Each person is different from the other, from their fellow human beings, and yet, there is an analogy between the almost eight billion people that make up the world’s population, which is the place where they live: planet Earth.
The human species has inhabited the globe for over 200,000 years, but its social environmental impact has greatly increased in the last century. In fact, the consumption of natural resources has reached the levels of actual exploitation. The consequences of this abuse are manifesting themselves in the present situation: the planet is being negatively transformed and this is clearly demonstrated by phenomena such as climate change, soil deterioration and the loss of biodiversity. However, this global issue does not always have the appropriate political and social relevance, even if there is no lack of projects, associations or habits that virtuously address the problem. And this because the phrase “small steps make big changes” is not just an aphorism but a concept that we must strive to make a reality.
Cittadellarte is an example of this commitment, given that since its establishment it has devoted itself to inspiring and producing responsible change in society through creative ideas and projects, including “Biella Città Arcipelago”: “a laboratory of territorial planning designed to bring together the activities, services and companies of the Biella area to orient them in a sustainable direction, thus improving the relationship between man and nature”. It was with these words that Cittadellarte’s director, Paolo Naldini, introduced the talk “Cibo Climavoro dalla Pianura alla Montagna” (Climavore Food from the Plain to the Mountains) held on Monday 23 May in the framework of Fondazione Pistoletto‘s exhibition-workshop dedicated to the project “Biella Città Arcipelago”. As moderator Luca Deias, director of Cittadellarte’s Journal, pointed out, this event was made possible thanks to Cittadellarte and Let Eat Bi in collaboration with Slow Food Biella, the Rice Biodistrict and Candelo’s Pro Loco, in the context of the event Candelo in Fiore. The conference was also part of the initiatives of TACT, the winning project of the 3rd edition of the Creative Living Lab call for proposals promoted by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage – General Directorate for Contemporary Creativity.
As you can guess from the title of the event, food was the central theme of the evening. In particular, one of the main objectives of the talk was to draw the participants’ attention to the emergency situation in which the Earth and mankind find themselves, focusing on the relationship between food and climate change. The choice of these topics was dictated by the acknowledgement of the importance of food in human life and the impact that food-related decisions have on the planet in issues such as biodiversity or respect for the soil.
All these themes fall within the macro-world of “Città Arcipelago”, which is why these issues were debated by Biellese speakers who, albeit through different approaches, “conduct activities in harmony with nature”, as Paolo Naldini explained. After introducing the concept of ‘archipelago city’ and how it related to the location and the topic of the event, Naldini clarified the term used in the talk’s title: climavore. To discover the origin of this word, we have to travel to northern Europe, to Scotland, to the Isle of Skye. Here, salmon farming is one of the main activities, but due to climate change and the intensity of the farming itself, the conditions of this variety of marine fauna are deteriorating. Consequently, as the director of Cittadellarte explained, “local fishermen, vendors and entrepreneurs have come together and decided to do something to safeguard the species, opting for breeding organisms that regenerate and clean the water, and banning salmon from the menus of cafés and restaurants”. This action is a concrete demonstration of what we mean by climavore, a positive action of human adaptation in favour of the improvement of nature’s conditions. A fundamental concept that Naldini invited us to reflect upon, concluding his introductory speech by suggesting the possibility of “transporting the Isle of Skye model to Biella, creating an agri-food chain that takes this objective forward”.
This was followed by the words of Armona Pistoletto, president of the association “Let Eat Bi”. Her speech focused on the concrete work that the association carries out on a daily basis together with its numerous partners. The goal that drives this organisation is the completion of small steps towards a broader improvement in regard to society and environmental issues. In addition to mentioning some of its many ongoing projects such as “Terre AbbanDonate” and the “Green Academy”, Armona emphasised the importance of food and the concept that “we can all be part of the solution, not part of the problem; we all eat and from now on we can decide to eat food that curbs climate change”. The president of the association enthusiastically invited the population to share these practices.
Once the introductory moment was over, the event got into full swing with the guests’ speeches, which moderator Luca Deias ironically described as “divided into two factions: the plain and the mountains”.
The first part of the event focused on the mountains, with a speech by Marta Foglio, trustee of the Biella’s section of Slow Food. She briefly explained the role of Slow Food as “an organisation that deals with issues and practices that make everyday food sustainable through the criteria of good, fair and clean”. These parameters are fundamental in eco-sustainable food production, since this sector currently represents one of the primary causes of destruction of the earth’s soil. For this reason, Marta Foglio listed some examples of actions or areas in which each person can implement a change, such as using seasonal products or rediscovering home cooking. According to her, “the transition from consumers who are unaware of what they eat to co-producers who choose their food responsibly is fundamental”. Subsequently, Marta anticipated the argument about the higher cost of organic and local food by stating: “Let’s eat less but choose better”. The Biellese chef then spoke about the issue of genetic erosion, i.e. the loss of biodiversity. Among the examples given were locally-sourced apples: “Biella is a land of apples, 90 per cent of the local market’s production is based on four varieties, while, in the territory, there are 200 native varieties alone. This shows the impoverishment our food has suffered”.
Speaking next, Federico Chierico offered a different approach to the issue of biodiversity. As the head of biodiversity for Slow Food Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta and co-founder of the farm “Paysage à Manger”, he recounted his own experiences in research, protection and enhancement of Alpine agricultural biodiversity, which support his view that “today we are witnessing a disconnection between communities and food, [which] represents the human factor to be repositioned at the centre of interpersonal relationships and from which to start again in order to evolve eating habits that safeguard biodiversity”. He told the audience in particular about how thanks to the testimony of an elderly lady from Valle d’Aosta the farmer was able to grasp the symbolic importance that food had in the past “of which we are orphans today”, as he sadly stated. In addition to the symbolic value of food, Federico Chierico and his farm try to convey the message that it is man that must adapt to nature and not the other way around if we want to avoid the genetic erosion mentioned by Marta Foglio. The Biellese farmer concluded with an appeal to the citizens: “biodiversity can be saved the moment you put it on people’s plates, we therefore need help and support from the communities”.
For the second part of the event, the focus shifted to the plain, with the contributions of three key figures acting within the “Piedmontese Rice Biodistrict”, an association formed in 2021 for organic production and promotion of agricultural biodiversity. As Gian Paolo Andrissi, president of the Rice Biodistrict and lecturer in Biological and Natural Sciences, explained, “this organisation was created by a group of farmers who felt the need to come together to support each other and to promote an environmentally friendly agroecological transition, also in the farming of rice”. Current government regulations do not allow official recognition of this project by the Piedmont Region, but this fact does not represent an obstacle in the sustainable path that the “Piedmontese Rice Biodistrict” is following. Besides the possibility of organic farming, the association wants to make people aware of the characteristics of the environmental crisis that is affecting the Earth and mankind. This is because, as Gian Paolo Andrissi worriedly stated, “there is not much time, the deadlines are tight and one of the fundamental steps to safeguard the planet is the reduction of carbonaceous substances in the atmosphere through agriculture”. To comply with this warning, we need to drastically reduce the use of chemical fertilisers and rely “on everything that mother nature makes available, thus adopting sustainable agronomic techniques”. To stress the seriousness of the situation, the president of the Rice Biodistrict quoted data that place Piedmont as one of the regions with the most polluted water, a phenomenon that inevitably leads to consequences for human health as well as for the soil, since, as Gian Paolo Andrissi was keen to emphasise, there is no real distinction between the two areas.
After the more technical notions shared by the president of the “Piedmontese Rice Biodistrict”, next to speak was Giuseppe Goio, owner of the farm of the same name. In his speech, the audience was able to hear about the practical side of the sustainable rice production methods adopted by the Piedmontese association. The farmer, in fact, eagerly illustrated the steps of the ‘mulching’ technique, since, as with all experiments, the beginnings “were not downhill”. The guest also explained his decision to pursue organic farming because “you can do a lot with a little on your own farm”.
It was then Marco Ducco’s turn to speak, owner of “Cascina Angiolina” and partner producer of Let Eat Bi, who shared his personal heart-felt story of a man who, midway upon the journey of his life, decided to close the family’s construction company to dedicate himself to organic farming. An arduous choice dictated by instinct and fully supported by his wife, who was sitting among the audience. Marco Ducco explained that “having grown up among bricks, the transition to the fields was not easy, so the help of other farmers was fundamental”. That’s why nobody could better describe the social aspect of the “Piedmontese Rice Biodistrict” and talk about the association’s desire to be the spark that drives people towards organic farming and, at the same time, to give support when help is needed.
The last speaker of the day was a young graduate from Turin’s Polytechnic, Elena Lazzaro, who described the university project that led her to get to know the Biella area and decide to do an internship at Cittadellarte to map the Biellese territory as research material for her thesis. Elena explained that she specifically wanted “to conclude [her] studies by carrying out a survey of the Biella area focusing on the impact of food traditions within the activities analysed”.
In addition to the presence of a certain number of speakers, the event registered an active and interested participation of the audience, which resulted in numerous questions being posed at the end of the speeches. The clarity and determination of the speakers in addressing the issues managed to convey to the audience the awareness that we must act now to safeguard the environment that surrounds us.
A change that can be implemented starting with small gestures such as those related to food choices, because, to quote one of the evening’s speakers, “every small step can lead to a big change”.