What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, December 17, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
The Farm Bill passed last week on the Senate floor, with a vote of 79-14. There were some major disappointments, and some modest but important successes. However, no one can argue with the fact that this was a Farm Bill debate unlike any that has come before it. For the first time ever, citizens at large–not just farmers and politicians–saw that this was a piece of legislation that affected their lives.
According to the Washington Post, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), (yes, that is a real name of a real person) the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee, called the bill "truly representative of American agriculture." This may be the case, but probably not exactly in the way he means.
Now, what's left is for the House and Senate to reconcile their two versions of the bill.
For the general overview, read the AP story here.
For Grist's "post-mortem," click here.
Posted on Fri, December 14, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
As of today, the Dorgan-Grassley amendment– the amendment that proposed payment limits for subsidies–failed on the Senate floor, 56-43. That's 56 votes FOR the amendment, and yet, that counts as failure, oddly enough, based on an agreement made by the two parties that 60 votes would be needed for it to pass.
For many of us, educating ourselves on the Farm Bill has been an education in the evils of subsidies, so the failure of this amendment is a disappointment, if not a complete surprise. It is worth noting, however, that this amendment, like several others, was the source of some debate amongst sustainable ag proponents.
Much in the same way, the School nutrition amendment has also ruffled some feathers. While this amendment puts some major restrictions on what kind of junk food and what size packages can be sold/served in public schools, many are upset because it allows these foods in at all.
Both of these are good object lessons in what a labrynthine tangle this Farm Bill is, and how difficult it is to make change wihin an existing (messed up) system.
That being said!
Despite the failure of Dorgan-Grassley, there are nearly 40 more amendments taking the floor in the upcoming days, including the Tester amendment — which would help make it easier for independent livestock producers to get their animals to market , and an amendment to be offered by Senator Lincoln (boo! hiss!) that would limit eligibility for conservation programs. Now is a terrific time to call your Senators and reiterate your priorities: 202-224-3121
Posted on Thu, December 13, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
Not only are the industrially grown strawberries pretty flavorless, but they struggle to survive in soil that hasn't been sterilized by methyl bromide or methyl iodide, 2 compounds that are proven to cause cancer.
Older, heirloom varieties of strawberries do well in regular old soil, soil that doesn't need cancer-causing agents to keep it going. And also: they TASTE better.
Posted on Fri, December 07, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
After a giant log-jam, as of yesterday, things are finally moving in the Senate again. This means that the (Food and) Farm Bill has a shot at getting passed before the Senate takes its holiday recess. Of course, many speculate that the President will veto the passed version, but we'll try not to get ahead of ourselves.
In the meantime, 260 amendments to the bill are going to be up for debate (that's a lot of amendments to get through in just a few weeks!) and we'll be highlighting some of them in upcoming posts. Stay tuned…
Posted on Fri, December 07, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
You might know Eric Schlosser best for Fast Food Nation, and the subsequent movie version, and the subsequent for-teens book called Chew On This. It turns out that his muckraking about the food system created an itch to uncover food worker abuses, an itch he's been scratching for the past few years. After exposing the horrific conditions of immigrant workers in the beef slaughterhouses that supply our nation's fast food restaurants, he next turned his pen on the abused hog slaughterhouse workers at the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina.
For his incisive and hard-hitting 2006 piece called "Hog Hell," in The Nation, click here.
For ways that you can help take action against Smithfield's treatment of workers, and in particular their treatment of workers who try to unionize, click here.
Next up for Schlosser? The plight of egregiously underpaid tomato pickers in Southern Florida, whose tomatoes end up on the burgers at all of the major fast food chains. In 2005, the Coalition of Immokalee workers (Immokalee is a small town in Florida) succeeded in getting Taco Bell to agree to a one cent per pound increase. Sounds like a pittance, and to Taco Bell it is; to the workers, it's a colossal difference. When Erika Lesser, our Executive Director, met members of the Immokalee Coalition at the Kellogg Conference last Spring, the news was good–they had their sights set next on the other big chains.
In his recent NY Times opinion piece, however, Schlosser documents the glitch in their plan–the Florida Growers Exchange's threat to growers who pay this extra penny per pound. Schlosser pulls no punches in his disgust for the greed of Burger King and one of its top shareholders–Goldman Sachs. To read all about it, click here.
Posted on Mon, December 03, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
I celebrated the New Year twice in 2007. The first occasion was on January 1st, in the tradition of the western world. In the second instance it was July first, when I was a guest in the Seri Indian village of El Desemboque, a desert community on the east coast of the Sea of Cortez in Sonora, Mexico. There, the New Year begins with the start of the wild mesquite pod harvest, in early July. I had come to witness and record the celebration and the harvest in preparation for launching the Fire Roasted Mesquite Presidium.
The Seri New Year celebration is linked with the harvest because mesquite is one of the most important traditional staple foods of this hunting and gathering people. Rich in protein, minerals and other nutrients, it was a significant part of their healthy, natural, Native diet. Today, however, as the traditional diet erodes from the onslaught of packaged, processed, non-traditional foods, and children are growing accustomed to sodas, chips, and commercial sweets, there is a dramatic deterioration in health. Many Seri suffer from diabetes and its side effects, and restoring mesquite to their regular diet would make a significant difference in preventing this problem.
The goal of the Mesquite Presidium is to sustain this food tradition and keep it viable by generating income from selling the surplus flour not consumed in the community. The nutty, sweet, gluten–free flour is already gaining popularity in the United States, and interest is growing in Mexico. Marketing part of their mesquite harvest to Mexican neighbors and communities across the US border promotes not only economic gain, but also a cross-cultural exchange that will bring recognition to the value of their food traditions in a larger world.
Teaching us their mesquite harvest and roasting practices, and sharing their tortillas, atole, and tamales with us, infused the New Year celebration with enthusiasm for the Presidium project. In this New Year, fire-roasted Mesquite flour from Seri is coming to market. Look for it at the Center for Sustainable Environments, Prescott College's Crossroads Café, Tucson Botanical Garden, and the Smithsonian/National Museum of the American Indian's Mitsitam Café.
Read more about the Seri Fire Roasted Mesquite Presidium on the Slow Food USA website and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity website.
Mesquite pod flour is also on the US Ark of Taste. Click here to learn more.
Posted on Mon, November 26, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA intern Samantha Taylor
It's the brink of the holiday season and the latest news is that there is a devastating dearth in the supply of Food Banks across the country. America's Second Harvest, a nationwide network of banks, has been inundated with complaints from pantries in nearly every major city across the U.S, citing an increase in need up to 35%. Unmet, higher demand amounts to half empty bags in the hands of the 35.5 million people facing hunger in our country.
In New York City, where over two million people living below the poverty level depend on emergency food programs (EFP) for sustenance, the shortage is also hitting hard. Since its inception in 1983, the NYC Food Bank has collected and distributed over 68 million pounds of food per year to the 900 pantries and soup kitchens citywide. However, in recent months the typically abundant supply of canned fruit and vegetables, cereals and grains filling pantry shelves have dwindled by nearly half–and the problem is no longer contained below the poverty line. An increasing number of working people, many employed in service jobs compensating well-below liveable wage are facing a choice between heat in their homes and meals on the table as winter fast approaches.
What's behind the deficit? While the incessant rise of home heating costs and holiday financial strain are partly to blame, the steady, negligent decline of federal emergency food aid is taking the biggest toll. A pantry can successfully provide struggling families with bags of nutritionally balanced food for under 5,000 a month (a remarkably small sum considering how many mouths it feeds) and are currently making do with under half of that. Meanwhile, the number of families relying on the aid is up from 1 to 1.3 million since 2004.
Conversely, as the struggle spreads, inclination toward donation, a major part of a pantry's success, plummets. In San Francisco's Bay Area, the Second Harvest food bank finds itself at just a quarter of their annual holiday food-drive goal, once again at the hands of the slowing economy. In Americus, a town in Southwest Georgia where a March tornado crippled the city's infrastructure, donation is nearly inconceivable to the many residents struggling just to rebound from the damage. Without government aid to hold the reigns as a city regains its strength, the problem simply propagates.
Though the situation is perilous, there is both hope and ample opportunity for change. The House of Representatives recently voted to increase the budget for food stamps by 4 million dollars, nearly doubling the budget for EFP's. Additionally, if passed the 2007 Farm Bill could mean a significant increase in funding ($250 Million) and invaluable reform in EFP policy. Despite the urgency felt by those in need, the farm bill continues to wait in peril….
So, fellow Slow Food enthusiasts and friends, before the influx of holiday celebrations fills our minds and plates, take a moment to call your senators to show your support. Food Bank NYC offers a comprehensive breakdown of the hunger crisis and powerful statistics. Additionally, direct contributions by way of volunteer work, pantry items or donations are an absolutely integral part of any food bank's success and the best way to provide immediate aid. Assuredly, any help at all will carry a long, long way.
To find your senator and write to express your support for more money to Food Banks, click here.
For more information on how to help in your home state, Click here and visit Second Harvest, America's nation-wide food bank.
Posted on Tue, November 20, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
As part of our eco-gastronomic initiative to renew and restore America's food traditions (RAFT), Slow Food USA partnered with several organizations to host 5 heritage foods picnics over the past three months. The goal of these picnics—besides good food and fun—was to introduce people around the country to some of their area's delicious and endangered foods. The guests at the picnics all partook in eater-based conservation, and some picnic goers got to listen to Gary Nabhan—author and founder of RAFT–talk about the importance of place-based foods.
The picnic series kicked off in Shelburne, Vermont, in collaboration with the Vermont Fresh Network (VFN), and was held at Shelburne Farms. It was a beautiful weekend of VFN workshops and tastings, culminating in a walk-around dinner featuring fresh, local, seasonal ingredients prepared by 20 local chef and farm partnerships in Vermont. The dishes included foods from Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste(a list of endangered foods from around the country), like the Cherokee Purple tomato and American heirloom apples, and many foods documented as endangered by the RAFT project.
The next picnic was held on the Capitol steps in Madison, Wisconsin where a buffet featuring foods from the Ark list was prepared by Slow Food Madison and Chefs Collaborative members Justin Carlisle, of Harvest Restaurant, Tory Miller, of L'Etoile and Patrick O'Halloran, from Lombardino's. Highlights included Slow roasted American Plains Bison over Carolina Gold Rice grits and a Sorghum BBQ Mulefoot pork shoulder sandwich.
Next up was Seattle! As the Slow Food Seattle invite explained:
"You bring the gear (plates and utensils, picnic blanket, etc.). We provide the vittles,"
prepared by the some of area's finest chefs including John Sundstrom (Lark), Thierry Rautureau (Rover's), Tamara Murphy (Brasa) and Fernando Divina (Tendrils). There was, of course, lots of sustainable salmon on hand including the Washington Marbled Chinook Salmon, and other Ark products such as Churro Lamb and Makah Ozette Potatoes. The cherry on the sundae? The musical stylings of the Squirrel Butter Old Time Variety Duo.
Finally, just a couple of weekends ago, Siler City North Carolina and Austin Texas joined in the fun. In North Carolina, our friends at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy celebrated their 30th anniversary with us at the Inn at Celebrity Dairy. Guests feasted on lots of meat, including Tennessee Fainting Goat meatballs, Buckeye chicken fricassee (maybe you read about the Buckeye and Chapel Hill chef Andrea Reusing in this month's Saveur?), Pineywoods beef meatloaf and roasted heritage Black turkey. We finished it off with a lovely Stayman apple cobbler and Celebrity Dairy's own goat's milk ice cream.
In Austin, the American Grassfed Association (AGA), Slow Food Austin, Chefs Collaborative, and Edible Austin Magazine worked together to produce a lively and delicious picnic in association with AGA's annual conference. Locally produced favorites included Thunderheart bison carpaccio with pecan oil, chasteberries and meyer lemon; Veldhuizen Bosque blue cheese, poached Bandera beef tongue, Toulouse goose pate with Mexican oregano, and Ossabaw Pork Fromage-de-Tete (that's "head cheese" to you). Chef Jesse Griffiths prepared the delicious dishes that were washed down with locally-brewed root beer!
If any of this makes your mouth water, consider making a meal with endangered foods for your friends and family. For tips on making meal with Ark of Taste products, click here.
Posted on Mon, November 19, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
If you would like to support the small grower (yes, please), and voice your frustration with legislation that seems to miss the point (yup, count me in), please consider registering your comments on a mandatory leafy green Marketing Order with the USDA.
Background: over a year ago, news of E-coli- infected spinach rocked the nation. For those of us who favor small-scale local agriculture, it affirmed our beliefs and practices, and renewed, perhaps, our commitment to support small growers. In response to the outbreaks, the state of California passed voluntary growing standards for leafy greens. While these were intended to protect consumers, they were a response to the problems of big-ag that put small ag's head in a vise.
While this is for right now a California issue, California may just be the template for naionwide legislation. CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers) has been fighting this issue both in-state and on the national level (thanks to them, Senator Feinstein withdrew a proposed amendment to the Farm Bill), and is leading the call for comments.
For CAFF's September press release, click here.
For CAFF's Judith Redmond's Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee, click here.
For more information on this issue, click here.
For more information on the Federal Marketing Agreement, click here.
To register your comments with the USDA, click here.
Posted on Fri, November 16, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
Ever looked at a market like San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Market and wondered: how did this get here? What did it take to bring this to fruition? All over the country farmers markets and other food markets are popping up. Robert LaValva, former Slow Food USA National Office staff member, has been working for nearly two years now to establish a permanent , public and sustainable market at New York City's South Street Seaport, called the New Amsterdam Market. Robert spoke with us about his process, and shared some of the challenges he has faced.
Q: Can you describe for us your vision for the market?
RL: The vision is to create an indoor permanent public market where all the vendors are people who are sourcing sustainably produced food from the region (500 miles from New York City). Our premise is that bringing together purveyors who represent farmers, will help jumpstart or create a new wave of sustainable food production. There are many interconnections that these purveyors can make—if you have a butcher and a greengrocer and a cheesemonger in the market, they can band together, bringing food down to the area on one truck. As a result, they will realize efficiencies. Farmers' markets were the beginning of this return to regional food and are one component of such a food system. Next there were chefs sourcing from local people, and now—the third wave—shops sourcing locally.
Q: How long have you been working on this project?
RL: I've been thinking about it ever since I started working for Slow Food USA 5 years ago. I saw an emerging need and Slow Food was definitely instrumental in helping shape my feelings about all this. In earnest, I began working on it in 2005, about a year and a half ago. I produced a Slow Food event called Urban Harvest and called it New Amsterdam Market —that was a test run of the idea. I put it in a magnificent civic setting: the vaulted arcade of the New York City Municipal Building, a Beaux Arts masterpiece. It was done in tribute to sustainable, regional food, and the people who grow and produce it, and those who cook and sell it - it's a broken system, and these are all real pioneers in its recovery. After that, I needed to think more thoroughly about what this market would be and think about the site that made the most sense. I began working with a friend - Jill Slater - giving a lot of thought to what the challenges would be and selecting the site of the Seaport, specifically the Fulton Fish Market, and creating a non profit – New Amsterdam Public.
Q: Where are you in the process now?
RL: We are at a stage where we have discussed the project with all of the stakeholders of the neighborhood—local community groups concerned with what will happen to the neighborhood, up to the elected officials and leaders in the sustainable food movement, and also various civic minded groups. Our main interest and concern over the past year was to walk all the political and elected representatives through these ideas. Knowing how NYC works, oftentimes people have great ideas but haven't garnered the proper support from that level, so ideas can't move forward. Now we are going forward to gather public momentum, One thing I've learned studying public markets is that they don't happen on their own, there has to be a public demand for them. Our next step is a one-day event at the Seaport in front of one of the old fish market buildings that we think should be a venue, bringing together purveyors from all parts of the city, and for one day giving the sense of what this market could or would be like. Besides creating a great event, we will be using it as a showcase for this vision.
Q: Does the city own the space?
RL: All the buildings along Fulton street and the pier holding up the shopping mall are owned by the city, but they are on a long term lease to a suburban real estate developer whose business model is to fill them as much as possible with chain stores. Our belief is that the empty fish market buildings were built to be markets, and the Seaport District hosted a constant succession of public markets since 1642 - which by all measures is a pretty long time! These markets have evolved and change according to the needs of their day. Just because the Fulton Fish Market outgrew its space doesn't mean that should be the end of markets in that neighborhood - which is a true public market district. It's just a matter of a new kind of market coming in. We feel it's the most appropriate use of that property. We want the city to understand that in this case it's a continuation of its original use.
Q: There are so many places in the country where public market buildings have been shuttered as public markets and are now turned into to condos, retail shops, etc. Cannery Row, as one example–do you know of any others? Is there a precedent for this kind of marketplace in NYC? In the country?
RL: The precedent I tend to cite is from London, where there is a market called Borough Market, because it has many similarities to what we're trying to do. It was a 200 year-old wholesale produce market (in its latest incarnation)—south of the Thames but in the heart of old London. About 10-15 years ago a lot of the wholesale traders and sellers had left so the stalls had begun to empty out. The people who run that market felt they didn't want it to die down and disappear so they began holding food festival events there. Those events grew in size and became more and more frequent and eventually transformed it into a new kind of market. It's about building momentum to build the market itself. You don't build it overnight–you have to build momentum, attract future possible purveyors, look for farms and suppliers we want to work with, etc. We are learning what is needed and what is problematic, and how to deal with those issues in an organic fashion that will lead to a solid foundation for the market itself.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges?
RL: Our greatest challenge is this: the Seaport has been a neighborhood in search of itself since it was first created as a public resource in the 1960's. Its buildings and streets are the last remnant of maritime 19th century New York. Everything was being torn down, and this little fragment was saved because it was a vital component of the city's history—the shipping history that made NYC what it is. Public markets are just as much a part of the Seaport's history as wooden ships. We believe we have a very good, viable, and appropriate vision for the Seaport—appropriate to the history, appropriate to what people are looking for in food now, and appropriate in being an incubator for small businesses for whom it has become harder and harder to survive. In the same way that farmers' markets helped save farms, we would like to save traditional professions like butchering. Our challenge is that we would like the City of New York to appreciate this vision for what it can do for New Yorkers and region, how it will provide real economic development which is never achieved via a "bottom line first" viewpoint. New York as a major world city should have something like this—there are much smaller cities that have fantastic public markets. We should have a market befitting our size and stature and if the city wants to be a leader in sustainability, this would be a logical choice.
If you are in the NYC area, please join Robert and Jill at their Wintermarket event on Sunday December 16th. For more information, see http://www.newamsterdampublic.org<./p>
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.