Geography according to Terra Madre

08 October 2020

Appeals from Franco Farinelli, Virginie Raisson and Paul Collier, in the opening conference of Terra Madre.

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2020 is officially open! The 13th edition of the most important event dedicated to good, clean and fair food starts today and continues for six months, with an innovative format that combines digital events and physical events, where possible, around the world.  

It’s an edition, unlike any previous Slow Food event, unique in its ambitious objectives: to provide tools to analyze what’s happening in the world and to propose concrete solutions that can help resolve our common problems. 


New Geographies and Possible Futures: but why should an event that’s usually focused on agriculture, sustainable farming and fairer visions of development and food culture, now take geography as its starting point?

Because, as Professor of Geographer at the University of Parma Davide Papotti says, “changing our perspective in the way we look at the planet is fundamental for changing our behaviors in the development models we‘ve had to date.” In other words: the change which Slow Food has been fighting for for over 30 years, can only be realized if we radically change our way of considering the problems which afflict both us and our planet.   

“We must design a new geography”, explains Papotti. Terra Madre has tried to do this by putting to one side the normal geopolitical interpretation of the world, one made of borders and state institutions, to look at the Earth as a variety of interconnected ecosystems: mountainous areas, coastal communities, great plains and cities. Environments that have similar specifics and which often suffer from the same problems, regardless of their continent or nation, and which can therefore work on developing common solutions. 

Overcoming our propensity to consider only our local situation is key. We’re faced with phenomena every day that may seem unrelated, but which have the same root causes. The acceleration of biodiversity loss, the increase in social inequality across the world, the violation of human rights, the constant problem of hunger, and the environmental crisis which amplifies other crises related to health, migration and the economy.


There’s another aspect to consider, as illustrated by Virginie Raisson, international relations analyst specialized in geopolitics and Director of the French research center Lépac and author of Atlas of the World’s Futures: “The great threats like global warming, the energy crisis, the pandemic, biodiversity loss, the financial and economic crisis, white collar crime: they have no respect for national borders, and so it’s important to find ways to think about the world and to show the relationships between these phenomena.”

The temptation to divide the world into static sections, “to cut up the globe, to think of it as a series of maps”, Franco Farinelli, Professor of Geography in Geneva and Los Angeles, Berkeley and the Sorbonne of Paris,” and the progressive dematerialization of the world, must not prevail, despite our increasingly digital age. “Our planet is a sphere, so we must think of it as such, as one single sphere.”

It’s a challenge like any we’ve ever faced, and there’s no time to procrastinate: while for Farinelli we need a “new humanism”, for Paul Collier, Director of the International Growth Centre, what we need is to “recover that idea of cooperation, of “collective intelligence”, which has been lost over the last 40 years of frenetic capitalism that has hindered progress.”

Cover image: Photo: Elena Mozhvilo / Unsplash