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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Italy celebrates 'slow food'
tagliatelle pasta
Italy takes great pride in its traditional dishes
By Frances Kennedy in Bologna, Italy

People who have worked to preserve traditional farming and cooking methods worldwide have been awarded prizes in Italy.

The Italian Slow Food movement, which campaigns for traditional cuisine, has honoured 13 individuals and groups for their efforts to save and promote the world's heritage of tastes, flavours, animals and vegetable species.

The movement was born in 1986 in the northern Italian town of Bra, with the brief of combating the frenetic pace of modern life, which means we often eat badly and in a rush.

The ceremony, at Europe's oldest university in Bologna, northern Italy, was meant to encourage those who fight to preserve or enhance traditional tastes and traditions.

The prize-winners included:

  • An environmentalist who has revived the tradition of transhumance - shepherding along centuries-old routes in central Spain
  • A Turkish beekeeper who managed to save a local species from extinction
  • A woman who introduced dairy and milk production to Mauritania

The winners had been selected by Slow Food members around the world and a jury of 450 journalists and public figures.

Carlo Petrini
Slow Food President Carlo Petrini bemoans the fate of Britain's Stilton cheese

The loudest applause, and one of the five special jury prizes, went to Maria Mikhailovna Girenko, a 71-year-old Russian woman who has dedicated her life to collecting seeds at the Vavilov Institute of Research (VIR) in St Petersburg. It has one of the largest germoplasm banks in the world.

Now retired, Mrs Girenko still works with students and has influenced generations of scientists with her expertise. She believes that lab research must be placed at the service of people, and not follow purely commercial objectives.

The youngest award-winner was Raul Antonio Manuel, from Chinantla, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Any gastronome who is not an environmentalist is stupid, and any environmentalist who is not a gastronome is sad

Carlo Petrini

Under his guidance, the small Indian community of Rancho Grande has revived the cultivation of vanilla from traditional orchids, and improved its quality coffee beyond recognition.

He has encouraged the community to give up some of their agricultural land for a nature reserve, pool their resources and avoid the use of pesticides and hormones.

The other prizes went to:

  • People trying to preserve breeds of animals or plants that are dying out
  • Scientists working with indigenous peoples, helping them to retain their agricultural and culinary traditions
  • People fighting to build small local economies around the natural and biological cultivation of products, as their ancestors did

The aim of the Slow Food movement was to preserve traditional foods and beverages that risked disappearing.

Fast pizzas are replacing traditional varieties

But as the association has grown, the link between tradition, biodiversity, the environment and sustainable development has become more and more clear.

"We cannot just be a group of food lovers in the wealthy West. The area where biodiversity is most at risk is in the developing world and we must be there," said Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food.

"Any gastronome who is not an environmentalist is stupid, and any environmentalist who is not a gastronome is sad," he told the audience.

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