Tasting Australia: indigenous food at Italy’s global food event

Desert lime olive oil, quandong candies, lemon myrtle beer: West Australians gave a million international visitors a unique taste of our wide brown land at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, Slow Food’s momentous global food event held in Italy last week.

Every two years, the historic city of Turin hosts this unparalleled gathering of producers, farmers, chefs, educators, activists, policymakers and foodies from about 140 countries across the globe who unite under the Slow Food movement’s ethos of good clean and fair food for all.

WA’s Swan Valley Slow Food represented Australia in the enormous Terra Madre International Market with a stall offering indigenous food products including herbs, spices, citrus olive oils, dukkah, jams, chutneys and quandong candies to the throngs of food-savvy visitors. But word soon spread of the real crowd-pleasers at the Aussie tasting table: the beautifully complex Six Seasons gin, smooth Maiden Voyage Spiced rum and refreshing Italian-made Mirtèa beer brewed with lemon myrtle.

“The rum, gin and beer we presented were a massive hit at our stall, but visitors were also very interested to meet the three Aboriginal elders and two youth ambassadors who were part of the WA delegation,” said Vincenzo Velletri, leader of Slow Food Swan Valley and Eastern Regions convivium.

“People want to hear our stories and understand more about our indigenous food culture. They’re fascinated by Australia,” Mr Velletri said.

Renowned Noongar storyteller and ECU Elder-in-residence, Dr Noel Nannup, was invited to give a traditional welcome at the opening ceremony of Indigenous Terra Madre, along with Maasai woman Tunda Lepore and Vincent Medina Jnr of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe of the San Francisco Bay area. Flanked by young Aboriginal delegates Johnnice Divilli from Derby and Peter Roe from Broome, Dr Nannup performed a spiritual cleansing and blessing to a packed international gallery.

Indig opening group

Presenters at the opening ceremony of Indigenous Terra Madre including Dr Noel Nannup and Aboriginal youth ambassadors Johnnice Divilli and Peter Roe.

Dr Nannup spoke of the critical importance of engaging youth as our future leaders now before the window of opportunity closes and the urgency of “getting our act together” to bring our culture and traditions to the modern world.

From nomadic herdsmen, farmers, artisan producers and manufacturers to policymakers, educators, activists and consumers, there was a conversation for everyone at the myriad of forums, conferences, meetings and tasting workshops held during the intensive five-day event.

Dr Nannup along with fellow elders Tahn Donovan and Dale Tilbrook addressed students and delegates at Italy’s renowned University of Gastronomic Sciences stand where they discussed the topic of how your blood type can determine your seasonal diet. The wide-ranging talk introduced the six-season cycle of Western Australia’s Noongar people as an example of a food system that respects weather, environment, social practices and individuals’ health. Ms Tilbrook shared her intimate knowledge of the Australian bush food industry, its history, challenges and opportunities. At times emotional, Ms Donovan shared the personal side of her entrepreneurial journey establishing bush foods brand, Max’s Black.

The audience was treated to raw beef balls rolled in saltbush, pepperberry and native basil and finished with desert lime olive oil. Native Hibiscus jam added a splash of vibrant colour and flavour to Italian prosecco and bread was dipped in native agrumato-style olive oils and indigenous herb dukkah.

The Australian and New Zealand National Meeting provided a rare chance to network with delegates from Queensland, SA, ACT, NSW and New Zealand, to discuss national Slow Food initiatives and swap stories. Attendees listened with interest as Rod Lees from Noosa convivium shared the challenges and successes of launching the Snail of Approval program, which is currently being rolled out in several states across Australia. The program certifies and promotes producers and chefs who comply with Slow Food’s good clean and fair ethos.

Maitland’s Earth Market, part of a network of 70 farmers’ markets worldwide that embrace the Slow Food philosophy, was awarded the Gigi Frassanito Award by Slow Food International for its “great activism and social commitment”.

The Slow Food movement seeks to bring together different people and perspectives at every level of the food system from all over the world to address a plethora of universal issues including biodiversity, human rights and equality, food waste, preserving traditional cultures and notably, climate change. Its two-year Food For Change campaign, launched at the close of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018, has set its sights on tackling climate change as it affects food 

Jo Thierfelder is a Perth-based freelance writer and communications consultant specialising in food and sustainability. She is a committee member of Slow Food Swan Valley and Eastern Regions convivium and attended Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018 as a journalist.