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Ferdinando Scianna: Sharing the food of the people that I photograph

Culture / -

Ferdinando Scianna
© Barbara Francoli

In the photographs of Ferdinando Scianna, the Mediterranean tells a story of families, gestures, rituals and traditions. Scianna, a photographer-member of the international Magnum cooperative, is curating the exhibition within the Bio-Mediterraneum Cluster at Expo Milano 2015 and, here, talks to us about food through photographs as well as memories, flavors, and the places where these have been experienced.

In your book Visti&Scritti, published by Contrasto, you say that the photograph of your daughter Francesca when she was five, evokes memories of the fragrance of jasmine. What do the memories of those scents and tastes mean to you and to your family?
Flavors are one of the strongest associations of identity and our memories. Even more so, if you move to another country, whether by choice or necessity. Being so far away from home, the fragrances and flavors become extremely powerful. When I come across the scent of Arabian jasmine for example, just as with Proust and his madeleines, I’m immediately transported back to my childhood.

What are your other ‘madeleines’?
Sea urchins, pane panelle (bread fritters), the scent of the verdelli lemons that we used to eat like there was no tomorrow when we were little.
 
You are curating the photo exhibition within the Bio-Mediterraneum Cluster. Can you tell us something about the photographs that you’ve selected? Which aspects have you focused mostly on?
It has been a gradual task. Deciding on an exhibition for that particular space was difficult, given the number of images that will be everywhere, not only inside and outside the Clusters, but also those inside and outside the national pavilions. We defined three areas within the Cluster: land, sea, and family rituals. These are the places where the food, the flavors, and the landscapes of our lives express themselves and convey that special quality to the Mediterranean as I know it.Then, via four themes and forty photographs, I have tried to convey my idea of the Mediterranean.
 
Would you say that this exhibition forms your ideal "return" to Sicily?
To return to a place you need to feel that you have left it. I may have physically left Sicily, even though I go back often, but I have never left it culturally, emotionally or intellectually. So it’s impossible for me to “go back” to Sicily, because it’s with me wherever I go.
 
During your travels worldwide, you’ve come across food and culinary traditions, abundance, and no doubt also hunger. Can you tell us about two occasions that affected you most?
Hunger is something that I encountered as a child. Nowadays we say "I'm hungry", but we really just mean that we feel like eating. Real hunger is something else entirely. Hunger is having dark circles under your eyes, it’s having stomach cramps. When I was a child, and people said that a particular family had nothing to eat, they really meant that there really was nothing to eat. Now, thank heavens, at least in Italy, that level of extreme hardship has gone, although some poverty still remains.
 
Extreme hardship is something that I’ve encountered in many places, as a photographer, in Bangladesh, in Africa. In Eritrea, for example, there were camps in which fifty people a day were dying due to drought. That is hunger. Hunger is when a handful of rice placed into open hands makes the difference between life and death. Naturally the experience of traveling is also an experience of different flavors, of other traditions, and is probably the best way to get in touch with another culture. On the Columbian shores of the Amazon River, the taste of crocodile steak makes you understand many things.
 
In your wonderful book published by Contrasto: Ti mangio con gli occhi (You eat with your eyes), which is “not a book on cooking, and much less a cookery book” you wrote: “wherever I go in the world, I’m a big fan of the wonderful foods that you can buy and eat in the street.” Why is that?
When I go to take photographs in a place that I’ve not been to before, I always do two things: the first is to eat some local street food, because I grew up eating street food. When I was a little boy I’d eat mafalda pasta with panelle (bread fritters), bread with ricotta, and stigliole (barbecued lamb intestines). Bread and fritters were a way of life.
 
In many of the places I’ve visited, sometimes without even knowing what some of those foods were, I would try them anyway. By eating them, I felt that I had experienced the same tastes as the people I was photographing – and this helped me to understand them better. One of my other rituals is to go and look in the shop windows of the local photographers because, through the way they photograph people and the way people want to be photographed, I can understand their aspirations, their hopes and dreams, the culture of a place.
 
Food waste. Again, in the book Ti mangio con gli occhi, there is a photograph titled "Lava of oranges, the flow of death". They also tried to prevent you from photographing this “massacre”, which is actually an iconic image of a horrible crime. What does it depict?
It depicts a paradox, a scandal, because it happens that Italy produces more citrus fruits than we can sell. I also once managed to photograph the same thing happening with pears in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.
 
As there is too much of it, after its production has been subsidized, part of it is then destroyed to protect the price. This is completely scandalous, to the point that the people behind it have pretty much forbidden me to photograph it. This is not only to defend certain questionable interests, but probably because they are ashamed. I followed the trucks that were dumping the oranges that had been sprayed with poison, preventing them from going on the market, to landfill sites. A huge quantity of oranges slid down that slope and, having once photographed the eruption of Mount Etna, I saw once again a lava flow of sorts. Instead this time it was a flow of waste and shame.
 
The theme of Expo Milano 2015 is food. Which visual aspects do you emphasize when photographing? Rituals? Sensuality? Textures, patterns, shapes?
I am a photographer with the spirit of a reporter, so I'm interested in how food is made and how it is eaten. That’s why my photographs show families eating at the table. This has to do with family, but also with the identity of people who share a certain food.
 
The photograph of a wooden kitchen table on which tomatoes are being dried to make a  preserve to be eaten during the winter months, almost takes on the appearance of an abstract painting. I cannot construct the photos. I am the one who sees the images, they hit me and I photograph them. Everything in my photos tends to tell a story. Of course the storytelling is done through shape, through surfaces, through colors, when they are present – and they are often present even when the photos are in black and white. I photograph sensuality and pleasure, but also rituals, as well as structures that can be seen in the landscape, like houses.

In the book Visti&Scritti there is a portrait of Gianni Berengo Gardin. Can you tell us what his friends gave him for his birthday?
I am surprised we have entrusted the Rice Cluster to Gianni Berengo Gardin. We should have created an Ice cream Cluster just for him, since he loves ice cream so much. Once, in Arles in France, as a joke at the end of a lunch, we got the waiter to bring him a tray with forty ice creams, which he ate, I might add, without even batting an eyelid. When he turned eighty, someone had the rather amusing idea of presenting him with a sculpted portrait of himself, made out of ice cream, and so, cannibalistically, he ate an ice cream version of himself.
 

Father Christmas’ Focaccia: the good-luck cake of Sal De Riso

Taste / -

Christmas is a magical time, and if Santa himself suggests the recipe for a cake it cannot be anything but a success. Thus, during a trip to Rovaniem, in Finland, a good-luck cake was brought to life by Salvatore De Riso, a pastry chef from the Amalfi Coast, who has made leavened cake the passion of a lifetime.

How did the idea of bringing together the Milanese panettone with the scents of the Amalfi Coast come to you?
I tasted an artisan panettone in Milan and it was love at first sight, so I decided to add to its doughy taste some Neapolitan tradition and products of my land. My parents had a tobacconist in Minori, a town on the Amalfi Coast, and I convinced my father that the cake would have been appreciated by us. It was 1989 and in my area there was only industrial panettone. Since then my interest in this sweet cake has been unstoppable: so I created panettone with Vesuvius apricots and a frosting of Giffoni hazelnuts; panettone with candied Amalfi IGP lemons and limoncello cream; panettone Cilento with ghee, stuffed with white Cilento figs, walnuts, hazelnuts and wild fennel. I also like to rediscover ancient products of my local area, such as the herbal liqueur that was prepared by the nuns of Tramonto, the town where my lab is today. To enhance the flavor I created a panettone of barley dough and coffee, two ingredients that are also present in traditional liqueur.
 
What is your novelty this Christmas?
Panettone Millefiori with a wholegrain dough with five cereals, filled with a custard cream and covered with struffoli coated in wildflower honey.
 
Last year you won first prize for innovative leavened cakes for the whole year at the Re Panettone festival thanks to your Father Christmas’ Focaccia? How did you get the idea?
I made ​​a trip to Rovaniem, in Finland, the Village of Santa Claus. There were moments of joy with my family. At one point, Santa Claus himself approached me and whispered in my ear a special recipe for Christmas. It is the mix of the cake, shaped like a loaf low, with pieces of semi-candied fruit and decorated with white icing sugar, pistachios, pine nuts and wild fennel colored. It is a good-luck cake!
 
And you also won this year ...
Yes, I invented the Giro Tondo di Frutta. The dough is always the classic Milanese panettone, but is shaped like a donut. Inside there are diced apples and semi-candied berries, raisins, apricots and candied orange, and is filled with a limoncello-flavored cream. Like many of my cakes it was created by chance in a moment of inspiration!
 
As for traditional panettone... you have won many awards. Why is it so good?
For me, quality is everything and I believe in the certified products of my local land. My panettone has 60 hours of leavening, which occurs slowly, at a room temperature of about 18 degrees. This way you get a cake very smooth and soft, which is preserved in a completely natural way for 60 days. It's all homemade. For example I prepare the candied fruit myself...
 
And do you make candied fruit? Is it a long process?
Yes, it is not simple. We have 200-liter machinery, like a pot that works in a vacuum. Inside you pour the sugar syrup, which is sugar water and glucose, and immerse cubes made ​​from the rind of citrus fruits. The mixture is slowly turned at 100 degrees for 6 minutes and then for 3 days at 65 degrees. Every 12 hours, the temperature rises to 100 degrees for 6 minutes. In this way the pores of the skin open and the rind absorbs the syrup. It is a product with no dyes, preservatives, or chemical additives. If you understand how good candied fruit taste, no one would ask for panettone without candied fruit!
 
All these preparations are so tasty that it seems a shame to eat them only at Christmas ... so can we eat panettone all year?
During the year I like to prepare leavened cakes with a dough base of panettone, using my imagination and creating specialties with products of my local area. But the traditional, classic Panettone, in my opinion, should be eaten only at Christmas. It is so beautiful to wait for a special dessert you only eat once a year ... it would be a shame to give up that magic!
 

Paolo De Castro. The future of food

Economy / -

Multilateral treaties. Trade retaliation. Battles for food, land and climate. One of the leading experts on agricultural policies in Italy and in Europe, Paolo De Castro, former Italian Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, and now Permanent Rapporteur for the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament for Expo 2015, sets forth the choices that will influence our way of life for years to come.

Speaking of 'Made in Italy' is easy: quality agriculture, organic, non-GMO, local dishes (in which Italy takes the lead in Europe) and traditional fare. Can we find such strong common denominators for food within the framework of 'Made in Europe'?
Italy has more of a claim than other European countries, to tradition and high quality food recognized products that are loved all over the world. As for 'Made in Europe', we take a broader view, trusting that the quality of what we eat is guaranteed by strict community controls throughout the production chain and supported by clear information for consumers. But we need to be careful and the question needs to be carefully assessed in the context of multi-lateral treaties signed by EU trade. In this context, the question of labelling of origin has proved to be rather more delicate, and as we aim to further enhance these features, a new campaign will start in 2015 to promote EU agricultural products with the payoff of "Enjoy, it's from Europe", a hallmark of quality to help increase the value of exports and create new growth opportunities  for businesses and new jobs.
 
In September, you cautioned against underestimating the effects of the Russian embargo on Europe. On balance, what effects have there been on Italian and European agriculture caused by trade retaliation from Russia this summer?
The ping-pong between sanctions and restrictive measures between the EU and Russia is seriously damaging European farming. One is an area that needs support but which is instead paying a heavy toll for the damage of a diplomatic crisis that in part was not even intended. The repercussions are severe, especially in the long-term view: the ban on exports imposed on many agricultural products and foodstuffs in fact sees the disappearance of an important export market for Italy and Europe, a market which in recent years enjoyed constant growth. The risk is that the list of products affected by embargo gets longer, causing irreversible damage from the politics that need to focus on re-establishing a diplomatic front, restoring the business relationship that existed before. In terms of European institutions, the Parliament and the Council of Agriculture oppose the EU Commission’s proposal to cut the agriculture budget of 448.5 million euro caused by the damages suffered as a result of the Russian embargo and other emergencies. It will be an absolute travesty of justice if European agriculture has to pay twice for a situation in which it is blameless.
 
For years, Italy has been fighting in Brussels to further protect its traditional products. Lately we have seen many successes, including one case of producers from Parma that before an EU-Canada agreement,  they were not able to export their hams to that North American country because the trademark 'Parma Ham' was already recorded by Canadian producers. What leverage do we have to grow in this direction?
It's true. Also thanks to the commitment of Italy in Europe, the battles for the protection of typical products of quality have given us significant results. Indeed if you think about this EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement, it has taken an important step forward that opens up new growth opportunities for the agri-food businesses in Europe and in particular, for quality Italian production. Ottowa’s recognition of our DOP and IGP quality production trademarks was an historic milestone, and offered us the possibility of extending the list of permitted products in the coming years. The case of Parma Ham was emblematic, and after twenty years, it can at last be marketed in Canada bringing important changes that also affect the dairy sector which will increase its export volume. Certainly the action of both the European Parliament and its Agriculture Committee, which sees a high representation from the Mediterranean countries, has had and will continue to have a decisive role in bringing to the attention of the Commission and the Council's priorities in the sector, using all the means available to achieve growth; growth that today offers us a much needed foothold in foreign markets and in ongoing negotiations with non-EU countries - primarily the one with the US (TTIP) – it’s a crucial opportunity to be seized.
 
It seems that, at least since 1998, there has been not one Minister of Agriculture in Italy who would back the introduction of GM crops in Italy: regardless of political party, or affiliation. All of these ministers have of course, found themselves in different socio-economic context, yet their opposition seems to have been a position they all held. You were Minister of Agriculture: do you remember the reasons why this position was taken?
As we know, as minister of agriculture, I took a stand in favor of the freedom of public research into GMOs. We can certainly discuss the potential of their large-scale use in Europe in terms of the need for preserving a certain type of agricultural heritage. This is what the EU is addressing with the new rules that are being pulled together, which provide the opportunity for the 28 Member States to restrict or ban the cultivation of GMOs on their territory even if authorized at EU level. But public research must continue. Over the years, in our country, there is a growing front that is opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture. Surely at the root of this address there was and still is the protection of sustainable production practices even if, over time, the concept of sustainability has taken on new meanings and interpretations. We must always keep in mind that, in a future marked by the scarcity of natural resources in which we must ensure food and water to a growing number of people, we will need to go back, and for those who do it already, continue to invest public resources in innovation and agricultural research, including genetic engineering techniques.
 
You were among the first to raise the alarm about the phenomenon of land grabbing with your book Corsa alla terra (The Race for Earth): in Italy the debate is still in its early days, but which negative effects could bring this phenomenon into our agribusiness?
Food is the great challenge of the future. The growth of food consumption, accompanied by extraordinary climatic variability, is generating phenomena typical of situations of so-called scarcity of natural resources. Price volatility, competitive use of land – giving rise to so-called 'land grabbing' in developing countries by transnational corporations, foreign governments and private entities -, alarms around financial speculation, the revisiting of commercial behavior among large global players, are all urgent phenomena that affect us all at close quarters. But these are global issues which need to be addressed as such. Our agribusiness is clearly part of this system and we must get organized to fight back and govern the changes taking place. For this reason, we need to open a broad comparison that is international in scope, in which we can analyze scenarios, new requirements and new goals. And Expo 2015 is an opportunity to do so.
 
One of the lines of investigation that interests us most at Expo 2015 is the understanding of which raw food, so widespread today, could be at risk in the future, for reasons such as climate change, the population explosion, the enrichment of India, Brazil and China. Also just out in The Guardian is the special report which shows that coffee, wheat and  also maple syrup, are at risk because of global warming: Eight foods you're about to lose due to climate change ...
Yes, I know the article. The potential impact of climate change on agriculture was also documented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with simulations that are frightening, especially regarding the Mediterranean area. The problem is not only rising temperatures but also the frequency of extreme weather phenomena, in particular, in Italy, where the hydrogeological emergency is visible to all. Faced with this scenario, agriculture can act both to minimize the cultural practices that are more impactful in terms of emissions, to foster innovation in varieties and agronomics that increase the resilience of crops and mitigate climatic stress. Maize varieties able to withstand drought are already being studied. However, such varieties of crop are very difficult to obtain. Rice that resists being under water longer than conventional rice was already invented in Southeast Asia through biotechnology and call Scuba Rice. Research is always the key and technology has always found answers that have moved us away from the nightmare of hunger. To turn your question upside down: what if tomorrow researchers in Brazil, where public agricultural research is heavily funded, invented a variety of coffee capable of resisting climatic stress, even more than it does today?
 
You were recently appointed as Permanent Rapporteur for the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament for Expo 2015. What will be the contribution of the European institutions at the Universal Exposition and which issues will lead us to the heart of the debate?
The European institutions will be physically present in Expo 2015 in the Italian Pavilion and will make an important contribution to the debate by focusing on the crucial role that food and nutrition will have in the near future for us all. Topics such as food security, the fight against hunger and food waste, scarcity of natural resources and food price volatility will be just some of the focal points of Europe’s intervention in Milan. On that occasion, it will be important to take every opportunity it offers, by describing different situations to those participating. To make Expo 2015 a moment of reflection, even a turning point for the debate on the future of food,  is the goal that the European Parliament is vigorously pursuing. Our proposal, as MEPs, to make the EU's contribution at the event of a scientific nature was accepted and developed by the European Commission with the Strategic Committee (steering committee) created for the purpose. The body is chaired by Franz Fischler and it brings together leading scholars from many disciplines (economics, ecology, nutrition and food safety, engineering) and institutions around the world. The goal is to make the Universal Exposition a critical juncture for the future of the global debate on food supply. But we are working to ensure that the European Parliament does even more in this context, in terms of enhancing the "think tank" that was set up by Expo 2015 from a European institutional point of view.
 

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