Mother Earth Day

Today is Terra Madre Day. Heather Parker digs up some cool ways to celebrate.

09 Dec 2009
Heather Parker

News24 eco-warrior columnist Andreas Späth, says not to hold our collective breath that Hopenhagen will save the world. So as the Earth Summit proceeds on its worthy but questionable way, we’re pinning some hopes, instead, on the revolutionary goings-on in vegetable patches the world over.

Thursday is the first worldwide Terra Madre (Mother Earth) day, established to celebrate food production which is, to use the payoff line of the Slow Food organisation, ‘good, clean and fair’. The good refers to flavour, the rest is about taking care to not harm the environment (with agricultural chemicals or carbon miles), and to treat with fairness those involved in food production (so no slave labour in the coffee plantations). The idea, really, is to celebrate the superiority of thoughtfulness and diversity, over commercialism and uniformity.

The growth of the Slow Food movement has been exponential. It was started in Italy on December 10, 20 years ago; today it has spread to 132 countries, and has more than 100 000 members.

Its popularity makes a great deal of sense. Cold-room tomatoes in a cellophane bag from the shop that’s open until 9 are fantastically convenient and cost-effective (they don’t bruise easily), but they’re barely related, in smell and taste, to what you get when you pick a sun-warmed tomato off the vine. A chicken that’s forced to size with hormones and growth accelerators is flabby and tasteless compared to a natural-fed, free range or organic chicken.

But Slow Food is about much more than taste and general squeamishness (valid though these are as motivators to do things a better way). The movement also has much to do with looking after communities, and looking after the earth, as the line-up of international feast-fests planned for today suggests.

International feast fests:

•    In France, a Slow Food convivium has adopted the local primary school canteens as a project. Unemployed and disabled people are enlisted to prepare and serve a fully organic meal once a week, using food sourced within a 30km radius. Today, they’re presenting the project to the world, as a win-win for societies vulnerable.
•    In Bangladesh, there’s a rally planned to protest the proliferation of fast-food chains – not because they don’t like the odd Big Mac, but because of what these chains signify for small-scale and diverse food production, and biodiversity.
•    In Germany, there’s a long-table meal designed to highlight the connection between our food choices and the health of the environment. Specifically, the event will draw attention to the downside of GMO crops and foods, and to the focus that’s needed to achieve true sustainability.
•    In Kenya, there’s an indigenous seed exchange which will culminate with the planting of a garden which will serve as a seed bank for future generations. 

You don’t have to be a member of Slow Food in order to live the Slow Food way. Choosing organic at supermarkets is a good start, as is buying at farmers’ markets, and from small and artisanal producers; buying seasonal produce, locally produced, is another move in the right direction. Of course, growing your own, and discovering (or rediscovering) the basic but immense joy of picking your own vegetables for supper, understanding what it took to get them to your plate, is at the heart of the movement. Earthy can be unexpectedly charismatic.

There is a plethora of events planned within South Africa:

* In the Western Cape, there’s an organic food fair at the Pinelands Community Hall from noon to 9pm (contact: +27 21 761 2373); a Sustain Fair at Appelsbosch Vlei Farm, Swellendam (contact 0729960641); and the launch of a new convivium at the Kwalapa Organic Wholefoods Centre at Montebello, Newlands, Cape Town (contact
* Along the Garden Route, there’s a “Bread and Butter” taste workshop at Ile de Pain in Knysna (contact: +27824556240).
* In the Eastern Cape, there’s a Women’s Farmers’ Market at St Mark’s Mission (contact: 27.21.761 2373/ 083 281 7198).
* In the Free State, there’s an African Pot at the Phillip Smith Hall, Welkom (contact: 0783368567).
* In Johannesburg, there’s a Small Producers’ gathering at Cheese Gourmet in Linden, Johannesburg (contact +27114425201).

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