Terra Madre: For a Better Food System

author: ylva johannesson

Terra Madre is a global network of food communities, launched by Slow Food, with the ambition of promoting small scale farmers, fishermen, breeders and food artisans who’s approach to food production protects the environment and communities. The network brings them together with a chefs and academics to join forces to work together for a better food system.

Two words I take with me from this year’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto are ‘biodiversity’ and ‘culture’. Both are a celebration of variety, uniqueness, heritage, and directly related to our food system.

Our current industrial food environment has made us accustomed to what Slow Food International’s Vice President, chef and author, Alice Waters calls ‘Fast Food Values’. We live in world where food, diets and behaviour celebrate uniformity, speed and cheapness. According to Fast Food Values, food should look exactly the same, everywhere. Uniformity helps us feel familiar, it comforts us and makes us feel safe; cooking is something we watch chefs do on TV, rather than something we take time to do ourselves.

But the best things in life take time.


Slow Food principles celebrate the fact that food is grown with respect for soil, air, water, plants,and animals. One of the most striking examples of what biodiversity is was showcased in the ‘Seed Exhibition’ in the main food market at Terra Madre. To enter the exhibition you walk through two walls of perfectly uniform yellow maize – standard corn on the cob that we would expect to find in our local supermarket. By contrast, on the other side of the wall we were introduced to more than 50 different varieties of maize from all over the word, all different shapes, sizes and colours. This visual display spoke for itself; highlighting the fact that we are so used to seeing only one type of food despite other varieties and species being available.

Monoculture agriculture uses more pesticides, fertilisers and GMOs, and provides less variety for pollinators like bees to feed on. Indigenous chefs can help preserve biodiversity and local ecosystems through their knowledge of how to forage and prepare edible plants and heritage breeds. Knowledge of food and cooking is not new but we need to revive cultural acceptance of different food and celebrate diversity; chefs are a big part of changing our food system for the better.

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