, and pollution. At the conclusion of the last conference four years ago, in Naples, he shouted, “Next time in Puebla!”
He meant the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site that gives its name to a region with what many believe to be Mexico’s richest cuisine. His idea was to get out of Europe. At the time, he confessed in his welcoming speech to the more than 500 delegates from 49 countries who did find their way to Puebla in November, he was expressing a somewhat wild and improbable hope. On such “beautiful lies,” he said, are dreams built.
The next morning a group of 12 University of Gastronomic Science students, fresh from the Viaggio, took the stage. In carefully composed, shiningly idealistic remarks, they announced their intention to build an international network linking young people working in food and farming. Already they had carved up the globe, each taking responsibility for devising ways for groups to exchange knowledge and collaborate on regional projects. They wanted to set up a Web site in time for the October 2008 meeting of Terra Madre, a biennial Slow Food gathering of nearly 5,000 farmers, artisans, and cooks from all over the world. (Notes on the network’s progress will be posted at www.slowfood.com.)
Then six young American activists, fresh from a national summit convened by the Yale Sustainable Food Project, took the stage to describe their own efforts: helping high-school students learn about farming and food production; pressing their universities to buy more food locally; even starting campus chapters of Slow Food. They had come to Puebla, they said, to join forces with the movement and enlist its support.
As the two groups filed offstage, the delegates rose to applaud them, many brushing away tears. In an improvised end to his scheduled speech, Roberto Burdese, the president of Slow Food Italy, announced that the two presentations would change Slow Food history. His prediction came true the very next day, when for the first time Petrini named a university student—John Kariuki Mwangi, from Kenya—to be one of the three international vice presidents.
In a bus on the way to the concluding festivities at Cholula, the site of one of the world’s largest pyramids, the two groups cooked up a scheme. They kept it to themselves while the delegates watched Indians in headdresses with six-foot quetzal plumes dance at the pyramid’s base. After dinner, Petrini, accompanied by a mariachi band, did a mean Mexican folk dance and led the room in a lusty rendition of “Cielito Lindo.”
Deep into the singing and dancing, the students sprang their scheme on the movement’s high command. They would stage a two-day happening in Pollenzo right before the next Terra Madre conference. Students, young food producers, and activists would learn about the movement. They would take over the town. Who could say what might happen?
Petrini and his cohorts, steeped in ’70s radicalism, couldn’t have been happier. This was one beautiful lie, they said, they would make come true.