Food and Taste Education: a Slow Food Approach

Thanks to the European Union financed project COVCHEG: Community-based Value Chain Enhancement in the Greater Caucasus Mountains area in Azerbaijan, started in 2019, and as part of the global Terra Madre event, Slow Food organised different training courses with a presentation of new training materials, now available online.

Education is one of the three pillars of the Slow Food Movement’s work: from school gardens to training for professionals in the food industry; from campaigns to educational activities to raise awareness of all the different aspects of the food system. All these education initiatives are tied together by a common objective: to increase our knowledge of food and stimulate change in our food habits.

In effect, Slow Food believes that, by understanding where our food comes from, how it was produced and by whom, adults and children can learn how to combine pleasure and responsibility in daily choices and appreciate the cultural and social importance of food.

Education projects of Slow Food differ from most food education as they are based on the idea that food means pleasure, culture and conviviality. They take many different forms: educational handbooks, school gardens, guided tastings, farm visits, knowledge exchange between generations, practical workshops and meals with producers. In addition to this, Slow Food launched the University of Gastronomic Sciences in 2004 to offer a holistic approach to food academia.

In the frameworks of the European Union financed project COVCHEG: Community-based Value Chain Enhancement in the Greater Caucasus Mountains area in Azerbaijan, in February-March 2021, a training course on Slow Food Education was held with a presentation of new training materials, now available to everyone in Russian and Azerbaijani languages.

More than 220 participants from 17 countries and all continents: Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Belgium, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, France, Colombia, Egypt, Burkina Faso and others took part in the course sessions. In the recordings, trainings viewed more than 250 spectators.

First training webinar “Let’s educate the senses to biodiversity” introduced the participants with the importance of the concept of biodiversity and how to teach it in school, with didactical and teaching examples. Experts provided practical examples and presented “Ark of Taste goes to school” an educational material designed to help children discover local food and make specific steps to protect biodiversity.

The Ark of Taste is a catalogue of products that belong to the world cultures and traditions and are at risk of disappearing. Onto the Ark are “loaded” not only plant and animal species but also processed foods because, alongside plant and animal biodiversity, cheeses, charcuterie, breads, cakes and confectionery are disappearing, too. These are all expressions of rural and artisan knowledge, unwritten but complex and characterized by skills and practices that have been handed down for generations. Slow Food has been developing the Ark of Taste as one of its main tools for years now: the key objectives of this platform for the promulgation of knowledge of endangered food products and promotion of ecologically balanced are food sovereignty and access to good, clean and fair food for all communities.

The second training webinar “Overview of Slow Food educational projects” presented over 20 years of experience accumulated by Slow Food in implementing educational projects in a wide variety of fields to familiarize participants with both didactic approached and the experience of colleagues in the implementation of certain educational methods of Slow Food. A new manual on sensory education and responsible consumption “Tasty Lessons” has been shared.

“In the handbook of sensory education and responsible consumption “Tasty lessons” Slow Food tried to collect all its experience in food education of the last decade. – mentions Victoria Smelkova, one of the editors of the handbook. – However, we can not delude ourselves that the “Tasty lessons” alone can solve all the problems related to food and health, on personal and planetary level. Nevertheless, it provides a solid foundation on which the good, clean and fair approach to the food systems can be built, starting from the early school years, that will inevitably change the food habits and help us to raise a responsible and thoughtful consumer”.

The third training webinar “Sensory education” was dedicated entirely to sensory education and in particular to the functioning of the senses and the important role they play in the knowledge of food and biodiversity. Experts shared the grammar of taste, how to organize a sensory education activity, and set some practical examples to replicate.

And, finally, Forum “Slow Food gardens: guidelines for an international project” presented one of the oldest Slow Food education projects resulted in thousands of gardens across the world, and which can be a key element in food and environmental education everywhere. The coordinators of Slow Food gardens discussed their progress, what they have in common and where they differ in their struggle for good, healthy, and environmentally-friendly food education.

As part of the Terra Madre events, you can participate in the next International Educational meeting, on April 10 at 4 pm (Rome time). This training session will be an important moment for sharing the experiences we’ve had in different contexts, a chance to exchange tools and good practices. The meeting will form the basis of the creation of an international network of activist-educators who’ll be involved in defining a plan of action to guide the development of Slow Food education projects in the coming years.

Click here to find out more and participate.

With the financial support of the European Union, through the COVCHEG project, Slow Food, in partnership with the Azerbaijan Tourism Board, is working to safeguard local biodiversity, develop sustainable local value chains and promote gastronomic tourism as an additional source of revenue for more resilient rural communities in Azerbaijan. Working closely with local authorities, civil society groups, and other stakeholders, the EU-Azerbaijan partnership is sharing EU best practices and experience on local identities and gastronomy as well as the conservation of biodiversity and cultural heritage in the area.