Slow Food founder talks global food overhaul

Life at Yale moves fast, but when it comes to food, Carlo Petrini encouraged Yalies to take it slow.

Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Foods International,kicked off Food Week at Yale on Friday with a talk in the Whitney Humanities Center aboutwhat’s wrongwith the way we produce and consume food. The Slow Food movement seeks to promote sustainable practices on a local level and reverse the international prevalence of fast food chains.

“God gave pleasure to the two things that will keep humanity alive: eating and making love,” Petrini said in Italian as a translator relayed his words to an audience of 200.“These two are sacred attitudes in life.”

Petrini’s organization is an international network of farmers and activists who believe that strengthening local economies will help reverse the decline of the food system. Slow Food chapters around the world, called “Convivias,” promote sustainable production on a local level, and their members come together once every two years for a conference in Turin, Italy, where they share ideas for improving food practices.

At Yale, Petrini urged his audience to go beyond the passive role of consumer and take an interest in where their food comes from, in part by buying locallygrown food. This is healthier than manufactured food, he said.

“President Obama wants to change the politics of healthcare, but before spending more on medicine, eat better,” Petrini said.“Before spending so much on correcting the problem of the food system, correct the problems.”

The main problems with food today, he said, are that human beings have altered production by trying to make agriculture as efficient as industry, and altered consumption by thinking of food in terms of “price,” not “value.”

Petrini said today’s deteriorating food system is at the root of the disastrous state of the environment. Biodiversity has suffered because offarming practices that have subjectedsoil to more chemicals in the last 20 years than the last 120.

“In one century, we in Italy lost fivebreeds of milk cows, sixof sheep and fourbreeds of donkeys,” said Petrini. “The only race of asses that has not gone extinct walks on two legs.”

The degradation of food threatens not only the environment, but human society as well, Petrini said. In 1930, 35 percentof the U.S. population consisted offarmers, he said. Today, the United States Department of Agriculturereports that less than 2percent of the population farm for a living. Petrini called the eradication of farmers a “cultural disaster.”

Petrini said that because food is easily accessible to many people today, it is often wasted. He said it is absurd that even though the world produces enough food for 12 billion people, 1billion of its 6billion inhabitants suffer from malnutrition.

“When my grandfather finished eating, he would collect the crumbs from the table,” Petrini said. “In South Italy, when a piece of bread fell from the table, someone would pick it up and kiss it.”

Four students interviewed found Petrini to be an engaging speaker.

Sera Tolgay ’14 said she thinks American culture is particularly focused on efficiency, which contributes to many of the problems Petrini discussed. She added that she thinks it is up to the people to push governments to change food policy.

“I feel like he’s almost talking to the wrong audience because we are the ones who are aware of this,” said Julie Botnick ’14, adding that the new food revolution misses the root of the problem, which is the need to produce a new generation of farmers who are connected to their land.

Yale is Carlo Petrini’s third stop in his tour of American universities after Tufts and Harvard. He will be speaking at Princeton University on Oct. 10th.

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