Food Artisans of the Okanagan: Your guide to the best locally crafted fare

Available in Canada and the US, April 5, 2016 (TouchWood Editions)



Guest Post: Jennifer Bitz' Slow Food 2014 Experience in Italy

My first post on my Slow Food Italy experience illicited a great response from another Slow Food attendee from the Thompson-Okanagan convivium. I asked Jennifer Bitz if I could post her reply as a guest post, and she agreed. We're hoping to create a document of these experiences for the attendees in 2016 - ourselves and others. Thanks Jennifer B for this. Great tips at the end.

by Jennifer Bitz, copyright retained by author, posted with permission

Thanks for your post, Jennifer.  I read it a few days ago now, and have been meaning to put some thoughts to paper ever since. 

Like you, I was challenged with navigating through both events.  My main goal was to learn.  I was excited when I received information on the conferences in my inbox . . . and then I opened them.  I was instantly overwhelmed. 

I knew the topic areas were right up my alley, Slow Fish, Indigenous Terra Madre and Biodiversity.  As an applied anthropologist it couldn’t be more perfect.  I did not however appreciate that this would mean three independent conferences going on at once!  Not to mention the workshop opportunities, the booth events and the organized dinners.  I closed my email. 

A few days later, I transferred the files to my IPad in anticipation of reviewing them on the plane ride over.  Which I did, in full admiration of the beehive that must be organizing the myriad of opportunities ahead, but also in fear of how to manage my time effectively.  In response to what I suspect was visible panic, I received great advice from my travel partner, Ingrid, who has lots of experience at attending this event. 

It was simple – do not expect to see it all, things will be missed, and other things will land in your lap and will be the best ever, just let it go and be in the moment. That helped a great deal.  And I remind myself of that whenever I consider just what happened over those five days.

Once I saw first hand the enormity of the event, I was not surprised to come out the funnel at the other end grappling with articulating what I learned.  While there, I found myself wide eyed, always looking for that opportunity to hear from the most compelling, to talk to the most interesting, to eat the best food and drink the finest wine.  I got all that.  And it wasn’t difficult, I didn’t have far to look, but it was intense.  And time for reflection was limited or non-existent before moving onto the next thing.

It did not help that over six nights; I got about as many hours of sleep.  Part of that resulted from being a delegate (which will relate nicely to your next post), and part of it was jet lag, and I wonder if the anticipation of being there was also playing havoc with my normally healthy sleep pattern.

One thing I do know, the experience of being in the same place as over 220,000 people from over 160 countries was mind-blowing and deserves pause to appreciate what that means. There were people from the most urban to the most rural, people from some of the highest income countries to people from some of the lowest, producers and consumers, mosaics of culture and wisdom at every turn. 

Although I live a fairly urban lifestyle, I have had the good fortune of fantastic opportunities where I have been in very remote areas and among people who look at me like I dropped from the sky given the colour of my skin, my clothes, my speech, my custom.  In these places others are the experts, and although I am (or at least try to be) a full participant, ultimately I rely on them for navigating, for getting done what needs to be done, for survival.  At Terra Madre, all of us dropped from the sky.  We were all put into this created, somewhat unnatural, temporary environment together.  The organizers provided arrows and tickets to move forward, but essentially we were each responsible for our own navigation – our own results – our own experience.  Yet, we were not alone. We were all on a similar playing field; we all bring different experience, yet we all share in the core goals and values articulated within the Slow Food mantra.  That is powerful. 

If there is one more thing to add to the already overwhelming list of options at Terra Madre, it might be a way to hone in on the cross-cultural experience.  Possibly introducing a facilitated arena for small groups of around 10 people from around the world to come together to work through a series of questions on topics of interest.  This would give voice to many people who respond well to smaller groups, and it would also have some fabulous results to help solve some individual or group challenges, and help the participants to ground their learning with a more diverse group of people than the mates they happen to be traveling with, or the individual they meet on the bus —which is hugely valuable too, don’t get me wrong, but it is not quite the same as a loosely facilitated discussion with a group you might never run into at such a large event.

So did I learn anything?  Yes, although I am still working on articulation.  Would I go again?  Yes. 

Practically, and given the beauty of hindsight how might I navigate differently?  A few ways:

  1. I would not land on the same day as the opening ceremony, I would ideally get sleep on my side and jet lag dealt with the day before the event starts
  2. I didn’t go to any tastings, there was enough going on as it was, but I think I would pick one early next time on a topic unique and interesting to me (by the time I looked at the list of tastings, there was not much left to choose from)
  3. I might look into ways to volunteer for the event itself, I find that brings one into the inner world of an event and grounds the experience more

My Beginner’s Guide to Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre  

My Slow Food pin custom-made by Edmonton silversmith Terry Juzak

The earliest I could leave Canada was 8 am, October 22, and my goal was to be seated in the Sala Azzurra (Blue Room) inside the Lingotto Fiere convention centre in Turin, Italy, listening to an international panel discuss seed sovereignty and seed saving at Slow Food’s biennial Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto, at noon on October 23.

My trip would take 18 hours of travel time from here to there – that’s 13 hours of being wedged into an airplane seat. I packed only carry-on luggage as I needed to be both efficient and lucky to make my Edmonton-Toronto, Toronto-Frankfurt, and Frankfurt-Turin connections. I was both.

I had done my best to make a schedule of talks I wanted to see, of the Slow Food Canada meeting on Saturday, and the one Taste Workshop on Sunday evening, Mexican Chilies with Zurrita, I had managed to book for my husband and myself. Otherwise, I was hoping to go from booth to booth finding and interviewing seed savers from around the world. It wasn’t much, but it was the best attempt at a “plan” that I could make past “In the Beginning It was a Seed” in order to make the most of my five days in at Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.[1] Let’s call them SdG/TM for short. (If you don’t know what these two terms mean, I'll be publishing a “The Lay of the Slow Food Land” posting soon.)

I arrived on time at 10 am, figured out the bus from the airport and took the metro to the Lingotto Fiere. My pre-purchased “Print @ Home” general admission 5-day entrance pass worked and I bypassed hundreds of people snaking along ticket purchase line. I picked my way through the trade show halls to the back corner of Pad 3 where the Sala Azzurra was located. I handed over my passport in exchange for a translation headset. Miraculously, I was seated and ready to take in the seed panel discussion at 12 pm.

So far, so good. But as the size and scope of the space and the activities of the SdG/TM/Taste Workshops began to sink in that day, I had the sinking feeling in my gut that I was woefully unprepared for the rest of the SdG/TM experience, or rather adventure. I was missing a lot, unaware of a lot, unable to navigate the enormous volume of options. I often felt both frenzied and paralyzed within moments of each other.

It was a common refrain I heard from other first-timers too. So I’m writing this now, while it’s fresh and before the glow of nostalgia edges out the many times I muttered to myself (and to a few other first-timers going through similar waves of emotion), “Would have been nice to know about THIS, wouldn’t it?”

This series is meant to be a sort of White Paper to hopefully be of help to other first-timers. And maybe as a reminder to myself for the 2016 event. I have a feeling I’ll go again, with hard-earned experience of how to squeeze even more out of this unique experience.

Next Post: To Delegate or Not To Delegate, That Was The Question.


[1] From what I understand, Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto used to be two separate events, held at different times. They are now held in unison, under one roof and entrance to the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre is now under one ticket. Taste Workshops, which were by far my favourite activity at the event, was totally unknown to me. Also there are “Dinner Dates” which were specific dinners around Turin that you could have signed up for on the program. I have heard that these are incredible too. Again, many were sold-out early.


Calling All Food Bloggers to Food Bloggers of Canada 2014, Oct 17-19, Vancouver, BC

@foodbloggersCA #FBC2014

Our friends over at Food Bloggers of Canada (@foodbloggersCA and on here on Facebook) have an amazing conference organized. And it kicks off on Friday!

We wish we could be there because our friends Julie Van Rosendaal of Dinner with Julie, Dianne Jacob author of of Will Write for Food and Michelle Peters-Jones of The Tiffin Box will be hanging out in the fabulous Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver and schmoozing with chef Ned Bell. Sob.

(The only reason I'm not there, is that I'll be in Edmonton at LitFest: Edmonton's Nonfiction Festival, of which I'm the president of the board of directors and the festival's main groupie.)

There are still a few spots left. The program is bloody amazing. Take a peek and get food blogging. I'll be following the action on social media. The event hashtag is #FBC2014.


École d'Été sur l'Agriculture Urbaine à Montréal le 18 au 22 août, 2014

Montreal, here I come.

For the past two weeks, I've been listening to Radio-Canada, translating and practicing my book talk en français. I'm very much looking forward to being in Montreal next week to be a part of a panel on Tuesday afternoon and deliver a 1-hour book talk that evening.This conference / school looks like a wonderful series of events, all around urban agriculture.


"Encounters with Iceland" at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, Kelowna, BC

"Encounters with Iceland" sculpture exhibit, Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, Kelowna, BC (image provided by Mission Hill Family Estates)

On Saturday, June 21, I was among the guests at Mission Hill's official opening of its new sculpture exhibit, "Encounters With Iceland." I hadn't been to Mission Hill in a while. Keeping up with all the new boutique wineries, distilleries, cideries, meaderies and eateries in the Okanagan Valley seems to be a losing battle, frankly, so I'm not prone to repeat visits to places I've already been several times over. But I'm grateful that I was on the guest-list.

Grateful? Yes, actually, which is funny because as I said, it's been a busy 2014 already. Launches! Openings! Special Events! And other Must-Attend happenings had me a little road-weary by the first day of summer. Pathetic, but true. And in true journalistic fashion, I was verging on becoming jaded, the writer's equivalent of being a snivelling whiner.

Mission Hill, however, knows how to create an occasion, and with the invite-only cachet -- a small gathering of journalists and Mission Hill Family Estate Wine Club members, plus a few other friends of the winery, I suspect -- plus it was a major international sculpture exhibition opening right here, in the valley. Furthermore, the sculptor of the 42 pieces, Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, would be in attendance from Reykavik, Iceland. Iceland seems to be punching well above its weight class drawing half of Western Canada to its geysers and Nordic-chic cultural coolness these days. Why would I not go?

(Read the rest over at my Okanagan Food & Wine Writers Workshop blog.)