Grassroots Gastronomica, Taking a Bite of Food Politics
Author: Grassroots Gourmet
I'm just a 22 year old grad student at the University of Gastronomic Science in Italy with a big appetite for really good, fair, and responsible food. I'm not talking about your commercial, prepackaged, zombie food. I mean the real stuff, local, delicious, ethical and responsible foods that can be found right outside your front door.
Think of a world where you can identify where your food is coming from, and what exactly that food is made of! Oh, the possibilities!
Curious to read about Parma’s art history? Want to cook some of the traditional meals from this area from home? Click on this link and buy some awesome cook books and art history books from the heart of Parma… available both in Italian and English. CLICK HERE TO BUY
*Also if you buy this book you will probably help me on the road to landing a job (paid) with the hotel, and thus will aide in the continuation of Grassroots Gourmet does Italy.
After a year filled of cured meats, fine cheeses, and endlessly flowing wine, the end of my course at the University of Gastronomic Sciences was not enough to get me to leave my ‘hometown’ of Parma. Unfortunately, in the last week of my stay in the school provided apartments, I realized that soon I would find myself without a place to live, unemployed, and illegally undocumented in a European country….luckily this is Italy, and rules are more of a social suggestion than something strictly followed.
It was my last day in the school provided housing, I desperately wandered the cobblestone streets of Parma, eyes glazed over by the overwhelming pressure to find a place within 24 hours of my predetermined departure. This was crunch time. I went to the center of local classifieds which turned out to be like a scene from Midnight Express. Little pieces of handwritten housing requests pinned up on a never ending wall of pixelated colors. I left the office discouraged and mentally trying to prepare for my return into the United States.
As a final effort, I found myself in Parma’s historical center in Piazza Duomo at the famous and elegant hotel Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati. I knew this hotel doubled as a long-term residence and I asked the man at the counter how much I would have to spend to rent an apartment in the next 24 hours. He gave me a price of 1600 euro and my mouth dropped open. I felt a sense of overwhelming doom, feeling my vision closing in. Like a rat’s final attempt of escape from the grip of a cobra, I somewhat jokingly asked him if I could work for the hotel instead of pay….a kind of ‘dishwasher’ deal.
He smiled with surprise, and accepted my offer. I now live in the heart of Parma’s most beautiful streets, working for a Michelin rated hotel, and have begun the second chapter of my Italian life. In life the best things tend to happen at the last minute. Let’s see what this adventure has in store.
The moment has arrived, my graduation from the University of Gastronomic Sciences is coming up this Friday. A sad time indeed, this is a moment of strange transitions and uncomfortable changes. Important questions like, what side of the Atlantic Ocean will I be living on in 10 days, did my 18 years of education amount to anything? Can I still properly speak English? are all coming to slap me in the face as my year living in Italy might be potentially coming to an end…
BUT THERE IS HOPE! I have an interview with Barilla (yes the lord of pasta) on Thursday for the potential to have a 6 month marketing internship living in Parma and doing what I do best… eating. I am crossing my fingers and toes that this works out, but as most things usually happen for me, the best things come at the last minute.
My other option is running away to my friend’s house in the hills of Tuscany to hide from the government as my visa expires.. This is a highly highly probable idea.
Nonetheless, in this moment of indecision and fear, I continue to eat and drink with determination…Consistency folks, Consistency.
Thanks to Salone del Gusto, the Slow Food event of a lifetime, I have to go shopping for a larger pants size and maybe a visit to the doctor to control my liver function.
Arriving at the Lingotto Convention Center in Turin’s city center, I was blown away by the sheer size of the event. Comprised of 5 expansive pavilions, 3 dedicated to Italy’s regional cuisines, and the rest to the international community, there were more than enough foods to taste and people to meet. The sheer size of the event justified the fact that I was there for 4 days, though certain products definitely kept me coming back for more free tasters 😉
Unlike many of the patrons of the event, I went with a mission, to promote Ferrarini’s Italian food community I Sapori Della Nostra Terra by handing out information cards and giving mini presentations to the various producers there. Let’s just say I made a lot of friends, connected with people both professionally and personally, through the free tasters offered at their booths.
In a delirium of wine, artisan beer, cheese, cured meat, and sweets, I lost myself in the labyrinth of Italy’s regions. This past weekend, I ate enough bread dipped in olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, Sicilian Cannoli, cured meat, Parmigiano Reggiano, and unidentifiable fried delicacies to induce immediate cardiac arrest. Fortunately however, my body is used to gluttonous abuse from the way that I’ve been eating/drinking for the duration of this past year at the University.
To seem more official, I presented myself to producers as “Michelle Aspis, a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences,” in a desperate effort to find work, and share a moment with the producers I have met over the past year in an effort to evade my quasi-inevitable return to the US.
Salone del Gusto, in a way, was a culmination of my entire gastronomic education. A truly Grassroots Gourmet experience, the Olympic tournament reserved for those with a stomach and a heart for good food and unforgettable people.
I once read a book called that tried to explain why Italians constantly talk about food, but only in experiences such as this can one truly understand the depth and importance of the world of food for a culture that depends so heavily upon cuisine to progress economically, governmentally, and most importantly, emotionally. Being at Salone del Gusto was like sharing a meal with the entire country, a nonverbal understanding between food lovers about what it means to live to eat, to eat to live, and to survive in a world that seems to sometimes spin out of control.
The moment has arrived, from October 21-25, the biennial (this means once every two years, I looked it up) culmination of everything that the Slow Food movement stands for, Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto at the Lingotto Convention Center in Turin, Italy.
Though both events are sponsored by Slow Food, they are each directed at a particular target. Terra Madre is basically a UN type megameeting for invited representatives of Slow Food from all over the world. With over 5000 representatives present, this five day conference unites food communities, cooks, academics, artists, and youth who share the common goal of promoting sustainability in the food world.
Over the course of 5 days, various lectures and conferences take place about the current state of the world’s environmental health, learning traditions and cultures of others, and discussing crucial issues of these subjects that pertain to assuring a better future. Sounds a little bit idealistic… Kind of like the final part of “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland, where all the animatronic dolls of different races are mechanically bouncing up and down and rejoicing in their diversity. Haha…..just kidding.
Terra Madre is an exclusive invite only event for members of the Terra Madre network, my being a student at the University of Gastronomic Science has granted me access into an event that continues to make history (we hope).
Salone del Gusto, on the other hand is a public event for anyone who is passionate about food. I would use the word ‘foodie’ but I find it degrading. This is a convention where artisan producers, wine makers, chefs, and academics come together to celebrate their love of good quality and delicious foods. Producers from all over Italy as well as abroad come here to set up a stand and share the fruit of their labor with hungry patrons. Needless to say, this is THE place to be if you consider the pleasure of food to be on par with the pleasure of sex 😉
Ferrarini, the company I’m interning for, will also have a booth at Salone del Gusto, where they’ll be selling non GMO Parmigiano Reggiano, non GMO Butter, Prosciutto di Parma, Salami, and other delicious traditional specialities. We’ll see if I will be able to pull myself away from their stand to try the rest of the goodies offered, though it is difficult to separate from Parmigiano Reggiano; at this point it runs through my veins.
I will be going up to Torino on Thursday and will probably stick around until Sunday. The next update will probably just be pictures of me stuffing my face with food from all around the world but I’ll try to include some substantial information between bites.
I’ve been picked up! Aside from the many Italian suitors that want to take me out for aperitivo (haha), Made In Kitchen, an Italian food website, has given me a column on their website. To them, I am the token American who has fallen deeply in love with their cuisine, excited to share my eating and drinking experiences with Italians who are hungry for an international opinion.
Every Wednesday, one of my articles will be published, exploring my discoveries of their beloved comestible specialties. The only problem? I HAVE TO WRITE THE ARTICLES IN ITALIAN! At first this proved to be an enormous challenge. Hell, I have been writing about food for the better part of 2 years, but now I have to do it in another language?! oy.
The first of my articles was published this week, and though my grammar is sub-par, I was able to get the message across that I am an absolute glutton for delicious food.
Here’s the link: An American in Parma…. Though my English speaking readers probably won’t understand the article, I consider this a serious achievement. I wrote about my experience at the Prosciutto di Parma factory. Living in Parma gives me some serious access to good eats, I may as well capitalize on my surroundings!
More articles to come, and considering my ‘bi-lingual’ writing abilities, this will definitely be an interesting development, both for Grassroots Gourmet, and my personal self worth 😉
If you want to follow my posts on Made in Kitchen, create an account, it’s really easy. The only problem is my articles will only appear on the Italian version of the site.
Keepin’ it Grassroots folks, or as they say in Italian, dedicato ai miei radici (dedicated to my roots).