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July 26, 2007

CEFS draws Carlo Petrini for inaugural lecture

Carlo Petrini
Carlo Petrini makes a point during his lecture at McKimmon Center. (Becky Kirkland photo)

Building and supporting a local food system in North Carolina was the theme in May as the Center for Environmental Farming Systems hosted Carlo Petrini at its inaugural lecture on sustainable agriculture. Petrini is founder of Slow Food International, a movement that promotes local food systems and encourages relationships between growers, chefs and consumers.

Petrini, who lives in Italy, visited N.C. State University and the Triangle area as part of a six-stop tour of the United States. In addition to his speech at N.C. State, Petrini enjoyed a picnic dinner at the Chapel Hill Creamery and a reception with supporters prior to his speech. Both events featured locally produced foods prepared by Triangle chefs.

Petrini started Slow Food in the 1980s to protest efforts to bring a McDonald’s restaurant to Rome. Today Slow Food International has 80,000 members around the world, including 14,000 in the United States, dedicated to supporting local foods and local farmers. The organization defends food biodiversity, educates people about food and builds food communities.

Interest and awareness of local foods has grown in recent years. A recent Time magazine article advised, “Forget organic. Eat local.” Prize-winning author Barbara Kingsolver has written a new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, chronicling her family’s effort to eat only locally produced food for one year. And the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. has doubled since 1999.

Next May in San Francisco, Slow Food will kick off a year-long campaign, “Slow Food Nation” aimed at promoting local food systems. CEFS director Nancy Creamer, in her opening remarks at the lecture issued the challenge, “Over the next year, CEFS will ask, ‘What will it take to build a local food system in North Carolina?’”

Petrini, who speaks Italian, was translated by Slow Food U.S.A. director Erika Lesser. He brought the N.C. State audience of about 850 a message from his new book “Slow Food Nation” – that food should be good, clean and fair, raised in ways that are sustainable for the environment, local economies and communities.

Carlo Petrini with Dean Wynne
Dean Johnny Wynne, left, introduces Petrini at a pre-lecture reception, while Erika Lesser, center, translates. (Becky Kirkland photo)

Slow Food International has developed two universities dedicated to the science of gastronomy. Petrini explained his definition of “gastronomy” as more than just recipes.

“We must have a different concept of gastronomy,” Petrini said. He quoted 19th century author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, whose book The Physiology of Taste asked the question, “What is gastronomy?”

“It’s everything that regards man and his nourishment,” Petrini said. “And so the list begins: agriculture, zoology, physics, chemistry, economics, history, anthropology, and … even … ‘political economy.’

“So as you can see, we are confronted by a complex and multidisciplinary science,” Petrini said. Students in Slow Food’s gastronomy programs study biology, anthropology, genetics, animal and plant production and “the noble science of nutrition.
They also learn how to cook,” Petrini said.

Today, gastronomists must also study ecology – a science that didn’t exist in Brillat-Savarin’s time, he said.

Petrini described a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization that found intensive agricultural production to be one of the greatest threats to the world’s environment. “So this shows us that gastronomy must also be ecology,” he said. “The choices that we make in what we eat will ultimately determine the ecosystem in which we live.”

Petrini urged consumers to become “co-producers” with farmers, becoming aware of where and how their food is raised.

“We in Italy get our tomatoes from China because they cost less. But it’s not true that they cost less because that airplane that flies (bringing the tomatoes to Italy) is consuming energy. And this is the enormous paradox of expending more energy than what we receive in return.

“And indeed food is not as good as it used to be. Those of you who are of my generation, you remember what peaches used to taste like – they didn’t taste like wood. And you remember the smell of a tomato…”

He described the “perfume” of fresh, local tomatoes being processed into sauce in courtyards of homes where he grew up in Italy – an aroma that is not found there today.

Petrini also urged the audience to support small-scale farmers by buying local. “We’re losing farmers. In 1950 in Italy, half of the workforce was in farming, and now we have only 4 percent. In the U.S., we’re at barely 2 percent (in agriculture),” he said.

“We have to give hope and inspiration to young people to stay on the land and to work on the land with dignity and with financial incentives, but also cultural and social recognition. Otherwise what future do we have?

“And so we need a huge campaign to return the rightful place of small-scale agriculture and to re-localize agriculture, and to elevate the value of farmers staying on the land because they will help us save the land. Local economies are what will save the world.”

Carlo Petrini
Petrini, center, tries his hand with the fiddle as he engages members of Kickin' Grass bluegrass band. (Eric Forehand photo)

The night before Petrini’s speech, about 400 people including chefs, farmers and picnic goers, enjoyed a sold-out dinner in Orange County, sponsored by N.C. Choices, a CEFS-sponsored program that promotes sustainable pork production; Slow Food Triangle, and South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Places Inc. or SEEDS. The crowd dined on a variety of dishes created by the Triangle’s best chefs paired with local farmers and their products.

“The atmosphere was warm, relaxed and delicious,” said Jennifer Curtis of N.C. Choices. “Everyone remarked on how wonderful the food was at this event. Farmers and chefs were part of the party and celebration.”

Children enjoyed a tour featuring the creamery's animals -- dairy cows being milked, pigs being fed the whey (leftover from milk after making cheese), and the chickens – as well as a pea shelling contest and egg toss. Traditional music was provided by Chatham County’s own Kickin’ Grass. Those who attended hope the successful event will be repeated. Other picnic sponsors included Haw River Wine Man, A Southern Season, Weaver Street Market and the creamery itself.

CEFS supporters enjoyed the chance to meet Petrini before the speech and have him sign copies of his books at a reception held at N.C. State’s Joyner Visitor Center. Dean Johnny Wynne of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences introduced Petrini at the event.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at July 26, 2007 02:30 PM