Before he started making waves by saying the Catholic Church needs to be more accepting of gays and should broaden its focus beyond abortion and contraceptives, Pope Francis stood out in the long tradition of the papacy for being the first Pope from the Americas.
He may be Argentinian by birth, but both of his parents were Italian, and the couple left Piedmont in the 1920s to immigrate to South America. That region in northern Italy, famous for Barolo wine and truffles and egg-heavy pastas, is also where Carlo Petrini started the Slow Food movement in 1986.
According to Petrini, the two recently bonded over their shared roots in a phone call. In an article for La Repubblica that’s translated into English on the Slow Food website, Petrini writes that on September 28, “Around 7 p.m. I saw that I had a phone call from a blocked number. I answered, curious; and on the other end of the line I heard a by-now familiar voice saying: ‘This is Pope Francis. I received your book and your letter, and I wanted to thank you.’”
In addition to talking about Piedmont, Petrini says Francis expressed his “affection and esteem” for Terra Madre, the Slow Food-coordinated network of small-scale farmers and food producers focused on sustainability and preserving indigenous agriculture practices.
“The work of these people is extraordinary,” Petrini quotes Frances as saying of small-scale rural farming communities around the world (the Los Angeles Times notes that the Vatican hasn’t confirmed the conversation). He sees Francis’s thinking as being in line with farming advocates who have “expressed solidarity for the world of the humble, and their role in defending the planet’s common goods.”
Speaking to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization conference in June, Francis spoke publicly about similar issues in more combative terms.
“It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation,” he said, calling for an end to financial speculation in agriculture and guaranteeing that all people have access to healthy food.