Dispatch From Slow Food Nations

Slow Food was founded in 1989 to preserve food cultures and traditions, and to serve as the antidote to the rise of the fast food culture. Consequently, the rate of global food production has outpaced the rate of global population growth. With the industrialization of our food system and climate change threatening our past, present, and future, the call to action is urgent, Slow Food proponents say.

Our lives move at the pace of data. Fast food—and eating food fast—pervades our world daily. Slow Food, a global grassroots nonprofit composed of 1,500 chapters that influence millions of people around the world— is doubling down on its efforts to encourage people to Slow The Fork Down.

Slow Food USA hosted its Slow Food Nations July 14-17 in Denver, where estimates of between 10,000 and 20,000 attendees—including 500 international delegates—convened to mobilize their cause of changing the world through good, clean, and fair food for all. The last Slow Food Nations event was held in 2008 in San Francisco. The event was inspired by Slow Food International’s biannual Terra Madre gathering in Italy.

“Food is the largest part of our economy,” said Michel Nischan, a chef, author, and leader of the sustainable food movement. “Food has more impact on human health, our social livelihood, public health, and environmental health than anything else. We have to unite.”

Slow Food now plans to conduct the event on an annual basis in the Mile High City, with the goal of uniting current community activists and bringing in new faces who are drawn to embrace food as community, food as joy, and food as a bridge between people.

“Right now, food is fuel, efficiency, and convenience,” said Slow Food USA executive director Richard McCarthy. “People are so busy, stressed out, and hungering for community. Food is not just fuel. Food is solace. We want to bring people to the table who are looking for a way to create joy and justice through food.”

When Slow Food first formed in Italy, there were some 1,700 farmers markets in the U.S. Now, there are more than 10,000 farmers markets, and some 50,000 school gardens, pointed out Kim Severson, a writer with The New York Times. “Food is cultural currency. Let’s take advantage,” she says.

Severson moderated a panel composed of Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder; Los Angeles-based gardener Ron Finley; Alice Waters, chef and steward of The Edible Schoolyard Project; Nischan; and Jack Johnson, a musician and founder of All At Once, a social action network. The so-called “snailblazers” debated the urgency of dismantling the industrialized food system while growing food networks driven by their own communities.

To start, “we have to edibly educate the next generation right away,” Waters said.

The tyranny of cheap food is a trap. Our westernized society demands cheap food on the backs of farmers and fishermen, that needs to change—stat—they asserted.

The oft-talked about priorities of promoting fair and equitable food systems were discussed—from raising farmer wages, implementing viable farming practices, stripping subsidies to large-scale commodity crop growers, and elevating the value we place on the food we eat—though those focuses are not enough, Petrini said.

“We have to be more radical,” he said. “If we really want a call for change, we have to change our structures. They’re too closed, and not inclusive enough. We need far-sighted, long-range ideas. What’s happening in America (with the industrialization of food and fractured sense of community) is happening all throughout the world. But we’re seeing more grassroots reactions to implement meaningful change. People are starved for meaningful work. That makes me optimistic.” Indeed, we cast our vote with each food choice we make, so please support your local farmers and producers.

The mood was somewhat somber, as discussions arose over the political inertia and the Trump Administration’s push for deregulation of critical environmental policies. Yet, like Petrini, the other Slow Food panelists and delegates expressed joy, hope, and encouragement, over what they feel is a renewed purpose among communities who are building stronger connections through the slow food movement.

Of course, there was a wonderful celebration and exploration of food during the event, which was part-street festival, academic conference on policy and food justice, and inspiration of cultural exchange. Workshops ranged from community-financed farms, to critter cooking, and making stocks and broths, the art and science of making cheese and wild sourdough yeast starters, to whole hog barbecues, exploring the terroir of chocolate, heritage cooking, seed-saving, and ancient grains.

Tennessee farmer and seed-saver John Coykendall and Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, hosted a deeply moving and intimate discussion about the need to save our seeds, to preserve our heritage, for ourselves and future generations. Monoculture is a threat to our well-being, community, and the environment— 95% of the world’s calories only come from 30 species, with our foods primarily composed of corn, wheat, rice, palm oil, and soybeans. Pest infestation or climate change could wipe out one of those species and that food source.

The world produces more than 1 1/2 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet, which is also enough to feed the anticipated 9.6 billion global population in 2050. Our resilience comes through agricultural biodiversity.

“Our heirloom seeds are also a metaphor about how we’re seeding conversations about accountability, access, and responsibility, while recognizing the value of our elders and indigenous cultures,” Sethi said. “This notion of abundance and scarcity shows us how much we are bound up to each other. We are interdependent.”

For more information about Slow Food, visit SlowFoodUSA.org.

— Kathy Ames Carr

Insect Cooking