Slow Food Europe Addresses the Role of Cities in Preserving Local Food Heritage in the EU Week of Regions and Cities

With a workshop and roundtable discussion, Slow Food Europe took part in the European Week of Regions and Cities, the four-day event, taking place in Brussels, Belgium every year. On October 9, a transnational workshop was organized to present experiences and policy recommendations of three-year-long project, “Slow Food-CE: Culture, Heritage, Identity and Food,” which was designed to improve cities’ capacities to showcase and enhance the value of their gastronomic heritage. Meanwhile, in the evening, various stakeholders were invited to a roundtable discussion to talk about short food supply chains.

Experiences of the Slow Food–Central Europe Project

European, national, regional, and local government officials and politicians gathered for a workshop to learn about the governance structures needed to support sustainable food systems, and the city’s role in creating value around gastronomic heritage. The workshop was organized in the framework of the project “Slow Food-CE: Culture, Heritage, Identity and Food,” aiming to share the experiences from five project cities: Venice (Italy), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Brno (Czech Republic), Kecskemét (Hungary), and Krakow (Poland). Through various food education and cultural events, as well as sustainable tourism initiatives organized for citizens, school children, and tourists, these cities are aiming to protect and represent their local gastronomic heritage.  

“The whole Slow Food-Central Europe project is rooted in the Slow Food concept of “new gastronomy,” which is a very holistic approach to food, recognizing strong connections between people, the planet, and what we put on our plate” said Ursula Hudson, president of Slow Food Germany, who opened the workshop. She noted that the gastronomy of cities is an enormous yet often underestimated resource, adding that “the cultural heritage of food can leverage environmental sustainability and social integration.” 

Ursula Hudson – Slow Food Central Europe: Culture, Heritage, Identity and Food 

Piercarlo Grimaldi, a cultural anthropologist and former rector of the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG), discussed the findings of a study on culture, heritage, identity and food, carried out by the UNISG and Slow Food, emphasizing that “cities are beginning to adopt practices of short food supply chains by buying food that comes from nearby surroundings.” In this way good, clean and fair food with its “immaterial narrative” reaches cities. A UNISG academic explained that it is crucial to link food to identity and bring emotional value to it because then food becomes closely related to biodiversity and food preservation and valorization. “More than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. We are certain that cities can be a protagonist in the process of recovery of food; it is not only about the countryside.”

Representatives of Venice and Dubrovnik, two partner cities of the Slow Food-Central Europe project, presented connections between the cities and local, traditional food. Ivo Kara-Pešić, leader of the Kinookus Association in Dubrovnik, told the audience that while carrying out the project, it became clear that out a few hundred shops and restaurants in Stradun, the main street in the historic center of Dubrovnik, only one shop was selling local food products. 

“It was interesting to note that the city of Dubrovnik did not have a department specifically dedicated to food; that spoke volumes about the role that local traditional food played in the city. But things have started to change: throughout the research and our exhibitions, we have been able to demonstrate that we have an incredible food heritage.”

Ivo Kara-Pešić – Slow Food Central Europe: Culture, Heritage, Identity and Food 

Isabella Marangoni, officer in charge of the European Policies Department of the City of Venice, focused on the work that the City of Venice is doing to develop a transnational strategy for gastronomic heritage valorization. 

“Through mass-production, we risk losing the connection between identity and food, and everyone knows the damage it has had on biodiversity. What cities are missing is a shared strategy, which would value our cultural gastronomic heritage, and use its potential as an engine to foster economic development sustainably.” 

In response, the city of Venice has recently organized SAÓR Saperi e Sapori Veneziani in Festa, a three day festival on gastronomic heritage, where besides entertaining food events, they brought various stakeholders to address the importance of preserving the most authentic gastronomic heritage of Venice and ensuring its accessibility. 

Isabella Marangoni – Slow Food Central Europe: Culture, Heritage, Identity and Food 

Maciej Hofman, Policy Officer at the European Commission (Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture), presented different cultural projects and programs supported by the Commission, which had a focus on food as a cultural heritage. He noted that since 2018, which was declared the European Year of Cultural Heritage, culture heritage had been placed in a broader context, in which food was included. 

Roundtable Discussion on Food Supply Chains

In the evening, Slow Food Europe gathered more than 15 stakeholders – representatives from the EU institutions, local authorities, retailers, food producers, and civil society to discuss if cities and regions have all the tools necessary to develop short food supply chains. The discussion centered around the gaps, challenges, and barriers to the implementation of short supply chains in Europe, as well as positive examples and opportunities, from which to be inspired.  

Several cities including Copenhagen and Paris were named as positive examples of public procurement: the city purchases food from local farmers for public canteens, schools, or hospitals. Meanwhile, in German cities, the production of organic food in surrounding areas is too low to meet demand, making short food supply chains impossible. The issues of the need for large volumes and strict standards were voiced-applied both to production and processing – both of which presented a great challenge to compete with mass-production and retail. 

The topic of labeling emerged several times as well; stakeholders, representing civil society emphasized that labels are not the most important as short food supply chains are strongly based on trust. Participants were also hopeful about the newly proposed “Farm to Fork Strategy” as it brought food high on the EU’s agenda. 

Short food supply chains are a topic at the heart of Slow Food’s grassroots work, by encouraging consumers to eat locally produced food and supporting farmers in gaining access to local markets. The event was hosted by Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance restaurant “Les Filles.”

Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe