My favourite moment of Terra Madre didn’t take place on a food stand or a stage but in a queue for the toilet.

There I was, patiently waiting one afternoon when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the lady ahead of me studying my Terra Madre delegate pass. “Oh no. Here we go” I thought, trying not to catch her eye. I’d had countless encounters with enthusiastic people launching into fluent Italian in spite of my blank face. (I admired their tenacity but always felt so embarrassed by my total inability to communicate!) So, overrehearsed apologetic smile at the ready, I prepared myself to disappoint, but sometimes life surprises you. She gestured towards me and said in a fluent South East England accent, “British?”.

“Yes!” I shrieked (mostly just excited not to be apologising!). We quickly exchanged foodie CVs. And in a bizarre fluke of Terra Madre toilet magic, she told me she was starting an exciting new community cookery school project in a deprived area of Kent, something not entirely unfamiliar to me as a community cookery school teacher working in East London!

Time was tight – we were now at the front of the queue – so after “powdering our noses” (as she put it with a giggle), we met up outside the cubicles and then went out to join her team for a really fascinating and productive chat. There turned out to be a lot of crossover with the advocacy work I’m doing on junk food marketing as well and many similarities between public health agendas in our respective councils which the team were working on in ways I’d never considered, so there was a lot of shared learning to be had!

It’s amazing how much we all have to fight for our ideals in this buzzy little sustainable food world. It can often feel like we’re the only ones tackling an issue against forces much bigger and stronger than us but it’s reassuring to know there are others out there not only supporting our ethos but working at a slightly different piece of the puzzle.

And that’s probably the most powerful aspect of Terra Madre – it brings us together to share our experiences – be that at a stall, in a talk or even, as in my experience, in a toilet queue! I just hope I don’t have to wait another 2 years and travel another couple of thousand miles before my next enlightening chance encounter…Did someone say Terra Madre UK!?

Fran Bernhardt teaches plant-based community cookery at Made in Hackney, works to tackle junk food advertising as part of Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign and has recently started as Coordinator for the newly formed Tower Hamlets Food Partnership. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram on @goodfoodforwho

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