This year's Salone del Gusto, organized by the Slow Food movement, was an enchanting experience, an almost dizzying culinary extravaganza, featuring more than 1000 food producers from 130 countries.
Taking place in Turin, Italy, the event's parallel Terra Madre conference delves into the role of food and farming in tackling the world’s ecological, economic and social problems.
While nothing about the event feels slow, the movement's now famed leader Carlo Petrini, advocates for slowness, even sluggishness, in our daily lives. He encourages each and every one of the event's participants, as well as everyday people, to join the slow world. In this world, food is carefully savoured, perhaps enjoyed with friends and loved ones, and different forms of knowledge, on issues ranging from how our food is made to preserving biodiversity, are carefully embraced for their potential to bring about a better future for everyone.
In the midst of the weekend's moveable feast and intellectual playground, we run into one of the leaders of ILC's 206 member organisations, Khalid Khawaldeh, from the Dana Cooperative. While we've met before (after all, the ILC too is a slowly built network of intricate relationships crafted over time), it is this time that Khalid tells us the story of his home village of Dana, Jordan. A picturesque cluster of stone cottages huddled together on a cliff, the Bedouin village, which has been inhabited for over 4000 years, sits on the edge of a natural gorge, hosts a variety of ecosystems and spans four different bio-geographical zones. With its mixture of natural beauty and history steeped in nomadic culture, Dana is captivating for eco-tourists, luring them to make stops in the village; like a fine wine, the area is one that requires careful contemplation. According to Khalid, it deserves this type of attention.
It is on this note that we go on to hear of the Dana Cooperative. As its name would suggest, the one hundred Bedouin families who comprise the cooperative advocate for collaborative approaches to preserving the community’s distinctive qualities, for recognition of their customary lands as well as for the sustainable development of Dana. There are no short cuts or quick fixes here, as there is an acute awareness that the rise of ecotourism makes the preservation of this place paramount. The relationship between the two is one that needs to be managed cautiously over time. The processes demand that the young people, women and the Dana community at large be empowered from the inside out.
The Dana Cooperative begins this process by encouraging members of the local community to take on an active socio-political role, and sensitizing a wider international audience to the community’s loss of land rights. The Cooperative also funds school fees for children and supports young people to attend university. It runs a ‘Knowledge Station’, comprising an IT room and a meeting room through which classes and activities are available to the community at large. A youth programme organized by the Dana Cooperative includes national and international exchange visits, seminars, voluntary services, training courses, and participation in festivals and exhibitions. Moreover, programmes supporting women’s empowerment includes awareness sessions about reproductive health; social, economic and political rights; and training skills for the labour market.
The Cooperative’s remaining projects concentrate on the restoration of Dana village, as well as the management of the Dana Hotel and Wadi Dana Eco-camp. The Dana Hotel was the first community run hotel in Jordan, and profits from both establishments go back to the local community. The corresponding eco-tourism projects allow the community to educate a wider audience to the community’s loss of land rights, its culture and of course, its natural heritage.
So what, in fact, is the appeal of slow? Perhaps it is that you take a little more time to enjoy the small moments, or that you find surprisingly simple solutions to problems which speed can make more complex. Or just maybe, the real appeal of slow, is the sustainability and true pride that come when communities, like Dana , consistently put in the time it takes to protect and preserve what is theirs, for the benefit of the generations to come.