“This event will never happen again” – live from Milan #2

That’s how Joris Lohman, the chair of the Slow Food Youth Network, opened We Feed The Planet in Milan. And he’s probably right. We are more than 2000 young people, from over 120 countries. There’s a Bavarian butcher. An Argentinian fisherwoman. A delegation from Kyrgyzstan wearing their traditional felt hats (the kalpak). An urban farmer from Detroit. A Dutch dairy producer keen to exchange new cheese recipes. A French woman setting up a no-package shop. A coordinator of the African indigenous peoples network from Cameroon.

What do we have in common? We are young and we care about food.

Why are we here? Because “the future of food might be the biggest challenge our generation will have to face”, as Joris Lohman put it. And: “You are the experts”. From now on we are all organising this event.

CQYqA6HWcAA15b2The location, appropriately called Superstudio Piu, is massive and buzzing. There is something extraordinary and exciting about having such diversity and youth under one roof. In the morning, lots of us arrive at the venue from local homes – 100s of local families have offered their hospitality. Many still look a bit lost, or at least jet-lagged; but there is definitely a sense of it coming together, with translation booths firing into headsets, and curious smiles being exchanged all over.

After the opening speech, we split up for regional meetings. The European meeting counts 800 participants. We’re challenged to talk to people from other countries, asking how we are involved in food and at which moment we knew we wanted to dedicate our lives to transforming the food system. Often they turn out not to be one moment, or a single decision, but several puzzle pieces coming together. From those who have taken over family farms, to those who are coming in fresh from other paths, food is commonly seen as a vehicle for change.

So we’re all here now. Over the coming days we’ll be learning from each other and from other ‘experts’ in the Academy program, we’ll find inspiration for what more we can do in the places we come from, and we’ll be collectively creating a vision for the future of food with a global perspective.  On Tuesday, we will gather at the Expo – all two thousand of us – and march through the corridors lined with corporations,IMG_1918 to present our vision for feeding the planet.

As Raj Patel reminded us this afternoon, we have to recognise that there is power – and confront this power. We Feed the Planet is about creating solutions, but also challenging the status quo.

Beyond the Expo, our collective vision will be formulated into a letter. Inspired by the letter the EU agriculture commissioner Sicco Mansholt wrote to the chairman of the EU back in 1972. Forty three years ago, he argued for a radical change of agricultural policy in order to provide the world’s rapidly growing population with food in a sustainable and just manner. You can read a summary here. Interestingly, this was a u-turn for Mansholt: He himself had been part of negotiating the 1968 agreement for the unprecedented rationalisation and expansion of European agriculture. Mansholt never received a reply to his letter. And industrial agriculture still dominates today.

That’s why we’ll be drafting another letter, based on the visions and insights that emerge at We Feed the Planet, and sending it to the chairman of the European Commission once again. Watch a trailer of the project here.

The content of the letter – and other outcomes of this gathering – remain to be shaped, but one day in and it definitely feels like we’re up to the task.