What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, April 26, 2013 by Slow Food USA
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces.
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces. For them, the price of being imperfect is being consigned to a slow death, rotting in the farm field or the landfill, while their cosmetically perfect brothers and sisters head off to a grocery store near you.
Two fascinating reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council do a deft job of explaining why we should all care about “crop waste”—the widespread loss of otherwise edible fresh and vegetables that never make it past the farm gate or the landfill. One report, Wasted by Dana Gunders, looks at food waste across our food system. The other, Left-Out, looks specifically at fruit and vegetable losses on the farm.
The numbers reported by NRDC are astounding. For instance, from farm to fork, about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to $165 billion of wasted food every year (a figure which, notably, is in the same ballpark as the annual cost of obesity). More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year, and preliminary data from a cluster of fruit and vegetable growers in California suggests that losses on the farm and in the packing stage range as high as 14–60 percent for a variety of common crops.
Why are losses on the farm so high? There are many contributing factors, but a big one that you and I play a part in is consumer demand for cosmetic perfection—for perfectly shaped peppers and uniform, bright red strawberries that seem to get bigger every year. The whole supply chain, from the farm to the grocery store. is geared toward meeting that expectation. From apples to zucchini, produce has to fit within very specific ranges for size, shape, color and other parameters. Some produce that doesn’t make it goes to a processor for juicing or other uses, but many of the imperfect fruit and vegetables never make it out of the field.
Other factors contribute to high waste rates as well. Contracting practices that are common in the produce industry, as well as the threat of bad weather, pests and price volatility, encourage growers to overplant. Labor shortages that are exacerbated by the sorry state of U.S. immigration policy are a factor too.
What’s more, when prices at the time of harvest are below the cost of getting the crop to market, it can make economic sense for farmers to leave some or all of their production in the field unharvested. Product specifications are also set by entities with enormous market power—such as major retail chains—while most of the risk associated with bad weather, supply gluts that force down prices, and Nature’s imperfections land in the laps of farmers.
And what else is wrong with this picture?
Let’s begin with the waste of food itself. As NRDC points out, reducing overall food waste by just 15 percent would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year. Even though “the marketplace” may not want the crops that go to waste every day, current waste levels make no sense when looked at in the context of hunger, obesity, food justice and the impact of poor health on our economy.
Environmentally, crops that don’t make it to market involve significant uses of water, fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs. For instance, NRDC estimated that the unsold broccoli grown in just one county (Monterey County, California) required 2.5 billion gallons of water to grow (yes, that billions with a “b”, in a state where the water wars will only intensify as water becomes more scarce). Chemical fertilizers and pesticides impact farmworkers and the environment whether the product makes it to market or not.
Wasted crops also hold “imbedded carbon.” Carbon is released into the atmosphere when soil is tilled. Diesel fuel powers farm equipment and many agricultural chemicals start out life as crude oil. Further, only 3 percent of the food that is wasted between the farm and the fork is composted. When unsold crops end up in the landfill, they emit methane gas, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
And as noted above, farmers pay the price when they grow a crop only to plow it under or leave the edible-but-imperfect to rot. Farmer incomes are adversely impacted even though our fruit and vegetable producers grow the healthy foods that are needed by an increasingly unhealthy country. The irony is hard to beat.
Fortunately, a number of initiatives hold hope for addressing these issues. For instance, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council recently put out new food procurement guidelines calling on restaurants and institutional buyers to “buy lower on the beauty chain” by purchasing smaller and less aesthetically perfect produce. A commitment by colleges, schools, hospitals and other institutions to purchase such “seconds” could make a real difference back on the farm. Several states in the West provide tax credits to farmers who donate crops to state food banks (providing a more effective incentive than charitable donation deductions). The California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program uses paid, skilled farm labor to harvest unmarketable produce that is then made available to food banks at greatly discounted prices. The European Parliament has even set the aggressive goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2020.
These are steps in the right direction, but overall, food waste largely remains a hidden problem in the U.S., shrouded in a belief that we can afford to be wasteful and that waste doesn’t have real consequences. Alas, we all pay the price for perfection.
Posted on Wed, March 27, 2013 by Slow Food USA
Indigenous communities in the Western Hemisphere depend on corn not only as a source of nutrition, but as the center of their cultural traditions and spirituality.
Originally posted by Gilyn Gibbs for First Peoples Worldwide
From time immemorial, indigenous communities in the Western Hemisphere have depended on corn not only as a source of nutrition, but as the center of their cultural traditions and spirituality. This past September, the Yaqui Peoples of Sonora Mexico hosted the inaugural “Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Corn” in the Zapoteca Nation of Oaxaca Mexico. The conference, attended by 48 Indigenous Nations across from North, Central and South America, was created to encourage unity among indigenous communities, restore traditional economies, and ensure the survival of all native varieties of corn.
The Indigenous Corn Peoples are a part of long-standing cultural tradition tied to the natural world. The core principle of the Yaqui Peoples, “is the sacredness, mystery and life-sustaining power of the natural world and living things.” They are deeply connected to their environment and express this through traditional ceremonies, songs, and dances. They consider their relationship with plants and animals as inter-dependent and interwoven. It’s for this reason that corn, the fundamental means of nutrition and healing, is so respected and cherished. In indigenous communities, the people are directly related to all steps of the corn production process. Before the planting of the corn, there are ceremonies to express appreciation for the earth that allows the corn to be planted and for the water to allows it to grow. When it is time to harvest the corn there is a ceremony celebrating corn as the source of life and creation. The harvesting of corn isn’t simply to acquire food, but celebrates the all-encompassing lifestyle of devotion to the earth. One member of the Yaqui reiterates: “Our struggles to protect corn as a source of our lives cannot be separated from our struggles to defend our rights to land, water, traditional knowledge and self-determination.”
Environmental degradation is a global issue, but for the Yaqui community, it comes with devastating consequences. The booming agri-business has not only pushed many Indigenous communities off of their land, but also heavily promoted the use of chemical pesticides and genetically modified (GMO) corn. The Mexican government has been a source of conflict, creating programs that cut off access to land and clean water, and mandating the use of this GMO corn for small farmers. The introduction of these corn variations has dramatically decreased the diversity and resiliency of traditional seed varieties. The new strains of corn require much higher levels of agro-chemicals and water, which the Sonora desert ecosystem cannot provide. These negative effects aren’t only environmental. In 1997 Dr. Elizabeth Guillette conducted a study that detected high levels of pesticides in mothers’ milk and found severe learning and development disabilities in Yaqui children living in these high pesticide areas. The Yaqui people started the Corn Conference as a way to gain support of Indigenous Corn Peoples from the area and to stop the environmental, cultural, and health degradation.
The Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Corn created an atmosphere where all Indigenous Corn Peoples could unite around a single mission to protect their sovereignty and identity. They called “for a new focus on sustainable and respectful use of corn as a basis for our traditional and collective economic, social and cultural development”. The Indigenous Corn Peoples committed to halt the use of pesticides and GMO corn in their territories. They also resolved for all communities to focus on restoring and strengthening local markets and economies by protecting their food and seed sovereignty. The conference attendees decided that the way to do this is by reestablishing Indigenous seed banks and trade relationships so that the seeds with the most resistance and adaptability to climate change can be used, replicated, and shared among communities. They believe that the renewal of an indigenous trading system in the Americas will be the most beneficial way to share knowledge across communities and ultimately, bring change.
Although the conference was only one step in the movement for Indigenous rights, the Yaqui ultimately achieved their greatest goal: to organize fellow Indigenous communities and Peoples to defend Mother Earth and her lands, water, forests and corn against the threat climate change and unsustainable industrial food practices. By embracing their heritage as Indigenous Peoples to protect mother earth, they are also protecting the culture, spirituality, health, and traditions that have been passed on to them for centuries from being lost forever.
Posted on Tue, October 02, 2012 by Slow Food USA
A “Minga” is a traditional form of organization from 600-700 years ago in South America. Today, Nelson Escobar coordinates a large urban farm in order to collectively survive in a competitive society.
The Perennial Plate is a fantastic documentary series that explores socially responsible, sustainable and adventurous eating across the U.S. Slow Food USA has a video content partnership with Perennial to showcase one of our favorite films every month.
This Month’s Perennial Plate Feature: La Minga
Posted on Wed, September 05, 2012 by Slow Food USA
Slow Food chapters support and learn from refugees, immigrants and new citizens.
Written By Deirdra Stockmann, Slow Food USA volunteer and former leader with Slow Food Huron Valley
Growing food has long been part of the livelihood and survival of immigrants to the United States. Still today, as they work to make their way in a new place, many migrants find community and economic opportunity in food production. Recently, two Slow Food chapters – Slow Food Minnesota Twin Cities and Slow Food Dallas – have allied with local non-profits to support the agricultural efforts of refugees in their region. The partnerships, so far, have raised funds, expanded community gardens, promoted markets, and shared many memorable meals.
Slow Food Minnesota and the Minnesota Food Association
When Jane Rosemarin began her term as the Slow Food Minnesota leader a few years ago, she wanted to broaden the scope of the chapter’s activities. Anchored in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Slow Food Minnesota was the first of four chapters in the state. Since the chapter began in 1999 it has focused on connecting farmers and consumers, taste education, and to a large extent, sending area farmers and chefs to Terra Madre.
Posted on Sat, July 28, 2012 by Slow Food USA
What do “The Central Role of Food”, Slow Money, and “The Food Dialogues” have in common? Stephanie Georgieff went to Los Angeles to find out.
Written by Stephanie Georgieff, President and Co Founder of Slow Food Redlands, California
I was recently invited to attend an event hosted by the newly formed US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance(USFRA) entitled “The Food Dialogues”. As I made my way down to Los Angeles, where the event was being held, I could help but think of the dialogues that I had recently had within my Slow Food Chapter during our monthly book discussion group. The topic of discussion we chose was Slow Money by Woody Tasch, a passionate plea for reorienting the economy in terms of what is good for food, farms and fertility. This, coupled with the release of a document from Carlo Petrini and Slow Food International entitled “The Central Role of Food,” which was recently sent to Slow Food leaders from around the globe and is designed to promote a major world debate outside and inside the Slow Food and Terra Madre network ahead of the World Congress on October 27 – 29, 2012. These topics, along with the massive event I was about to attend, had me thinking, more than ever, about the role food plays in every aspect of our lives.
Our hosts for the event, USFRA is an alliance consisting of a wide range of prominent famer and rancher led organizations and agricultural partners. “The Food Dialogues” was their second attempt to intersect with popular culture to create awareness around how our food is produced. To their credit, the four panels were populated with representatives from the full spectrum of food interests. Small organic farmers, growers for large corporations, representatives from major food interests, scientists, members of the media and non profits were live streamed in webinar format to anyone who desired to participate. I met representatives from the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the National Pork Board.
Posted on Wed, July 25, 2012 by Slow Food USA
A plot of land for $1?! A small investment by Chicago’s Growing home has been transformed into a full-scale organic urban farm & helped transform the neighborhood as well.
Written by Michelle Stearn, Real Time Farms Food Warrior
What can you buy with a dollar? An apple, a small fry from McDonald’s, 4 gumballs, a Coke, or… a plot of land fit to bloom into a revolutionary urban farm on Chicago’s South Side. Yep, it’s true. Six years ago, the City of Chicago sold the 2/3 acre plot in Englewood to Growing Home for one measly buck. And now, not only has the land transformed into a full-scale organic farm, but it has helped transform the neighborhood as well. Their mission is to utilize organic agriculture as a vehicle for job training, employment, and community development. In other words, they are uplifting Chicago’s neighborhoods, one vegetable at a time. All of this is made possible with the hard work of interns seeking transitional employment – many of whom had troubles finding a job, sometimes due to former incarceration, a history of homelessness or substance abuse, or even simply a lack of education.
You might be thinking… This will never work. How will the harvest ever get picked? Those people are not trained in gardening – they have no experience as farmers. Well, consider this: in 2010, Growing Home’s Wood St. Urban Farm (the one I visited) grew and sold over 11,000 pounds of organic produce and brought in over $45,000 as income for the interns! They sell CSA Shares to community members, have a weekly market on Wood St., market their goods at Green City Market, and even sell their goods to Chicago restaurants like Big Bowl. If that’s enough to change your mind about the effectiveness of the program, you can stop reading now. But you probably shouldn’t, because there are so many other things that Growing Home is doing to help the community, it’s mind-boggling.
Posted on Fri, July 06, 2012 by Slow Food USA
Good and Clean becomes more Fair for everyone
Written by Janette Wesley, Slow Food Upstate Chapter Leader
After a long and detailed application process with completion of a required training session, the Slow Food Upstate Board who manages the Earth Market Greenville, celebrates the approved EBT status in June of 2012 and will be able to accept EBT or SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, as payment for food products, (also plants and seeds that bear food), an essential part of the goals in the philosophy of “Good, Clean and Fair” food.
E.B.T.-Electronic Benefits Transfer, the newer version of food stamps, is an electronic system in the United States funded by the Federal Government, which allows government’s states benefits departments to issue money, accessible via a plastic debit card or a paper voucher in exchange for food or seeds and plants which produce food.
Posted on Thu, May 31, 2012 by Slow Food USA
Slow Food USA officially endorses the Nourish 9 Billion campaign and encourages you to sign on as well
Written by Tim Smith, Slow Food USA’s Associate Manager of New Media
Business as usual is not an option.” This is the main assertion of The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Education and Science Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environmental Organization (UNEP), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the World Bank.
“Business” in this case is industrial farming and the current global food system. This blunt claim came as a result of a 4 year assessment involving 400 scientists around the world who came to the conclusion that nations must embrace agroecologoy (the science of sustainable agriculture) in order to survive in an ever growing-every changing world. Since the report was relased, 59 countries have endorsed the report (the U.S. has not), but none have been able to follow through on their promises to improve their countries sustainable farming practices.
Posted on Fri, May 25, 2012 by Slow Food USA
Founder and President of the International Slow Food Movement, Carlo Petrini, paid the Slow Food USA office a visit and took time to answer your questions from Facebook.
Recently, upon learning that Slow Food International President Carlo Petrini would be coming by the Slow Food USA office, we asked our Facebook community what they would ask Carlo if they had the chance. As usual, you responded with some real gems and we put Carlo on the hot seat with a few of our favorites. We have transcribed his answers below, but if you would like to hear more from Mr. Petrini, check out the speech he gave to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (the main reason he was with us in New York City). It was the first time the Forum had invited an outside speaker to address the floor, quite an honor for everyone involved in the Slow Food Movement. But back to your questions and Carlo’s answers. We’ve listed a few below, but we still want to hear from you, let us know what you think in the comment’s section below.
Posted on Fri, May 18, 2012 by Slow Food USA
Want to impact the food system? You can! The House Agriculture Committee is accepting comments until May 20th. Learn more…
If you could radically change the food we grow and eat in this country, would you? Would you ensure all children, elders, and adults had enough nutritious food to eat? Would you make it easier for young people, women, and folks of color to start their own small farms? Would you stop funding the devastating mess created by factory farming?
Well, you can.
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.