In June 2018, the Slow Food-CE project celebrated the completion of its first year

In June, the Slow Food-CE project celebrated the completion of its first year. A year that set the agenda for the project, defined and organized the participants, and unearthed a clear path towards 2020.

The Slow Food-CE project is a joint initiative aimed at promoting and protecting the gastronomic heritage of Central Europe, a region undergoing huge changes, with many traditions at risk. 5 cities, across 5 different countries, were chosen and grouped together, each city tasked with developing a program of mapping and safeguarding of gastronomic resources, through field work and research. Each city focused on a project tailored to it, and its vision for the future. Each city to become a beacon within the region, of gastronomic tradition, and a model for other cities to follow.

Slow Food, in its role as lead partner, has coordinated and organized the project, helping the groups in each city clarify their roles. At this year’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, the fruits of the year’s labor will be unveiled. Each partner group will present the action plan for the following year. Getting to this point has been no easy task, the variety between the groups ranges from cultural and linguistic differences, to local matters and different levels of experience.

For example, experience has held the Croatian partners, Kinookus, in good stead. Slow Food-CE is a sort of graduation from the Essedra project, a Balkans focused initiative that they have been involved with. The transfer was a matter of adding a more precise and concerted spin on the experience garnered from Essedra. Most of all, says Kinokuus project manager Ivo Kara-Pešić, it meant that they knew how things worked, and what the first year had in store: groundwork. The first six months of Slow Food-CE were almost entirely dedicated to setting up the project, building and organizing the network of contacts for the various activities. This put the project in an interesting position, the groups like Dubrovnik had the means, and almost a responsibility, to set the pace for the other partners, whilst also providing support and advice to help them develop in line with each other.

The Slow Food-CE activities that will be realize at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto will be the opportunity for each of the partners to present their branch of the project and the scope of their activity. Each partner has identified a pilot action, an initiative which puts into practice the research and work of the project. Dubrovnik’s pilot action will take the shape of an art exhibition, while in Brno, education and schools will be the target.

The pilot actions point to the most practical element of the Slow Food-CE project. It is not just about data collection and the mapping of a city’s gastronomy, there is a concerted effort to find a way to express the findings in peoples’ everyday lives, into the heart of our cities. The hope is not just that the pilot actions will launch long lasting initiatives within the cities in which they are introduced, but to serve as a model for the future, and the project as a whole to attest to a process, to be undertaken by other cities in Central Europe, with real tangible results at the end.

As things stand though, there is still a long way to go. The inherent differences within the territories make it hard to relate each challenge directly to another. Even though in many cases the problems are shared, the reasons and contributing factors are totally variable. It is finding the middle ground for this that has proved a major hurdle in setting a model of action that can be applied to all of the territories involved. On top of this, collaboration is hindered by language, none of the five territories share a language and so joint work can sometimes lead to nuances or details getting lost in translation. 
None of these issues are insurmountable, however, as has been already demonstrated. With all partner groups gathered together in the same city, having struggled to understand each other throughout a lengthy working day, they went out in the evening to fraternize. During the evening, any issues with comprehension faded away, as so eloquently described by Ivo Kara-Pešić “the lingua franca was Slow Food, the language that we all speak and understand”.

Meanwhile, the many obvious differences masked great similarities between various territories and the challenges that they faced, despite different contexts. The clearest example of this can be seen in Dubrovnik and Venice’s status as tourist hotspots. Both spectacularly beautiful cities, the world’s eternal obsession with Venice has been recently matched by Dubrovnik, as it has opened its gates (and its harbor) to hordes of tourists attracted by the beauty and culture of the old walled city, and its relatively low prices. This is all well and good, but what of the locals and their culture? As in Venice, the unbridled growth of tourism in Dubrovnik has driven many of the city’s residents from their homes, as every possible structure is converted into accommodation. Meanwhile, cruise ships pass through the harbor every day, causing immeasurable damage to the local environment and fauna, and shifting the local culture of living towards a seasonal and homogenized shadow of itself.

The Slow Food-CE project is designed to prevent that, to maintain the biodiversity and gastronomic traditions that make the Central European region so rich, and to do so in a way that puts an emphasis on the quality of the food that we eat, and the work of the people who produce it. With one year down and two more to go, the meeting at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is an important milestone, and will shed light on the road ahead.