food is everywhere… but slowly, a group of activists – unhappy with the changes
it brought to the world's culinary landscape – is promoting an alternative. It
focuses on preserving and celebrating good-tasting traditional foods,
sustainable farming practices, and fair prices for growers. The so-called Slow
Food Movement is now in 131 countries, each chapter having the same goal: to
stop the industrialization of food production. The American Slow Food Nation
recently held its first tasting festival in San Francisco. Jan Sluizer stopped
A cavernous hall once used by the U.S. Army was divided into 16 colorful
mini-pavilions for the Slow Food Nation tasting fair. Each offered a different treat for the taste
buds, including coffee, chocolate, wine, pickles, bread, olive oil, cheese and
goers sampled food and drink and learned about where it came from and how it
was produced. Farmers, chefs, and
conservationists delivered lectures and held workshops. World-renowned chefs, using farm-fresh
ingredients, demonstrated how to make simple meals with sustainable
ingredients. Slow Food merchants from
all over the United States sent products for display.
the ice cream pavilion, local pastry chef William Werner was giving out samples
from nine different manufacturers. Werner volunteered at the festival to
support the Slow Food Movement, and compared the ice cream he was serving to
what he called "pre-made fabricated ice cream… You can buy local from
people who are being sustainable, making it, spinning it every day, keeping it
fresh, and, also, keeping it healthier for you."
As part of the weekend-long festival, California farmers who
subscribe to the slow food philosophy set up stands to sell their produce. As
festival executive director Anya Fernauld explained, it's all about
reclaiming elements of the traditional food system that Americans abandoned
when – as she put it – 'canned food rolled our way,' and incorporating those
elements into modern American life.
said she would consider the festival a success if a tenth of those who came
make just one small healthy change in their approach to their food. "Some
people who come to the event might be inspired to try making some things from
scratch," she suggested, "inspired to ask their local sandwich place:
'Well, where is that meat from and does it have things in it that are going to
really be bad for the environment or bad for me?'" She said she'd also
like to see people cooking more, growing more of their own food, and buying
produce that's in season in their area.
Many at the festival saw politics as a catalyst to change how
Americans eat. Daniel Bowman Simon drove cross-country from New York in a
double-decker yellow school bus with an organic garden on top. His goal was to
gather signatures for a petition for the
next president of the United States. It asks him to eat from a community garden
to be grown on the White House lawn and tended by local school children.
Dimmick was at the festival with another petition. He
wants to deliver a million signatures to Congress by November 2009, asking for
Slow Food philosophies to be incorporated into the 2012 Farm Bill, the
legislation that provides funding for all federal food and agriculture
programs. "The Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture is a framework for changing policy in this
country so that we actually give the right incentives to farmers and to
communities so we can actually create a food system that is healthy," he
explained. "Right now, we have just the opposite."
The Slow Food Nation festival ended with an outdoor sit-down potluck dinner for
250 young people. The newly appointed
president of Slow Food USA, Josh Viertel, said it was to honor young farmers,
restaurant owners and workers, and others who support the movement. "We
are the next generation of Slow Food Nation," he said. "Slow Food is
going mainstream and we're to help it and we're here to sort of take charge
ourselves because we are the generation that was not taught slow food values
but we, ourselves, are taking charge."
living those values is not that easy. Not everyone has access to local fresh
produce, and the organically grown food that slow food supporters advocate
often costs more than conventionally grown and processed foods. Also, many
Americans think it's just another fad. So critics of the Slow Food Movement
contend that it's elitist, impractical and too expensive.
Restaurateur Alice Waters – recognized as the visionary behind the American
Slow Food Movement – rejects those claims, noting that people have a choice of
paying for healthy food up front… or for doctors' bills later on. "We have
to learn how to cook again," she insists. "Vegetables and grains and
fruits and nuts can be affordable. We just don't know what to do with
Food advocates such as Waters say there is a lot of work to be done to get the
movement's philosophy into mainstream America. But judging from the crowds at
the festival, Waters says she's hopeful that Americans and people around the
world will choose more healthful, sustainable foods over convenient ones.