Salone del Gusto versus Good, Clean, and Fair: Part 1
Salone del Gusto, an event held biannually in Turin, Italy by the organization Slow Food, gathers artisanal producers from around the world in five days of selling organic or biodynamic, high quality, artisanal, innovative and traditional products; tasting workshops; and conferences about the state of the world’s food system and what can be done to promote sustainable growth. It’s an amalgamation of the green movement and everything it could possibly stand for before such a thing as “green washing” existed.
A supermarket is the antithesis of Slow Food’s “good, clean, and fair” motto. Products are available at any quality, starting at “low” and often not reaching above “decent;” produce and packaged goods come from all over the world, with little thought as to what other countries deem as “safe” pesticides, and with less thought about the energy used to transport everything; and finally, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many products lining the shelves were made under unpleasant or dangerous working conditions with low wages as poor compensation.
Coffee beans are notorious for their high demand pitted against their low cost, possible only through unfair working conditions and wages. Coffee plants are harvested using mono-cropping methods, which is environmentally friendly only in the interests of that particular crop.
And Autogrill, well…I’ll let it off the hook. It couldn’t help that it was a permanent fixture in the arena where Salone was held. I just hope the people who went there had the decency to feel ashamed while grabbing a panino with pale tomato and dry mozzarella slices instead of a tasty fried fish cone or Sicilian arancino at the Street Food section.
“Good” coffee: Let’s look into this seemingly hypocritical situation closer, focusing on Lavazza. Lavazza espresso beans are of high quality, so “good” is covered. As for being good for the health of consumers, the general belief is that caffeine is detrimental to the health, with vague effects that include “addiction.” I associate drinking coffee (and espresso) with good health –- as long as your body agrees and doesn’t react negatively (you know the feeling from too much coffee –- trembling, jumpy, an upset stomach); and as long as you can pass a few days without coffee and not feel the burn of addiction. This is not just because I love drinking strong brews, but a growing body of studies show that it may be beneficial for health for those whose bodies can handle the java jolt.
“Clean” coffee: are Lavazza’s coffee berries harvested in an environmentally friendly way? This could be an incredibly complicated question, bringing into account the way coffee plants are grown, how the berries are cultivated, and even the operation coffee mills and transportation of the final product to the stores. Instead of embarking on a full-fledged journalistic story that uncovers all the conditions of every farm Lavazza buys their coffee from, I’ll look at coffee harvesting in general. As I read in an article from a Peace Corps worker in Honduras, some negative consequences include contamination of streams and waters, deforestation, and the refuse from thousands of workers moving into the camp. Loss of biodiversity and intensive pesticide use are two other consequences of farming coffee plants improperly, according to NRDC. Unfortunately, I don’t have the data on how much of Lavazza’s coffee beans are grown under sustainable circumstances. Their Tierra! coffee beans they sell are “100% sustainable” and certified by the Rainforest Alliance, but this coffee may account for just a small percentage of total sales. Verdict? Still in the jury.
“Fair” coffee: the wages, working conditions, and a fair price to consumers should be covered by Lavazza’s Fair Trade coffee bean line under their Tierra project; again, without solid details on the actual working conditions and other economic improvements done in the communities this project has touched, I can’t judge it. The website says very little satisfactory facts: “Thes results meet the needs of everyone involved,” including established “microprojects” and building infrastructure. Sounds good, but it will sound better when someone publishes exactly what infrastructure has been built (and if it’s useful and put into running order), and what, exactly, these micro-projects are.
While the Clean criteria is not necessarily covered, I also doubt all the small-time producers representing their goods at the Salone del Gusto could check off all three of their “Good, Clean, and Fair” boxes. Did all of the chocolate stands buy only from Fair Trade chocolate harvesters? Were the eggs put into the dough of pastries and biscotti cage-free and from hens that were fed an organic diet?
It is important to consider two points about Fair Trade:
1) “Fair Trade,” unfortunately, is a bit like “organic.” The consumer needs to be skeptical of how many loopholes the company skipped through, and what their mind immediately equates with “Fair Trade” that, like equating sustainable with organic, might simply be the result of smooth marketing. I am certainly not saying that Lavazza doesn’t follow the moral guidelines of Fair Trade; however, no one should be too comforted by this word blanket until all the facts are in.
2) During a class visit with the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the Slow Food University, at Lavazza, I remember something our polished host said. He was precise and informed about the quality of the beans, the differences in Arabica versus Robusta, the roasting process, and the innovations that Lavazza was creating. However, when our sustainably-minded class asked one too many detailed questions about the Fair Trade line, he said that having Fair Trade beans was mostly a marketing strategy.
I know companies like Lavazza and COOP (looked at later) support Fair Trade artisan products, and even Presidia. I don’t necessarily want to point a finger of blame at them. On the contrary, the fact that they were at Salone del Gusto gives them a reason to be applauded. At the same time, it sets them up as a target for the firing squad of righteous Slow Food followers.
On the other hand, I wonder how many of the Salone del Gusto visitors were thinking about such conundrums as they dipped their sourdough bread chunk into Swiss Emmentaler cheese fondue?
Finally, as noted already, some of those small food artisans that sold their products alongside Presidia Garfagnana Potato Bread had no idea of, say, the materials that went into their plastic bags that packaged their food items. This is another problem that makes me squirm a little bit uncomfortably — how sustainable was everyone, how sustainable can they be?
But I suppose we all have a bit of a hypocrite in us.
While I mull this over, please excuse me as I brew a moka of Lavazza espresso – and it’s not from the Fair Trade line.