By Guest Blogger: Kathryn Underwood

Having recently returned from Turin, Italy, not as part of Mayor Bing’s contingent, but as a delegate to Terre Madre 2010, I have been challenged and inspired to view my role, my interpretation and my vision of activism around food from a fresh (!) perspective. One rarely muses about pleasure and activism at the same time. Indeed, they are often thought of as antithetical. However, food, if thought of in the broadest sense, allows, even insists on a marriage of the two (albeit, a gunshot wedding for purist from either side).

Terre Madre is the brainchild of Carlos Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. Slow Food is “…a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment…to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world…The Terre Madre network was launched by Slow Food to give a voice and visibility to the small-scale farmers, breeders, fishers and food artisans around the world whose approach to food production protects the environment and communities. The network brings them together with academics, cooks, consumers and youth groups so that they can join forces in working to improve the food system…” (see: www.slowfood.com)

I had the privilege of being one of 6,000 delegates from over 150 countries to experience Terre Madre. As a foodie, food activist and one who enjoys travel and experiencing other places and cultures, surely I was in heaven! Never have I seen such richness of faces, colors and patterns, nor heard such variety of tongues.

A central area at the conference venue served as a world marketplace from which indigenous plants and food, garments, jewelry, and handcrafts were displayed for education and purchase. Outside the conference site performances from musicians from all over the world took place daily (reminiscent of our Concert of Colors). There were also over 70 workshops dealing with issues faced by small growers and indigenous peoples all over the world such as, fair trade and local markets; food policies and human rights; who owns seeds; an introduction to social enterprises; and eco-friendly agriculture and respect for local traditions and identities. Most of workshops were presented via headset in several languages. Food and taste education exhibits invited delegates to experience everything related to the sensory aspect of plants and food. There were displays related to such concerns as the importance of preserving biodiversity; sustainable fishing practices; and traditional ways of preparing food, as well.

Then there was the Salone del Gusto…

Slow Food's international food exposition draws over 150,000 visitors to Turin every two years. Small-scale food producers and food artisans from all over the world travel to this event to share an orgasmic sensory experience! One does not “visit” the Salone, one “participates”. There is food to sample (free or for a nominal cost) of superb quality and exhaustive variety…olives, oils, cheeses, meats, chocolates, sauces, smoked fish, honeys (the honey bar was one of my favorites), liquers, wine and beer, breads and other baked goods, spices and salts. I bought vanilla beans from a merchant from Madagascar, saffron from Morocco; capers and mustards, chocolate and Armagnac…oh, my!

So then, back to pleasure and activism…

The perception of Slow Food in the US is that of being mostly as high-end foodie and pleasure-focused, while being much more activist-oriented in other parts of the world. Elitism is certainly against Petrini’s intent and what I observed at Terre Madre. In his book, terre madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, Petrini states: “…If pleasure is excess and only the wealthy can afford it, it is regarded as incompatible with the pursuit of sanctity, political commitment, and the protection of the environment…Pleasure is democratic because it makes us want to become active players again, even if this only means performing small acts to improve our daily lives. The pleasure of eating is potentially the most immediate and accessible pleasure for all of us. And eating pleasurably may be a disruptive political act. Pleasure is not elitist; it is a right that needs to be protected, promoted, and enjoyed by all…”

Certainly, the work being done within the city of Detroit, the synergy of what we do, is beginning to bridge pleasure, activism, food, politics, economics, environment and freedom. By what is happening in Detroit around food security; urban agriculture; farmers’ markets, undoing racism in the food system; food blogs; independent markets, grocers, food artisans, and restaurants; locavores; socially-conscious and politically-involved chefs and foodies, and on and on…we could have given/are giving birth to a Detroit version of a Slow Food movement! But sometimes we are so involved in the work, we don’t realize how awesome we are! I am joining with others towards getting an official Slow Food presence in the city of Detroit, with the intent of supporting and promoting our work. So, there is more to come…chew on that!

Kathryn Lynch Underwood has been involved in the urban agriculture movement in Detroit for over a decade. She is a planner with the City of Detroit City Planning Commission and is working urban agriculture policy and codes for the City.

Posted in Guest Blogger, featured, inspiration | 1 Comment


  1. Ann Perrault says:

    Thank you for the comments above and know that the connection to food processing, food production and manufacturing is one of Michigan’s strengths. Ranked 19th by Department of Agriculture. We can appreciate the simple tastes and pleasures from pure foods and hope that with these we can attract a healthier diet in Detroit and in the state.
    Many Blessing and keep up the good work

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