Thirty thousand people came together in Berlin last weekend (January 18th) to urge alternatives to factory farming systems. Those taking part reflected the diversity that is needed to make food production sustainable, united in their demand for a place at the table, to have an active role in making decisions about where their food comes from and what goes into it.

Petrini-Berlin-2014-IMG_2812Addressing the rally from the main stage, Slow Food President Carlo Petrini spoke for thousands when he told the crowd: “Small-scale farming is not anti-progress, poor or underdeveloped. It is a sustainable agricultural model that uses natural and human resources respectfully.”

It is the diversity and interdependence of small-scale farming that can ensure social and food security, Petrini explained. “This is why this year is the International Year of Family Farming, and that is why we are in Berlin today!”

The sight of 30,000 food activists in the German capital might have caused some onlookers to ask what was special about Berlin. Yet the underlying problems caused by industrial agriculture are to be found across Europe, meaning that such events need to become the norm for European cities if the food movement is to be taken seriously by politicians.

This year’s elections for the European Parliament give an all-too rare opportunity to call parliamentarians to account that Petrini urged everyone to take. It was important, he said, for MEPs to give a proper account of their position on agricultural policy and not to allow corporate and multinational interests to fill the vacuum in public debate. “We will not let any candidate avoid our questions,” he promised.

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“Our message today is clear: If the EU loses its small farmers and its family farms, then it loses its history, it loses its culture, it loses its identity; it would not exist any more,” he concluded, to rousing applause.

The event marks a milestone on a long road for an extensive network of non-governmental organisations across Germany. These include the organic food network Demeter; the German Friends of the Earth (Bund); Oxfam Germany; Save Our Seeds (Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft) and Slow Food Germany. Over the past four years, these events have grown rapidly: last year 25,000 demonstrators braved the cold to fill the piazza outside Berlin’s central railway station. This year they gathered in the larger Potsdamer Platz, where a number of international guest campaigns addressed the throng.

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Max Wakefield, speaking for Farms Not Factories voiced a resounding “No” to the destruction of the environment and rural economies that comes with animal factories. He later explained: “Germany is the largest producer of factory-farmed pigs [in Europe] and to get so many people out for this event pushes factory farming right up the political agenda. I already knew that the German food movement was strong, but seeing it in action was inspiring.”

The atmosphere was like a carnival: the weekend’s activity started with a ‘Disco-soup’ on the Friday night. Hundreds of Berliners turned up at a circus tent to prepare more than a tonne of salvaged vegetables into soup for demonstrators before their long journeys home. Gathered around dozens of tables, they brought chopping boards and peelers, welcoming guests from far and wide.

Tristram Stuart, founder of Feeding The 5000, was in Berlin for the occasion. “Everyone has the power, and the responsibility, to help to solve the global food waste scandal and join the food waste movement,” he declared. “Disco soup is a culinary and community experience that involves gathering, sourcing, cooking and celebrating food.”

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As the evening progressed, crates of cabbages, sacks of of potatoes, carrots and beetroot were sliced, diced and cooked in a visiting field kitchen, run by Fläming Kitchens. As they worked, some Berliners recalled the days when the Brandenberg region’s market gardeners fed the German capital with fresh produce that literally grew on the city’s doorstep.

The soup was later served after the demonstration at a gathering in the Heinrich Boell Institute. One of the frequent comments to be heard around the event was the number of fresh faces, partly reflecting the involvement of the local Slow Food Youth network. Carlo Petrini returned to the platform, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“I am going home full of joy of what I have witnessed today in Berlin,” he smiled. “I can see thousands of people fighting for sustainable and small-scale agriculture, that is fair to the consumer, the producer and the environment. If this is the new generation and these the new movements for the future of Europe, then I am convinced that we will win this battle.”

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