The Mercati della Terra or Slow Food Earth Market is held every other Saturday in Milano Italy at the Fabbrica del Vapore, an old fabrication warehouse that has been transformed into shops and restaurants. I traveled via il treno veloce, fast train, from Torino on the 3rd Saturday in October. I arrived at the market at 10 am and was warmly greeted by market managers Alessandro and Paolo.
A gustatory tour of the market began with espresso from l’Art Caffe who served us presidia coffee from Guatemala. Presidia are projects that involve food communities in safeguarding native breeds, plant varieties and food products (bread, cheese, cured meats, wines, etc.). We then sampled Tipico Lodigiano, a delicious aged cheese produced in nearby Lodi, the hometown of mia nonna (my grandmother) Secondina Granata.
Around 11am, Alessandro asked me if I wanted to try some local handcrafted bier, to which I replied “it’s noon somewhere” … and the real slow food market soon ensued. I took a seat at a nearby table, which was quickly covered with cups of bier, large round loaves of fresh bread, sausage & cheese. Even though I am gluten intolerant, I could not resist trying, and eventually gorging myself on, the fresh bread made from locally grown and milled wheat. Note: I am writing this 2 days after visiting Milano and have yet to suffer the ill effects of my gluten intolerance. Thus posing the question, am I truly gluten intolerant or simply can no longer stomach the GMO merde cranked out by US agribusiness?
We were soon joined by three generations of Alessandro & Paolo’s families, in-laws and friends … each of whom would shop the market and add to the ever growing feast that now covered three tables and included countless bottles of wine. Wine appears to be the essential catalyst for slowing any meal to a savory pace. We ate, drank and shared stories, many of which were about New Orleans and crawfish, until the market closed at 2:30.
Alessandro and Paolo spoke of their motivation for working at the Earth Market to preserve and promote local the food of Milan and the Lombardy region. They both have infant children and became concerned by the westernization and degradation of their native food culture. They are keenly aware of the incredibly high obesity rate in America and how poor quality industrialized food is a major contributor to the epidemic. Most importantly, they enjoy the taste of good food, which they found missing in the American fast food that was overtaking their culture. They appreciate how good food energizes the body while commercial food leaves one with a bloated and listless feeling. They understand that food is only truly good when it is both clean and fair. Thus, they dedicate themselves to Slow Food’s mission of Good, Clean and Fair Food … both for themselves and their young families.
Milan sits at the crossroads of the old and contemporary worlds. The city is well known for its ornate old world architecture, much of which was crafted by the famous stone carvers of Milan. Milan is also Italy’s financial center and one of the world’s most influential cities for contemporary design, particularly in the fields of fashion, furniture and architecture. However, the juxtaposition of old and new influences creates a visual tapestry that is quite difficult to digest or comprehend as contemporary sky scrapers obtrusively dot the landscape where historic old neighborhoods once existed.
After the market, Alessandro drove me to the center of the city so I could play tourist before making my return to Torino. I was rendered breathless by my first sight of the Duomo di Milano, the gigantic and ornate stone-carved cathedral in the city’s center. Yet, I was totally dumbfounded by Trenitalia’s brand new bullet train sitting in the middle of the piazza in front of the Duomo. This tacky marketing campaign made me briefly wish for the second coming so I could witness Jesus overturning the bright red choo-choo onto its side. The gorgeous fountain outside the Castello Sforzesco was overshadowed by a gargantuan Time Square-like billboard of a male fashion model. Milano Centrale train station is also a beautiful old carved stone building that is adorned with countless marble statues. Yet, every single turnstile is an advertisement for the golden arches.
I now understood why Alessandro and Paolo were so driven to preserve their culture. I now understood why Carlo Petrini and friends were driven to launch the Slow Food movement in Northern Italy in 1986.
The alliance between America and Northern Europe became considerably stronger in the 1980′s, largely due to the strong ties between the Reagan and Thatcher regimes. The American fast food industry invaded Europe in the 80′s in a manner similar to the Allied invasion of WWII. Small farmers and artisan food producers soon fell under the onslaught of burgers, sodas and buckets o’chicken in a manner similar to which the Nazis crumbled beneath allied troops, planes and tanks. The fast, disposable and convenient “American Way” was marketed as making life easier and therefore better. Thus, the run for the border was met with little resistance. That is until the clown and the colonel crossed into Northern Italy and ran into a group of idealistic traditionalists that valued the taste of good food over the transparent promise of a more convenient way to live.
Good, Clean and Fair Food is well-worth the effort … especially when it is shared with good friends and lots of wine on a gorgeous day in Milano.
Epilogue: The 3rd Saturday in October is special to me as that is the traditional day when Alabama, my alma mater, plays our oldest rival Tennessee. I wore my crimson to Milano for two reasons; 1) it was game day and wearing anything else would have be blasphemous, and 2) my Italian grandparents Ettore and Secondina came from small villages near Milan and I wanted to represent my home in their hometown. The tailgate party that my Italian hosts shared with me at the Milano market is one I will never forget and hope to one day return when they come to New Orleans.