With the Slow Food Movement’s signature red snail logo becoming synonymous with ethical and conscious farming over the last thirty years, the organisation is a continuing success story in the urgent need to re-diversify our farming methods worldwide.
Slow Food is a grassroots organization striving to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions. In over 160 countries across the world, activists are helping raise awareness about the problems with mass farming and food production. Their mission is simple: to ensure everyone has access to good, clean and fair food.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Edie Mukiibi, the Vice-President of Slow Food International. From his home in Uganda, Edie has been an Executive Board Member of Slow Food International since 2013, and Managing Executive Director for Slow Food Uganda since 2015.
Speaking with passion, he sheds light on the story of Slow Food: how food has become the focal point for real change, what it means to achieve the sustainable development goals, and the ecological transition we are all talking about in this period of crisis.
Hi Edie, thank you for talking to us! Can you tell us in a nutshell, what is the Slow Food movement and what is the primary goal?
Slow food is a movement that brings together activists, producers, cooks, consumers… and everyone who believes that we can make a change in the food system. The current food system is broken in so many ways, in terms of environmental structure, lack of equity, and a lot of injustices to small-scale farmers who lose their land to mass production. We’re also thinking in terms of polices, legal framework, rights for communities and small independent producers. So all these issues bring together activists in a big movement to respond to an urgent need to turn things around and change the system.
The organisation works in over 160 countries around the world to recognise the rights of indigenous people, and the fundamental right that every human being must have access to good and fair food. Our main role is to defend food diversity, because this is the key to the future of food in the world. We’re at danger of losing much more than the product we put on the plate – we’ve already lost species of plants and animals which are integral for the ecosystem, and we’re continuing to do so. Losing biodiversity means losing knowledge, culture and connection with the planet. The goal of Slow Food is to preserve diversity in all these ways.
You have been working for Slow Food for 7 years now, mostly for projects in Uganda. What progress do you see since the time you have started? Just to understand better what has been done in practice.
Losing biodiversity means losing knowledge, culture and connection with the planet.
A lot of it comes down to education. Running schools and community gardens has been one of the most important things for us for the past six or seven years. These gardens have brought communities of around 30,000 young people together, with a focus on education and the practical elements of producing food locally and ecologically. We also bring young leaders to the food sector; leadership is very important, so we’re focusing on training young people to understand the principles of sustainable food systems and the right direction to be going in to succeed.
What about other countries, such as France, where are many already established food companies?
In places like France the aim is to preserve traditional techniques, knowledge and recipes. Things like raw milk cheese, mountain communities, small-scale wineries… we choose the most pressing issues in that particular country and focus on these. In some countries the struggle is to protect plants, in others it’s food sovereignty, or heritage and culture. We don’t have one uniform direction, but rather three broad strategic goals for Slow Food International, which I think is key.
Why is food such a central issue when it comes to the environment and biodiversity in general?
Food has become one of the most critical things in the world, not only for us but also for many other organizations and institutions. This is because food is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis which we have now – because companies are of course looking for profit, power and land-grabbing. Many things are linked to how we eat and what we eat. So for Slow Food, as the world’s biggest movement working to change food systems, our only option is to accelerate our actions and mobilise producers and consumers to stick to the right way of production.
Food production can be one of the biggest solutions to the current crisis if we handle it in a good, clean and fair way.
On the flip side, food production can also be one of the biggest solutions to the current crisis if we handle it in a good, clean and fair way. So Slow Food places a lot of emphasis on supporting small-scale farmers and recognising them as people who contribute most to the food system.
How can we make a difference on a personal level?
There are so many ways an individual person can have influence, but the most effective one to start is voting with your wallet – purchase power – adapting how and where you spend your money to support local initiatives when you can. It starts with knowing the right things to buy: supporting local economies and producers, choosing the shortest distances our food can travel, reading the label and making the right choice when you buy a product from the shelf. Always try to support products which are linked to the terroir, to your local communities, and also which are produced with responsibility.
Producers and communities who are working on climate-friendly production models often face a lot of pressure to take care of their land, to find the resources and to find the market. Trying to place a proper market value on products which are responsibly produced, which might be a lot more than the cheapest equivalent, is a real challenge. So it’s very important on an individual level to look out for these communities, support them by using their products, to reach out to them during the events, and if it’s possible financially contribute to the work these communities are creating.
Producers and communities who are working on climate-friendly production models often face a lot of pressure to take care of their land, to find the resources and to find the market. Trying to place a proper market value on products which are responsibly produced, which might be a lot more than the cheapest equivalent, is a real challenge.
Do you think the pandemic has aggravated the global food crisis? For example if you’re in London during lockdown you order from Amazon, you shop in the supermarket, so you’re often supporting the big corporations rather than small producers.
Yes, the pandemic has made access to ethically sourced food impossible in some places. Lockdown has forced the closure of farmers markets, made it impossible for people to travel to the countryside to get fresh products, and in many cases, we have to rely on the chain supermarkets. But there have also been good changes, with more focus on hyper-local shopping out of necessity. Slow Food communities have strengthened during the pandemic, and we see many farmers markets opening up and working with local authorities.
The pandemic has made it difficult for companies or producers to move food from rural areas to cities, but at the same time we see different Slow Food networks starting to spring up, especially through online marketing and platforms. The pandemic has also encouraged a lot of creative initiatives, where consumers reach out to communities and vice versa in order to access fresh and clean food.
Do you have any resources where someone for example living in London can refer to?
Yes, everything we do is very regional, so Slow Food London focuses mainly on raising awareness. One of the richest cities on the planet also has extreme poverty: we run school garden projects, teach people to cook and shop, speak in universities and community centres, and respond to every single consultation on food from City Hall and DEFRA that affects the health and wellbeing of those that live in our city. On a most basic level, you can join Slow Food London for £2 a month and support our projects.
The absolute most important thing is that we preserve the remaining diversity on the planet. Without this, we will have a terrible future of food.
There’s been a lot of attention recently about overfishing the seas, and the damage to the ecosystems done by overconsumption of certain fish like salmon and tuna. What is your opinion on how this ties in with the slow food movement?
Overfishing is becoming a global problem not only for marine ecosystems but also to freshwater ecosystems. The effects of over-consumption and increasing demand for a few highly endangered fish species is of great concern to fisheries and the biodiversity of the waters. In many cases, laws and regulations don’t consider the ecosystems or individuals who survive on sustainably managed fisheries. We run a Slow Fish campaign aiming at exactly this – promoting small scale responsible fisheries. We also believe that consumers need to be educated away from the most popular fish to be more adventurous, so they can make a well-informed choice and eat fish which are less in-demand. There is a dedicated biennial event in Genoa, Italy that brings the topical discussion on aquatic ecosystems and fisheries on the table.
What do you think is the importance of your partnerships with well known chefs in bringing global attention to the slow food movement?
Chefs and cooks are a very important link between producers and consumers, and make important decisions on behalf of the consumers. We work with very well-known chefs like Angela Hartnett and Raymond Blanc to help our cause and raise awareness for food that has been responsibly produced, handled and prepared with the future of the planet in mind. Through the Slow Food Cooks alliance, Slow Food brings together cooks from restaurants, bistros, cantines and street kitchens who support small producers, the custodians of biodiversity. This network is really inclusive though, and is not limited to only celebrity chefs, but all cooks who believe and follow the Slow Food philosophy.
Finally then, what do you think is the future of food?
I think the absolute most important thing is that we preserve the remaining diversity on the planet. Without this, we will have a terrible future of food, so diversity – by which I mean maintaining the biological and cultural variety and variability of the ecosystem – is really the key to ensuring a good future for us when it comes to food. It’s the foundation of life and the foundation of our food system.