Slow Food Nation Redux

I read somewhere that there are three truths - your truth, my truth, and the truth. Outstripping expectations, over 60,000 people came, saw, and ate at Slow Food Nation. While not perfect (what is?), it was an incredible gathering of people, food, ideas, and possibilities that totally blew my socks off. It made me believe that having a healthy food system may soon take its rightful place on our national political agenda. A place that currently stands empty. 


It's true that the past 100 years of industrialized food have made it a lofty goal to recognize the basic right of everyone to a food system in which food is produced in a way that is good for eaters, good for producers and good for the planet.  Still, quite a few visions for a better world for everyone have been objects of derision at some point.  According to "The Old Girl Network" exhibit currently at the Clements Library, at one time the Constitutional Law of Illinois said "Idiots, lunatics, paupers, felons and women shall not be entitled to vote." Hallelujah - we've moved significantly from this version of truth in 100 years.  


In her speech last week, Michelle Obama called on us not only to see the world as it is, but to create the world as it should be.  The people who worked to change women's suffrage in the world as it was (when every powerful force was arrayed against it) toward the world that should be did so because it is right and it is fair to acknowledge that women are fully vested human beings.  That gives me some faith that in my lifetime I'll see a woman elected president as well as communities with food security.  


My truth about Slow Food is that it's a framework for an average citizen like me to have constructive ways to think about and, most importantly, act (even in small ways) on some of the most pressing environmental, educational, and social justice issues of our day. I appreciate the willingness of Slow Food to deal with complexity - in  educational initiatives to know who and what goes into getting food to our plates, with multi-faceted projects to grow and save heritage foods, and with making connection to bring everyone to the table.  It's all about relationships.  Always was, always will be. 


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In addition to being impressed at the recycled and recycle-able nature of everything that went into making this a beautiful event, the highlights of the Slow Food Nation event for me included:


- First, the verdant Victory Garden planted in front of San Francisco's City Hall celebrated California as our country's horn of plenty. In addition to the cornucopia of vegetables - chard, lettuce, broccoli, squash, herbs, corn, kale - there were also plantings of California native flowers and herbs, fig tress, a three sisters garden,  and pole bean teepees.  All of the produce is destined for the San Francisco Food Bank. Even with its number one status in agriculture, like Michigan, California is a net food importer. How is it possible that it is a state where 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 4 children are unsure from where their next meal will come?  Walking in the Victory Garden was both an emotional and thought-provoking way of experiencing a huge public space like that.


- Second, hearing Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini for the first time, speaking eloquently at the Slow Food Congress.  Even through a translator he is able to communicate his passion and his humor.  His view is that we're in a society similar to the people who continued to dance as the Titanic headed for the iceberg.  Slow Food wants to create not a society of consumers, but a society of good citizens that he calls "co-producers." In this society everyone has a right to pleasure - to poetry, music, food, love, culture, history. According to Petrini, Slow Food is not here to defend or try to get power, it's here so that we can enjoy each others' company, respect each other, and hold on to the incredible heritage we have in food.


- Third, I felt privileged to witness the initial signing of the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture, intended to move toward a Farm Bill that does what it is supposed to do - support our health and our farms.  With a goal to gather at least 300,000 signatures on its way to petition congress, it lays out twelve principles that are needed in our agricultural policy. Namely, that it:


  1. "Forms the foundation of secure and prosperous societies, healthy communities, and healthy people.

  2. Provides access to affordable, nutritious food to everyone.

  3. Prevents the exploitation of farmers, workers, and natural resources; the domination of genomes and markets; and the cruel treatment of animals, by any nation, corporation or individual.

  4. Upholds the dignity, safety, and quality of life for all who work to feed us.

  5. Commits resources to teach children the skills and knowledge essential to food production, preparation, nutrition, and enjoyment.

  6. Protects the finite resources of productive soils, fresh water, and biological diversity.

  7. Strives to remove fossil fuel from every link in the food chain and replace it with renewable resources and energy.

  8. Originates from a biological rather than an industrial framework.

  9. Fosters diversity in all its relevant forms: diversity of domestic and wild species; diversity of foods, flavors and traditions; diversity of ownership.

  10. Requires a national dialog concerning technologies used in production, and allows regions to adopt their own respective guidelines on such matters.

  11. Enforces transparency so that citizens know how their food is produced, where it comes from, and what it contains.

  12. Promotes economic structures and supports programs to nurture the development of just and sustainable regional farm and food networks. "



- Fourth, Slow Food Nation's Farmer's Market provided an inspiring gathering of farmers and artisans talking about, selling and giving tastes of fabulous jams, apples, cheese, bread, olive oil, strawberries, yogurt, peaches, beans, tomatoes....Each producer was asked to bring just one item to allow for the opportunity to talk with people about what they grow or make and how they produce it. 


- Fifth, the wonderful Taste Hall preview evening gathered of some of the country's best artisan producers of things like cheese, beer, coffee, charcuterie, pickles, jams, honeys, ice cream, bread - easily the equals of any in Europe or elsewhere in the world. I got to meet 2 of my own personal heroes: Mike Gingrich, maker of the sent-from-heaven Pleasant Ridge cheese from Wisconsin. And June Taylor, queen of jams and preserves. 


- Sixth, the day-long tour of the Creameries of Marin County, where the Marin Agricultural Land Trust has helped to preserved 50% of the land in the county for farming. 


- Lucky seventh, very best of all, were the Food for Thought panel sessions, presenting the authors and thinkers of our day on topics like The World Food Crisis, Building a New Food System, Re-localizing Food, A New Fair Food System and the coup de grace - a Slow Food Nation panel with Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser, and Carlo Petrini on a single stage talking about "the local, national and global impact of the philosophy and practice of Slow Food." 



The world as it should be? "Good, clean and fair" seems like a worthwhile starting point. 





"We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are."  -- Anais Nin



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