'Farmers are the intellectuals of the earth'

The founder of the International Food Movement inspires a room of Berkeley students during the inaugural class, Edible Education 101.

The founder of the International Slow Food Movement, Carlo Petrini, spoke at The University of California, Berkeley on Tuesday. It was the inaugural class for Edible Education 101.

Petrini discussed food politics. His main point was reciprocity as the new economy. You can change the situation of food. You bring about change. You just have to make better food choices - and buy food from farmers when you can.

The entire lecture is available here.

Yes, it's long. If you'd rather just read about major points, here are excerpts of Petrini's talk:

We are spending more energy to produce food than we are getting from the food. We need new paradigms. It requires change. It requires changing systems.

What do a lot of politicians tell us? Just consume more. Well that's obviously no solution. It's like taking a diabetic into a pastry shop. Have this lovely cream puff and you'll get better. You're just killing them. So the idea that you can produce your way out of a crisis is a way of killing society. Let's change paradigm. Let's change our ideas and get out of this totalitarianism of productivity and participate. Become real symbols of change. Not that it's so easy. If all we've have on our heads is economy and business, every solution will be production and business. There's not only economy to think about. There's sociability. Happiness. Friendship. Living well. It's much more than economy.

The economy just robs our spirit and our soul. It's this concept of productivity we have to change. We can do it thinking of food. Let's take a symbol of slow food. It's a snail. So the snail grows in concenric circles. At a certain point it stops, it strengthens its shell the other way. We've come to just that point. We've grown plenty. We are at the point we have to strength what we have. If we keep growing, we will kill ourselves. A snail can't have an enormous shell, it goes back. We have to act like snails. Instead of growing, we have to consolidate what we have.

We have to build a convivial society. What does that mean? Society with new values. That can help bring about new relationships with new people and strengthen local communities. Re-invent communal goods and resources. So this is a trick question. Who knows what reciprocity means? What is reciprocity? Society based on linear exchange. I give something to you, you pay me something or pay me money. That's linear exchange. Then there's free giving. You call it charity. I give something to you, you don't give me anything. I, with this act, demonstrate my superiority. You are poor. I am giving you a little charity. Here's reciprocity. I give something to you. It's worth $100. You can't give me a $100 back right now, so you give me $50. Or you give him $50. And then he gives $50 to the guy next to him. And he will give me $50. It creates a new economic economy. We have to recreate that kind of energy. It's based on a gift. That requires you to be active.

I give money to a farmer, whenever it's ready, give me what you got. That's a lot better than going to a bank, and much better because the farmer doesn't have to give the money back to the bank. The farmer gives you a product. That's my idea of reciprocity. So this is the concept that I want you to create.

Then, perhaps, the highlight of the talk was when he asked who wants to become farmers after university? He asked the students to raise their hands and called them onto the stage. Petrini said:

You are my heroes.

My heroes.

It's you who are going to generate the new world. Who will give hope. The generation that will reconcile man with the earth. Don't think it will be easy.

Put the breaks on waste. And remake a new economic reality. It's possible. And it's sustainable.

We've got to give new dignity to manual labor. It's got to return to having real value. A farmer must be respected as much as an intellectual. Like a university professor. Like a journalist. We need to return to the real value for manual labor for a farmer. Only in that value can we give real value for food. It only has a price. Price is not a value. They are two different things. We need to return and give new value to food. Farmers are the intellectuals of the earth. Manual labor has to return to having real significance.

So, be mindful of the food that you eat. And, be sure to invest in your own happiness.

Everything he said reminded me of my college food habits (which were horrible). Hopefully, these students take his advice.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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