Interview with Cassiano Luminati, current director of Polo Poschiavo, the Alpine Competence Center for Continuing Education and member of EUSALP AG6
AlpFoodway is an Alpine Space Interreg project aimed at promoting socioeconomic and cultural practices related to food production and consumption in the Alpine region. AlpFoodway’s objective consists of creating a sustainable development model for peripheral mountain areas based on the preservation/valorization of Alpine Space cultural food heritage and on the adoption of innovative marketing and governance tools.
AlpFoodway activities are strictly related to the strategic goals of EUSALP and particularly to the activities of Action Group, which is working on the preservation and valorization of the Alpine natural and cultural heritage to enable also future generations to enjoy the living space of the Alps.
There is a strong link between EUSALP AG6 and AlpFoodway whose objectives to valorise the Alpine Food Heritage contribute to achieve the objective of AG6 Sub Group 2 to create an extensive alpine network of knowledge able to develop new projects and activities.
Cassiano Luminati, current director of Polo Poschiavo, the Alpine Competence Center for Continuing Education and member of EUSALP AG6 tells us about AlpFoodway activities and its link to EUSALP strategy.
Question: You participate in Action Group 6 of the European Union Strategy of the Alpine Region (EUSALP), which has a particular interest in the natural and cultural resources of the Alps. What advantages does such an affiliation have for the project and for alpine food culture in general?
Answer: A Subgroup has been constituted within AG6 (Action Group 6) that deals with themes linked to the agriculture/food and forestry productive pipelines, and some members of this Subgroup are partners or observers of the AlpFoodway project.
AlpFoodway activities and results concretely contribute to the specific objectives of the work programme of Subgroup 2- These objectives are linked to the agriculture/food pipeline and serve as a basis for creating an extensive alpine network of knowledge for the grouping, exchange and development of new projects.
The Mid-Term Conference and the Final Conference of the project will be an important moments of debate on the valorisation of the Alpine Food Heritage, in which not only the partners and the observers of the project will be involved, but also the alpine communities and the EUSALP stakeholders (European Union Strategy for the Alpine Region), which will play a crucial role in promoting interactions between institutions and citizens.
The tie between AlpFoodway and AG6 is consequently very close and fruitful.
Q: In your opinion, what is the potential for a closer collaboration between Interreg Alpine Space and EUSALP in terms of Alpine food heritage?
A: The close collaboration between Interreg Alpine Space and the Alpine Strategy allows, on the one hand, to increase the visibility and impact that a project can have and, on the other, can contribute substantially to the development of the strategic themes of EUSALP.
In the concrete case of AlpFoodway, this translates into the possibility of being able to discuss in a wider context the central aspects of the project, that are the valorisation of the alpine food heritage and its potential for the economic and sustainable development of peripheral areas of the Alps. The fact that EUSALP also strives to create greater interaction and collaboration between the mainly mountain areas and the metropolitan areas at the feet of the Alps will open interesting perspectives and scenarios for the specific purpose of commercial valorisation of the alpine food heritage.
Q: AlpFoodway has 14 partners from six countries. How do local projects fit together with the transnational aspect of the project?
A: The activities in the pilot areas have the objective to experience in the local communities how much the different partners have developed within their research.
Some examples: in Valposchiavo and Val Camonica we are working on a formative path supporting the companies engaged in the local agricultural/food productive pipeline and tourism. The interdisciplinary training course, beyond giving tools of marketing and commercial valorisation, therefore becomes also a meeting point between local players who usually do not interact; in Vallese, activities of intergenerational transmission of traditions and food practices are experienced; in Valle d’Aosta, activities aimed at the creation of innovative experiential tourist events in order to value the traditional food heritage; in Baviera, activities of development and integration of traditional food production in the local pipelines.
These experimental activities all based upon the valorisation of the immaterial food heritage, are carried out in order to become replicable models in other alpine regions.
Q: It is sometimes difficult, when we talk about culture and heritage, to demonstrate the economic interest that these themes have for society, in addition to the identity aspect. As far as Switzerland is concerned, what direct or indirect economic spin-offs have you been able to observe and/or expect?
A: We have observed the emergence of entrepreneurial opportunities around the agricultural knowledge, the breeding and the traditional food production that seemed condemned to extinction by the laws of the economy. Instead, the values of tradition, the authenticity, the tie with the territory have created new market opportunities for people who wants to maintain traditions, and consumers are disposed to reward these products with greater prices compared to the industrial products. This process allows to cover the greater costs and remunerate fairly the job of farmers and craftspeople, generating economic development and job opportunities for the young people that therefore have the possibility to remain in their places of origin.
Q: AlpFoodway was promoted by the European Commission as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 (EYCH). What does this mean for your project and for your partners?
A: First of all, it is a great honour to have been selected by the European Commission as a beacon project for the European Year of Cultural Heritage. This demonstrates that our topic, namely the sustainable economic development of peripheral areas based on the valorisation of the immaterial cultural heritage is of great interest and confirms our innovative approach. Moreover, it is giving great visibility and innumerable opportunities to introduce our work well beyond the alpine borders, giving a concrete contribution to the international debate on this topic.
Q: At the beginning of the project, one of the objectives for the sustainability of the Alps’ culinary heritage was to register it with UNESCO as an intangible global heritage. How do you plan to do this and what aspects exactly would you register? Working methods? Individual dishes? Local produce?
A: When we talk about immaterial cultural heritage we refer to the culinary traditions, the eating rituals, the agricultural practices and knowledge, the recipes that the local communities hand on from generation to generation, innovating them.
Through the research work carried out in AlpFoodway it has been possible to identify the common denominator of the Alpine food culture: it is formed by the traditional values that are the basis of food production: Let’s think about the common use of goods and services, the mutual aid, the care for the territory and the respect of the natural balances, the sobriety and the heritage. Traditional values that are however also very contemporary!
Based on these values shared in the whole Alpine Arc we have begun to create an inventory of this heritage, involving the local communities in our research activities.
Through this participatory work, it is also possible to raise awareness in the local community as well as in the institutions and the citizens of the immense value of this heritage as well as the risk of its disappearance forever and the great potential for a sustainable territorial development in the peripheral areas.
The awareness of the common values linked to the cultural heritage, as well as the heritage inventory are the basic elements to start the process of multinational candidacy of the Alpine Alimentary Culture as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Intangible Heritage. This type of candidacy in fact must come from the bottom up, from the local communities: AlpFoodway makes a common alpine identity emerge and establishes a network among the different cultures.
I must say that the interest of the communities and the institutions that we are gradually involving is indeed large and motivates us to continue in this direction, also involving UNESCO Commissions of various alpine countries and UNESCO itself. An important occasion in order to discuss this will be our Mid-Term Conference which will take place in Innsbruck on 4 October.