What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, March 31, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
We've been talking about meat a lot lately–mobile slaughter units, meat recalls, laptop butchershops–and we're not the only ones.
Issue #3 of Meatpaper jut hit the stands and it's the best one yet. They cover everything from the controversial presence of retail pork in Israel, to the hunt for roadside goat testicles in Tunisia. And over at Chow.com, they've got Meat Week 2008, kicking off with a very comprehensive feature on buying meat direct, with a bunch of great sidebar stories on bison, innards, greening your meat consumption and more.
Posted on Fri, March 28, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Although Congress passed an extension on 2002's Farm Bill until April 18, requiems are already being said for the hopes and dreams everyone had for radical change.
"A little more than a year ago," The Wall Street Journal said yesterday in this excellent article, "the stars appeared to be aligned for significant changes to the complex piece of legislation known as the farm bill… But now serious reform is likely to be left behind like corn husks flung from a combine."
As explained by Lauren Etter and Greg Hitt, the farm lobby continues to be an extremely powerful force on Capitol Hill (n.b. this link is only free to non-subscribers for another 5 days).
Meanwhile, over at Gourmet magazine, they've got an article by Sam Hurst called "Betting the Farm," that examines the Farm Bill, subsidies, and one South Dakota family living in the heart of subsidy country, but following a different path. "I've got a philosophical problem with growing corn," says young farmer Michael Stiegelmeier, "Most corn goes to livestock. I prefer to feed grain to people, and I prefer for cattle to eat grass."
Posted on Wed, March 26, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
The March, 2008 issue of Metropolis focuses on the overarching idea of localism and its relationship to sustainability. It is, as always, a beautiful and well-written issue, but in it one particular columnist, Bruce Sterling, has taken Slow Food to task accusing us once again of that old canard, elitism.
Now while it is true that the movement is often accused of such things, it is not true, nor is it always such a bad thing anyway. Bear in mind that most of the great social movements throughout history were begun by the so-called "elite," (witness abolition and suffrage - not to mention that Ghandi was a well-to-do attorney). But the places Mr. Sterling gets it wrong are so manifold it's hard to know where to start.
Let's try here:
The Cornish Pilchard. The Chilean Blue Egg Hen. The Cypriot Tsamarella and Bosnian Sack Cheese. You haven't seen these foods at McDonald's because they are strictly local rarities championed by Slow Food, the social movement founded to combat the proliferation of fast food. McDonald's is a multinational corporation: it retails identical food products on the scale of billions, repeatedly, predictably, worldwide. Slow Food, the self-appointed anti-McDonald's, is a "revolution" whose aim is a "new culture of food and life."
Actually you haven't seen these foods at McDonald's because McDonald's sells hamburgers. Here Mr. Sterling has blundered by believing that who/what Slow Food is is somehow stagnant and monolithic. If such things were true then the US would still be a few puritan slave owners dotted up and down the east coast. Or the Chicago Cubs would have been the National League power for the last century. He goes on…
Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Italian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini.
I've often wondered what it is about food and wine that makes those who appreciate it automatically labeled "snobs." Wine is just fermented grape juice actually one of the simplest foods known to man. Appreciating quality is not snobbery. Pretending to know something one doesn't actually understand - that's snobbery. For some reason someone who appreciates the inner workings of a fine internal combustion engine is not a snob, but someone who likes a well made buerre blanc is.
The group is the suave host for massive international food events in Torino. Other Slow Food emanations include a hotel, various nonprofit foundations, and—in a particularly significant development—a private college. The University of Gastronomic Sciences, founded in 2004, is the training ground for 200-plus international Slow Food myrmidons per year, who are taught to infiltrate farms, groceries, heritage tourism, restaurants, commercial consortia, hotel chains, catering companies, product promotion, journalism, and government. These areas are, of course, where Slow Food already lives.
My, we are sinister, aren't we? We are "suave," and we are "infiltrating" a host of consortia and other institutions (notably journalism, after all, here I am) with our "myrmidons." (Curious? Yeah, I had to look it up too - despite my apparent position in my ivory tower as an intellectual elite - it means "a follower who carries out orders without question." Evidently now we're a cult)
I'm not sure why Mr. Sterling considers these ideas to be so threatening, but the fact is Slow Food couldn't care less what the McDonalds and Monsantos of the world do, until they start to crap where we live. In the meantime, we promote these ideas because we believe them to be good ideas worthy of proliferation and preservation. Food defines who we are as individuals and as cultures. We are truly what we eat, and too many people are fast, cheap and easy. The right of ADM or Monsanto, Applebees or Burger King to swing its arms ends at the tip of the eater's nose. Who owns your food owns you, and it is unwise to let that power rest in the hands of a very few wealthy corportations.
As the spiritual, political, and ideological wellspring of all things "eco-gastronomic," Slow Food has woven a set of quiet understandings with the city of Torino, the region of Piedmont, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Sir, due respect and setting aside your constant condescension for a moment, but there's been nothing "quiet" about it. Logos for those government bodies and organizations are emblazoned on, for example, ALL the literature regarding the Salone del Gusto, (need proof? click that link) the largest food show of its kind, atracting 200,000 people each year. Oh, and yes, it's in Italy. The organization was founded there, that's why. Our last International Leaders' Congress was held in Puebla, Mexico because preserving the foods and traditions of the so-called "developing" world is at the top of Slow Food's mission list. We are not as exclusionary as you seem to think.
In regard to Slow Food's Presidia project, he had this to say:
The cleverest innovation to date is the network's presidium system. The Slow Food "presidia" make up a grassroots bottom-up version of the European "Domain of Control" system, which requires, for instance, that true "champagnes" must come from the province of Champagne, while lesser fizzy brews are labeled mere "sparkling wines." These presidia have made Slow Food the planetary paladin of local production. Slow Food deploys its convivia to serve as talent scouts for food rarities (such as Polish Mead, the Istrian Giant Ox, and the Tehuacan Amaranth). Candidate discoveries are passed to Slow Food's International Ark Commission, which decides whether the foodstuff is worthy of inclusion. Its criteria are strict: (a) Is the product nonglobalized or, better yet, inherently nonglobalizable? (b) Is it artisanally made (so there's no possibility of any industrial economies of scale)? (c) Is it high-quality (the consumer "wow" factor)? (d) Is it sustainably produced? (Not only is this politically pleasing, but it swiftly eliminates competition from most multinationals.) (e) Is this product likely to disappear from the planet otherwise? (Biodiversity must be served!)
Sterling seems to think this is being done for our organization's own aggrandizement, or perhaps even profit. Simply not so. it s being done because, as the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity do clearly states:
5% of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900
93% of American food product diversity has been lost in the same time period
33% of livestock varieties have disappeared or are near disappearing
30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century, and one more is lost every six hours
The mission of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity is to organize and fund projects that defend our world's heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions.
We envision a new agricultural system that respects local cultural identities, the earth's resources, sustainable animal husbandry, and the health of individual consumers.
And yes, Mr. Sterling, biodiversity MUST be served. Nature does not function without it and the industrialization and standardization of food and flavors is a direct threat to that diversity. For those who would like to know the true mission (and criteria) of the Foundation for Biodiversity and the Presidia Projects, please click here.
It is, among its many other roles, a potent promotion machine. Transforming local rarities into fodder for global gourmets is, of course, profitable. And although he's no capitalist—the much honored Petrini is more justly described as a major cultural figure—he was among the first to realize that as an economic system globalization destroys certain valuable goods and services that rich people very much want to buy.
There he goes again, thinking that there is some profit motive behind what we do, like our 501(c)3 status and clear and concise billing as an educational organization is just some sort of front for gluttonous Nobles Oblige rather that an honest attempt to help preserve flavors, traditions, and ways of life. Does he really believe that mankind's only choices are get on board with the agribusiness oligarchs or get run over by them? We think not. We think it's a good idea to try to preserve great food. We think there should be more than one kind of hamburger in the world. More than one flavor of beer. We believe foundations and traditions are important because they make us who we are.
But while McDonald's mechanically peddles burgers to the poor, Slow Food acculturates the planet's wealthy to the gourmand quality of life long cherished by the European bon vivant. They have about as much in common as an aging shark and a networked swarm of piranhas.
Yes, McDonald's does do that, as the overwhelming rates of obesity and diabetes among "the poor" (especially children) so clearly demonstrates. But far from reserving these "cherished" foods of the world for some elite class, Slow Food is working to proliferate them, and to return them to the artisans and yes, often peasants, from which they originated. we seek to make people aware of the connections between food and pleasure on the one hand, and awareness and responsibility on the other.
Mr. Sterling's dismissal of Slow Food's successful efforts as snobbery or elitism rings quite hollow on closer examination of what Slow Food is truly trying to do. I suggest, Mr. Sterling, that you read more, learn more, and perhaps visit Slow Food Nation this coming summer. There you may open your eyes to a food system we call "Good, clean, and fair."
"He who distinguishes the true savor of his food," Thoreau once wrote, "cannot be a glutton. He who does not, cannot be otherwise."
Read Mr. Sterling's entire article here
Posted on Wed, March 26, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Last week we began exploring the question of mobile slaughter units, and their ability to provide infrastructure to small and mid-sized meat producers. Examining the history of the first ever facility in the country, we hope to answer the question: is this replicable?
What does it take to be the first at something like this? To give a little history about how the mobile slaughter unit project on Lopez Island started: in 1997 a group of farmers approached the Lopez Community Land Trust to explore the feasibility of having a USDA mobile slaughter unit for San Juan County (Lopez, orcas, San Juan and Shaw Islands).
Thomas Forster, the Executive Director at the time, received several grants to conduct needs assessment. As a result, Holly Freishtat was hired as the Community Food Systems Coordinator. As part of the needs assessment, she surveyed the farmers in the county, organized focus groups to determine the demand for local foods and examined the USDA regulations for meat inspection to find an exemption to become first USDA inspected mobile slaughter facility in the country.
11 years later, Holly, now a Sustainable Food Specialist and a Food and Society Policy Fellow, explained to us what that process looked like, and what questions she needed to ask. When speaking with Holly, we asked her what she learned as a result of this assessment and she said that "the issues this island community is facing, of farmers not having access to local infrastructure, and consumers not having access to the local foods they demand, is no different from what rural and urban communities are facing around the country. I thought they were unique because they were surrounded by water and now I have realized that it is a result of a centralized global food system. We have to build the capacity and infrastructure for our farmers and consumers to have local foods."
The idea of the mobile facility, she explained, was to provide a USDA inspected meat that could be sold in supermarkets and in the restaurants, to keep ranching alive on the island and to bring in new, young farmers (combating the aging farmer problem seen all around the country). This process took many years because there were many hurdles to get over, both logistically and financially. How to convince the USDA that it should have an inspector devoted solely to this unit? How to raise the funds to build it? And, looking forward, what would be needed in order for this to be replicated in other communities?
Amazingly, all of the hurdles were cleared and the unit began operating in 2003 and serves four counties. It is owned by the Lopez Community Land Trust and was built with money raised through private sources and also with some government funding. It is operated by a farmers cooperative which also operates a fixed building for fabricating (for the cutting, packaging, and aging of beef). All meat remains the property of the farmer, and it is the farmer's responsibility to take on the task of selling it. They sell to individuals, butcher shops and restaurants, and the unit has—so far—proven to accomplish exactly what Holly Freishtat had hoped it would do when she did her investigations all those years back. Farmers on the island are making a living raising meat, and people who live on Lopez are enjoying fresh, delicious, sustainable, grass-fed product.
After the needs assessment was completed, Bruce Dunlop was hired as the project manager. Bruce is the manager of the unit, and has now become an expert on mobile slaughter facilities. Since getting the Lopez unit up and running, he has helped to build six others, including one in California and one in South Dakota. One of Freishtat's questions had been: can this be replicated in other communities, and so far, the answer seems to be yes, setting an exciting precedent.
Posted on Tue, March 25, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Slow Food USA Board member, Jim Braun, was one of the subjects of a documentary a few years back on the disappearance of the family farm. It's a short, simple, and very effective film in three parts that discusses how small farmers in Iowa were squeezed out, with a focus on the small hog farmer being coopted by the CAFO. It was recently posted on YouTube; check it out.
Posted on Mon, March 24, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
In case you missed this, Atlanta's "Sunday Paper" had this to say about its convivium, and founding leader (and Southern Regional Governor) Julie Schaffer:
Photo Credit: Spark St. Jude
Julie Shaffer, founder of the Atlanta chapter of Slow Food
By Hope S. Philbrick
If you ate milk and cookies every day after school and now serve the same snack to your kids, you could say that's a gastronomic tradition. If milk and cookies is the common after-school snack within your community, you could call it a local food tradition. If all the folks who once made cookies from scratch stopped baking, these traditions would be lost.
Slow Food is an international group with more than 80,000 members working to preserve food traditions, food heritage and food cultures throughout the world while focusing on what they call "eco-gastronomy" or the connection between plate and planet. Slow Food hopes to establish and protect food systems that result in food that is good, clean and fair: That is, food that tastes good, is produced without harming the environment, animals or health, and provides fair compensation to producers. It's a cookie that's easy to swallow.
Posted on Thu, March 20, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
A few articles in the month of January on mobile slaughter units around the country caught our attention and got us asking questions. Why is there a need for mobile slaughter facilities? Could the answer lie somewhere in the nation's largest beef recall? Where are their successful mobile slaughter facilities in this country? What did it take to get them up and running?
And some of you might be asking: what in tarnation is a mobile slaughter facility?
Mobile slaughter units are processing facilities (there are poultry ones and also ones for meat) that can travel from farm to farm. Mobile units are cheaper to build than permanent facilities, and allow groups of small farmers to band together to use the facility for small groups of animals. In addition, these units are appealing because they don't live in anyone's backyard (NIMBY syndrome is huge with slaughterhouses).
There is a need for mobile slaughter facilities in this country because everything is being geared more and more towards the large-scale producers—this is both with grains and livestock of course—so that there are very few processing facilities for small farmers, making the market increasingly favorable to large industrial operations and less and less favorable to the little guy. All the little ones are gone, and in their wake? Large facilities that are geared for huge numbers of animals. Also, similarly to all the neighborhood Mom and Pop shops giving way to big box stores, this means you have to travel farther to get to them, sometimes prohibitively so.
In the wake of health scares and disturbing meat recalls, we are seeing an increasing demand for sustainably raised, grass fed meat, but if there isn't an infrastructure to support these small farmers—i.e. if there aren't processing facilities for them to use—then how will the demand ever be met? How will people, on a large scale, ever have a viable alternative to industrially-produced meat? In order to get product to the people, you have to have infrastructure to scale. You need to build the facilities for small and mid-scale farmers to get it to their market share.
The first mobile slaughter facility in the country was started about ten years ago on Lopez Island off the coast of Washington State. Their reasons for building a mobile unit were very particular to their island status: farmers had to go off island to slaughter and then bring the meat back to the island. This wasn't cost-effective, so most people just brought their meat to the mainland and then sold it there. The ironic result was that the island was having a food access issue; the meat was being raised there but not eaten there. Solution? A unit on the island.
(This post is a series of short posts that will explore what it took for Lopez to get this unit rolling, and see how it's working today.)
Posted on Wed, March 19, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Check out GOOD magazine for which big conglomerates own which organic food labels.
Posted on Wed, March 19, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food in Schools Coordinator, Cecily Upton
Here at Slow Food USA, we've been noticing an interesting and exciting trend: young folks eschewing the corporate/industrial complex and going back to the land and back to the kitchen.
We're not the only ones who noticed it either–Saturday's New York Times Style Section included a lengthy article about young farmers, featuring Slow Food friend and filmmaker Severine Von Tscharner Fleming and my very own CSA farmers from Hearty Roots Community Farm and Awesome Farm, Ltd.
Beyond the Times article, though, we've heard from other youngsters about how Slow Food has helped shape their career choices. Slow Food Princeton campus chapter leader Joe Vellone writes:
"Having taken classes on food in American culture, environmental science, and economics, I've learned a learned a lot about the theories behind farming practices, food distribution, and markets. But learning about those concepts and experiencing them first-hand are two completely different things. Sure, I could have spent this summer working for an investment bank like so many of my classmates, but ultimately I would have come out empty this summer (though my wallet would have been full!).
A summer working on an organic farm, or volunteering for a greenmarket, or interning at a nonprofit in the food sector isn't just about the experience: it's about walking the walk instead of just talking the talk by eating locally and buying organic."
Katy Anderson, another Princetonian, said "After working in wealth management over the summer, I thought heavily about taking an offer from JP Morgan for a three year position after college. But ultimately, my interest in sustainable food won out - with a background in farming and a passion for good, clean, fair food expanded by my experience with Slow Food, I am incredibly excited to take this riskier, less straightforward route."
Severine, whose film "The Greenhorns" documents the experiences of young farmers across the country, has some words of advice for those looking to support this movement:
"Many in the Slow Food movement have a commitment to place, a dedication to their regional cuisine, a nose for apricot season. If you are lucky enough to own land, you might consider lending your land to a young farmer tenant. One, three, twelve, forty acres/hectares might very well not be economically viable to farm for a holiday-owner, or even for a conventional local producer of citrus, or olive, or apple–but that might be just enough land for a young intrepid farmer to grow a crop of dry-farmed tomatoes for sauce, or marjoram to dry, or even a small
vegetable operation for one of those restaurants which is on the cusp of buying locally- except that the supply is missing.
Begin to negotiate the terms of a new interaction with place, with the community relations that inform sensitive stewardship, begin a conversation with the next generation, share what you know, and nurture their fierce idealism with a piece of land to practice it upon."
Posted on Tue, March 18, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Membership Assistant, Julia De Martini Day
"Sin maíz, no hay país!" "Without corn, there is no country!" were the words chanted by the Independent Women's Movement on International Women's Day March 8th in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico as they protested against free trade agreements devastating local agricultural communities and affordable access to staple food items, such as corn.
More and more are attention is brought back to how our increasingly globalized food distribution system is leaving us – whether we are in the USA or in Mexico - with rising food prices, as well as other costs, such as the health and environmental effects of eating and producing food made with chemicals or GMOs. In a New York Times article in February about the rising costs of wheat, even the large multi-national company General Mills said they would have to raise prices, and the article notes that the consequences are stretched wallets at home and abroad.
Both the protests in Chiapas and the article in the NYTimes leave us asking, how can we nourish ourselves and our families with food that is healthy and affordable – or good, clean and fair? How can we build off an increasing awareness of a globalized food system to ensure that the agricultural products inherent to our communities are also made to be staples of the local economies we are working to build?