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:
- 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
- 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)
- 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