Thursday, November 4, 2010

"There should be more school gardens than McDonalds franchises"

I thought only Oprah was outspoken enough of a public figure to malign a subgroup within the food industry and get away with it, but no: thus spoke Slow Food USA president Josh Viertel during the well-attended US-member meeting at Terra Madre last week. (Holy heck, was I in Italy just last week? Mama mia!) And what a meeting it was, also featuring Edible Schoolyard patroness Alice Waters, rockstar economist Raj Patel, feminist farmer and activist Denise O'Brien, and the man himself, Slow Food International founder Carlo Patrini. I left the meeting galvanized for action... slow but steady action. (Well, the Slow Food mascot *is* the snail, after all.)

"You can't just vote with your fork," Josh urged some 500+ Slow Foodies at the US community meeting, "you have to vote with your vote." Turns out it's no longer enough to support local producers at the market with your individual or family food dollars. (I still plan to continue that practice while getting involved with food advocacy work.) "You're not going to get into heaven based on the contents of your tote bag at the farmers' market... though it is a prerequisite," quipped Slow Food USA's dynamic new leader, "We need to band together to affect change at the policy level." He's right.

What's this, Slow Food getting political? Yes. Finally. Under the banner of "the universal right to good, clean, and fair food," Slow Food, it seems, is in the process of transitioning from an elitist group of foodies into a community of activists. In a way, it is a return to the roots of the movement, which started as a response to the vagaries of Fast Food in Italy. Moving beyond the traditional fine dining events and artisanal food worship (though plenty of both remain for those on the lookout), Slow Foodies are building gardens, hosting Eat-Ins, and talking to politicians. Near the end of his Terra Madre talk, Josh encouraged members to learn about the Farm Bill coming up for review, legislation which has the potential to advance (or undo) the way food is produced, and the kind of farms and farmers we support across the country. The membership is substantial enough that we can, if we so mobilize, be heard. "Yes!" I thought, "We can save our food system yet! Put me to work!" I left the meeting downright giddy. (The four hours of sleep and two espressos may, admittedly, have been partly to blame for this, but it was an amazing meeting nonetheless.) A belated thank you to those who helped me attend the conference: Jim, Martha, Paul, Dad, and Uncle Sam.

Maybe you're wondering how you can get involved with Slow Food's important work. Well, you can attend an event in your area -- activities range from potlucks to film screenings to farm field trips. Some chapters have even sponsored (and built) gardens, like the SF Charlotte chapter I learned about during my time at Friendship Trays. You can join your local SF chapter. (Annual membership is a steep $60, but there are periodic reduced-rate opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled. Last autumn I joined my DC chapter during a $1 membership drive; this year I renewed for $25.) And if there isn't a chapter near you, start one.

More gardens, less McDonalds. Together we can make it happen.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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