Slow Food - the Guardians of Food Treasures of the World

Bulgaria-Italy Survey » BUSINESS | Author: Dessislava Dimitrova |June 2, 2011, Thursday // 11:42
Bulgaria: Slow Food - the Guardians of Food Treasures of the World

Article by Dessislava Dimitrova, Association of Slow Food Convivia in Bulgaria, for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of (Sofia News Agency)


Slow Food is an international member-supported organization. The local chapters of Slow Food are the convivia – local communities that share common life and common food culture. Slow Food has over 100,000 members in over 1,300 convivia in more than 150 countries.

Slow Food is an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini, an Italian, in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.

It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement. Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products.

Slow Food is good, clean and fair food - food should taste good; it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or human health; food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

Consumers are co-producers, because by being informed about how food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, people become a part of and a partner in the production process.

Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity was founded in 2003 to support projects that defend agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions. It operates through several instruments:

Ark of Taste aims to rediscover, catalog, describe and promote forgotten flavours. It is a metaphorical recipient of excellent gastronomic products that are threatened by industrial standardization, hygiene laws, the regulations of large-scale distribution and environmental damage.

The Presidia sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties. The Presidia directly involve producers, offer technical assistance to improve production quality, organize exchanges among different countries, and provide new market outlets (both locally and internationally).

Earth Markets are a development model that is focused on the value of the community, environmental sustainability and cultural traditions. This is a world-wide project of Slow Food to establish an international network of such markets.

Terra Madre is a meeting of food communities from all over the world, as well as a network among food producers, distributors, cooks, academics and all those who work for responsible and sustainable food production.

Cheese event of Bra - The festival has become an international reference point for dairy artisans and cheese enthusiasts from around the world, with its exploration of the thousand aspects of cheese, from dairy animals to the finished product. Every cheese has a long story behind it, its own identity and specific nature. By telling these stories, Cheese keeps these traditions alive.

Slow Fish presents and discusses sustainable fishing and production, responsible fish consumption and the health of sea and fresh water ecosystems by involving a wide range of viewpoints - academics, researchers, members of fishing communities, representatives of public bodies and enthusiasts - in conferences, meetings, workshops and tasting sessions.

Slow Food in Bulgaria – History of Cooperation

Slow Food movement started in Bulgaria in 2004 when a delegation of Bulgarian food producers and other actors in the food-supply chain was invited to take part in the first edition of Terra Madre.

Although Bulgaria is famous for its cuisine it was difficult to identify food items to be presented since the food knowledge in Bulgaria is very much scattered and very often hidden within families. The reasons for this are the nationalization of land during socialist period, and hence lack of market economy and private enterprise in agriculture.

However, in 2004 and during the consequent editions of the Terra Madre in 2006, 2008 and 2010 Bulgaria was presented with a diverse list of foods: Smilyan beans, Rhodope beaten cheese, Troyan Plum Brandy, honey from Troyan and Western Balkan Region regions, Keratzuda wine, honey in traditional bee-hives from West Rhodopi Mts., Elena cured meat, milk products from Replyanska sheep breed, cheese and yogurt from Karakachan sheep from South Pirin and Rhodopi Mts., milk products from Teteven sheep breed, Green Cheese from Cherni Vit village, traditional Pomaki bakery from Teteven region. Many other food treasures are waiting to be discovered.

Institutional Development

So far, there are 6 convivia registered in Bulgaria. Its number is growing and by the end of this year it expected to reach 10.

In 2009 the Association of Slow Food Convivia in Bulgaria has been registered – it is a legal entity, a Bulgarian NGO, for the promotion of Slow Food philosophy in the country. Its establishment has been agreed with Slow Food and the statute of the Bulgarian NGO fully corresponds to the goals of Slow Food.

What is further needed is financial and institutional consolidation of the Association of Slow Food Convivia in Bulgaria, and strengthening the partnership with relevant universities, schools, local authorities and NGOs in the field of environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, organic farming and consumer defense. Thus the scope of work will be expanded and the Slow Food philosophy will reach many Bulgarian citizens.

Bulgarian Presidia of Slow Food

The most efficient mode of cooperation with Slow Food International is the establishment of the 3 presidia.

Green cheese Presidium – Cherni Vit Village, Central Balkan Region Karakachan sheep Presidium – Vlahi Village, South Pirin Presidium for preservation of old plant varieties – Smilyan village, Rhodopi Mts.

The goals of each presidium are different but one of the common results is strengthening the self-esteem of Bulgarian farmers. Participation in the international food fairs of Slow Food convinces the Bulgarian producers that their products are valuable and there is a reason to continue along the difficult road of safeguarding the Bulgarian food treasures.

Green Cheese from Cherni Vit. It was established in 2007 after the visit of a Slow Food delegation, including Piero Sardo, the president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The goal of the Presidium is to safeguard and develop the unique Green cheese – a cheese in which moulding is spontaneous thanks to the cool and humid climate in the area.

Slow Food supports the people from the village to stabilize the cheese and achieve constant characteristics. So far, Slow Food is the only organization that helps the producers to continue the production. The Green cheese is "illegal" according to the Bulgarian food regulations – it ages in wooden barrels and is made of raw milk. Slow Food supports its Bulgarian members in their fight in favour of unique Bulgarian food.

Karakachan sheep – the sheep of the Balkan nomadic shepherds. This traditional Karakachan breed of sheep was once plentiful in Bulgaria. In the early 20th Century there were 500,000 and by the late 1950s, when farms were nationalized, the number had shrunk to 160,000. Today there are only about 400. At the beginning of 2000 SEMPERVIVA opened a farm as a project to recover the Karakachan breeds. Today the farm is self-financed. There are 350 Karakachan sheep, 30 Karakachan horses and 45 Karakachan dogs.

The aim of the Presidium is to revive the breed and to valorize the white cheese and yogurt.

Smilyan beans and Upper Arda valley. Major plants grown in Rhodopi Mts. are beans, potatoes, and maize. In upper Arda valley, where arable land is in small patches, each family grows the three plants together – a unique agricultural technique that provides also best quality beans.

Smilyan beans (named after the village of Smilyan) have been cultivated in the area for 250 years.

The beans have superb taste, acknowledged and appreciated by Bulgarians and foreigners. The goal of the presidium is not only to save the agricultural technique but also to support the local community in its struggle against faking of the original beans - the name "Smilyan beans" have been used to sell beans of any origin thus spoiling the fame of the product.

Clean Food, Fair Livelihood – a struggle in support of the right of the farmers to directly sell their produce

The alliance "Clean Food, Fair Livelihood" alliance was established in February, 2009. It was a joint initiative of several Bulgarian NGOs: Association of Slow Food Convivia in Bulgaria, Bulgarian society for the protection of birds, Bioselena Foundation, WWF-Bulgaria, Bulgarian National Association of Consumers. Its mission was to stimulate and help the relevant authorities to develop and enforce legal framework for on-farm food processing and direct food sales.

After a series of media activities and the establishment of a Work Group at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food the Regulation № 26 from 14 October, 2010 for the specific requirements for direct sales of small quantities of resources and food of animal origin.

Work with young people

In 2010 Slow Food implemented the project "European Schools for Healthy Food" that was funded by the European Commission. The overall objective of the project was to promote the consumption of healthy, fresh food in school canteens among school children, informing primarily schools, and the wider Slow Food learning community about the support given by CAP and in particular by the EU "Fruit School Scheme". The target groups included stakeholders such as families, consumers, schools canteen services, and also the private and public bodies in charge of education policy.

Two Bulgarian schools have joined the project. Children and teachers promoted healthy eating and improvement of daily food in the school canteen. A seminar "Good clean and fair food for the Bulgarian children" took place in November, 2010 in Sofia.

Earth Markets. Earth markets provide consumers the possibility to buy products directly from their producers. Only local and seasonal products can be found in such markets. In so doing they contribute both to reducing food supply chains and to promoting a given territory. Earth Markets are also viable tools for food education.

The first Earth Market in Bulgaria will be held in Cherni Vit village. The Market is designed to be a community hub, not just a place for selling food. Taste education initiatives will be organized for children and adults and the market will include a store open every day selling the same products that every weekend will be sold directly by the 15 producers from the Teteven area selected by the local Slow Food convivium. This will be an important opportunity for a place in which the identity of traditional products needs to be brought to light and protected. The market represents a small new step towards recovering trust and identity.

Future Steps of Collaboration

Field work to discover food communities in Bulgaria

The most urgent work for the future is discovering new food communities, maintaining old food products and food processing practices. However, they are more concentrated in remote, i.e. mountain and semi-mountain areas or are preserved by different ethnic communities as part of their culture.

Such knowledge is still kept by elderly people, hence there is an urgent need to discover and collect it in a catalogue and promote its value. Slow Food International supports this process by providing expertise and financial grant to its Bulgarian partners for field research – a step that will facilitate the preparation of a catalogue with unique foods that will be then submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food for discussion and approval.

Strengthening the Terra Madre Balkans Network

In 2010 the Bulgarian Slow Food members initiated the first regional meeting Terra Madre Balkans. Farmers, food producers, chefs, teachers, students and other actors in the food world gathered together in Sofia to discuss the future of food and tastes in the Balkan Peninsula.

Parallel to the conference there was a bazaar of traditional food from the Balkan convivia and presidia of Slow Food. It was pointed out clearly that safeguarding of the Balkan gastronomic diversity requires joint actions at regional level.

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