Food for the social good

27 September 2022

Food for the social good

Food for the social good: cooperatives, virtuous value chains and solidarity projects at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2022.

Food not just as a political and cultural tool, but a symbol of tradition and source of joy: food can promote social integration, rehabilitation and social justice. Food that acts for the social good.

“Food-based social cooperatives, from production and processing to catering, waste recovery and food education together represent the vanguard of civil society. For our association, these cooperatives are fundamental actors upon which real communities can be built,” explains Raoul Tiraboschi, vice president of Slow Food Italia.

Social cooperatives: values, experiences and goals

We start in Agrigento, where Senagelese-born Sicilian Mareme Cisse lives and works. She arrived in Italy in 2004 and chose to dedicated her life to cooking: today she runs the Ginger – people&food restaurant, a project of the Al Kharub social cooperative. “In the restaurant there more than ten young people who have found employment,” she tells us. “These people need to be included and helped, not only through food and cooking, but in the social context of Agrigento.” A former winner of the Cous Cous Fest in San Vito Lo Capo and the program Cuochi d’Italia, she is part of the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance, and proposes innovative cuisine that expresses multiple cultural traditions, from Sicily to Senegal, through the promotion of local products and Slow Food Presidia. At Terra Madre she presented her Sama Gergent Couscous, renamed “My Agrigento,” with Sambucano Lamb, Cerasuolo di Vittoria plums and almonds and honey from the Valley of the Temples.

The San Michele Arcangelo farm is a social cooperative located in the hills of the Marche region, between Corridonia from Monte San Giusto. Established in 2007, it offers employment opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The farm stretches across four hectares of orchards and ten hectares of vineyards, producing compotes, pickle, and wines. “These young people are finding a gateway to integration in the world of work through agriculture and wine production. It’s something they can all be proud of,” explains the  President of the cooperative, Marco Villani.

The Inchiostro Società Cooperativa Sociale is an training institution based near Cremona, with an educational restaurant that combines knowledge of the local area, careful ingredient research and culinary innovation. One example of this is the production of nougat, a typical product in the local area, made with the bitter root of Soncino (included on the Slow Food Ark of Taste), a long bitter snapdragon that has always been considered a dish for the poor. “In recent months we’ve launched a vocational training project for disabled youth,” Alessio Gratta tells us. “We hire them as employees for at least two years, in which time they develop different skills and understand the most suitable tasks for them. We are not just talking about agricultural or food industry jobs: they also engage in delivery service, logistics, or e-commerce for online sales, building a diversified portfolio of work experience.”

The Youth & Food Project

Terra Madre also saw the first meeting between the protagonists of the Youth & Food project, which currently involves 30 youth who arrived in Italy as unaccompanied minors, from Turin to Agrigento. The project aims to promote the social integration of these children by helping them find jobs in food. The project was started only a few months ago but already today in Agrigento these young people are engaged in the production of honey and viticulture, while in Turin, in addition to lessons in baking, a multicultural cooking course is taking place which has led to the rediscovery of their own gastronomic traditions.

Legality as a means, not as an end

Social inclusion was also at the center of debates and meetings at Terra Madre, such as the gastronomic and cultural laboratory organized by Slow Food Puglia space where Pietro Fragrasso, president of the Pietra di Scarto social cooperative, spoke. Starting with a property that had been confiscated from the Mafia, he transformed a bunker once used for international drug trafficking into a hub for a socially-equitable supply chain for tomatoes. «Legality is a means, not an end,” Fragrasso explained. “This is why our cooperative is committed to promoting social and economic justice through the promotion of an anti-mafia culture, the practice of sustainable agriculture and a conscious, critical approach to consumption.”

We also heard from Leonardo Palmisano, writer and president of the Radici Future Produzioni cooperative: “With our cooperative, which started in the Itria valley, we work closely with youths in the criminal justice system. This way they can confront those who fight against caporalato, or illegal employment practices every day. We do training sessions in schools too, where we are happy to have discovered a renewed interest in the land and a growing desire to promote its fruits. For us, Slow Food is a moral reference point that brings together virtuous businesses, and here at Terra Madre we find the most beautiful version of Italy, one that struggles to ensure a brighter future for agricultural and food workers.”

by Elena Coccia,

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is in Parco Dora, Turin, from September 22-26, 2022, with over 600 exhibitors and a series of workshops, conferences and tastings that show how we can regenerate our planet through food.

Photography by Alessandro Vargiu

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