What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
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 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 Mon, November 12, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
As the Slow Food delegates arrived in Puebla, news of the terrible flooding in the Tabasco region spread. With nearly a million people affected, Tabasco is in trouble. It was just two short years ago that Slow Food rallied around its friends in New Orleans, helping them to rebuild the food communities there. This new disaster, so much larger even than the floods after Hurricane Katrina, weighed heavily on the minds of the delegates to the Congress. Villahermosa, in Tabasco, is the home of a Slow Food convivium, a Slow Food community. A representative from Villahermosa–Dona Alma Rosa– came and spoke to the delegates, giving them a sense of the scope of the damage, and a sense of what exactly needs to be done to rebuild the food community there.
Within 24 hours, Slow Food Switzerland, Slow Food Italy, Slow Food San Francisco, and Citta Slow had all pledged thousands of dollars/Euros to help those rebuilding efforts. Tabasco produces 80% of the world's cocoa crops, and these will need to be revived, mills will need to be rebuilt, and new marketing channels will need to be carved.
This disaster is larger than any of us can comprehend–we will keep you posted on ways that you can contribute to the relief efforts in Villahermosa, and the larger Tabasco area.
Posted on Mon, October 22, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
The documentary film King Corn is now playing at a theatre near you, mostly to raucous approval, but one fellah in Indiana isn't as enthusiastic:
In 2003, the two men moved to Iowa and grew an acre of corn. They then followed that corn as it made its way through the food supply. What follows is a 90 minute diatribe against US farm policy, modern agriculture, food processing, and more. At every turn they put a negative spin on every aspect of corn. Not surprisingly, slow-food movement advocate Michael Pollan was an advisor to the project, according to a New York Times article on the movie. Much of the movie replays Pollan's worn out mantra that corn is the cause of obesity.
"Worn out mantra?" Calling it that doesn't make it so, and just to be clear, Mr. Pollan does not claim that corn causes obesity. He states quite clearly (and backs up his claim with reams of data) that the overconsumption of corn - especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup - causes obesity, and that federally subsidized overproduction of corn makes it artificially cheap, resulting in said overconsumption
Gary Truitt, the Indiana-based publisher of an online newsletter called Hoosier Ag Today, is an adamant supporter of the so-called "Center for Consumer Freedom," which he links on his site. The CCF is a lobbying and advocacy group for industrial agriculture, restaurant, alcohol and tobacco interests. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture — the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.' " CCF began as a group wholly owned and operated by Philip Morris, Inc., and its purpose was to advocate against, and rally restaurant owners to fight, ordinances that would ban smoking from restaurants. It continues to lose that fight on most fronts, but has widened its scope considerably.
Mr. Truitt continues his critique of King Corn…
Just like Fahrenheit 911 and Sicko, King Corn is big on one-sided criticism but absent on any solutions. We do have problems with our farm policy, corn production, and nutrition. But politically motivated slander films like King Corn do nothing to help find answers that will work for producers and consumers.
I'm sorry Mr. Truitt couldn't see the solutions offered by films & books such as King Corn - I'd include among them films like SuperSize Me (see clip here), which single-handedly stopped the practice of "super-sizing" in fast food joints and Eat at Bill's, which conveys the beauty and benefits of fresh, local food; as well as book's like Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. I'm pretty sure it was Upton Sinclair who said "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." Such is the case with the blinders Mr. Truitt wears. He is so buried in a lifetime of industrial agriculture he cannot see beyond its limits or appreciate the negative impact of many of its practices.
He is able to say that "We do have problems with our farm policy, corn production, and nutrition," but his view is that the solution lies somewhere in the same system that created the problems - at best an extremely unlikely hypothesis.
Posted on Wed, October 03, 2007 by Website Administrator
The healthy food magazine Cooking Light has published an article naming healthy food trends that "are here to stay," and our humble little organization is one of'em:
Launched in Italy 20 years ago by restaurateur Carlo Petrini, "slow food" was originally designed to protest the encroachment of fast food on the traditional Mediterranean lifestyle. The trend's principles — choosing locally grown and produced items, preparing them in traditional ways, and eating with friends and family — celebrate a relaxed approach to living that provides a welcome contrast to the fast-paced, eat-on-the-run lives many people lead.
Point of clarification here - Carlo is not a restaurateur. But that is neither here nor there…
Why it's here to stay: As with locally grown food, freshness is a key component of the slow food trend. "Investing the time to choose what's fresh that day will ensure that night's meal will be at its peak nutritionally," Stokes says. This principle applies whether you're making a family recipe or dining in a restaurant where the chef selects ingredients based on their seasonal availability. Family togetherness is also an important aspect of the trend. "Slow food is all about cherishing the eating experience and getting back to what food used to be: a vehicle for drawing people together," explains Sara Firebaugh, (former) assistant director of Slow Food USA.
What it means for you: Healthful whole foods are a great start, but slow food goes a step beyond good nutrition — and it's a difficult one to quantify. No scientific studies have conclusively proven that friends and family make better dinner companions than televisions, but the benefits are clear. "Slow food embraces the psychological component in food choices, meal preparation, and the act of eating," (Nutritionist Fern Gale) Estrow says. "A healthful diet isn't just about what you eat but how you eat it."
Yay for us! You can read all the trends, including a term that's new to me - "flexitarian" (?!?!?!) - by clicking here
Posted on Mon, October 01, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
Bees pollinate at least one third of our diet. It is hardly surprising, then, that renting out colonies for pollination is many times more profitable than honey production—nearly $15 billion worth of crops utilize the insects every year.
American agriculture relies heavily on hives, which are piled into trucks and moved from coast to coast. California almonds, for example, depend entirely on bees. By 2012, it is estimated that 90% of current hives in the United States will be needed to pollinate the groves. Other dependent crops include blueberries, peaches, cranberries, squash, and pumpkins.
Thus, news spread quickly when, in late 2006, worker bees from Western honeybee colonies began to disappear. Hive afflictions are not uncommon, but colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a puzzling phenomenon because the worker bees vanish, leaving behind a queen, brood, and food stores that are not immediately robbed by other bees.
According to a recent study, a virus likely triggers the disorder. Researchers caution, however, that there are probably a variety of factors and not a singular cause. Toxins, pesticides, stress, genetic tampering, and other woes of commercial beekeeping are all suspected.
For more about bees and honey, click here to get to our Take Action page.
UPDATE: Check out this bleak assessment of the problem on AlterNet, October 16th.
Posted on Wed, September 26, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
In the 2 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Slow Food leader/enthusiast/activist Poppy Tooker has been fighting hard to revive New Orleans food communities. One such community is the East New Orleans Vietnamese community, that is home to an outstanding farmers' market that is held at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning. Instrumental in the rebuilding of this market has been Father Vien thé Nguyen, who is the pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church there.
In April of 2007, at a Vietnamese brunch, Poppy presented the church with $5,000 from Slow Food USA's Terra Madre Relief Fund, to go towards rebuilding the market and community garden there. Click here to watch a short video of the brunch, which includes some great footage of delicious, homemade Vietnamese food.
Also interesting: from the Southern Foodways Alliance website, an interview with Peter Nguyen, the manager of the community garden and farmers' market.
Posted on Wed, September 19, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
After all of these months of reading and learning, and rallying and writing, it's hard not to be discouraged by the Farm Bill. A disappointingly familiar version passed in the House this summer, and now the Farm Bill is hanging out in the Senate, a place where (a cynic might say) good ideas go to die.
We here at Slow Food USA are committed to looking at the bright side, so here is a list of (fewer than) 101 reasons not to be discouraged:
1. It still truly is up in the air (otherwise known as "it ain't over 'til it's over").
2. It is not too late to write to your Senators to explain your priorities.
3. Did you even know what The (Food and) Farm Bill was 2 years ago? We, as a nation, as a group of Slow Food-ists, have educated ourselves, and well!
4. We are building knowledge and momentum for the NEXT one. In Washington, thinking ahead is important.
For Food Security updates, click here
For Nutrition updates, click here
For Conservation and Energy updates, click here
Posted on Sat, September 15, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
Renee Ciulla, an organic farmer in Montana, has written an interesting and well researched piece on NewFarm.org on the Slow Food Movement, inspired in part by her trip to see founder Carlo Petrini speak in San Francisco on the topic of his book, Slow Food Nation. It does a fine job of covering the history and current mission of the Movement:
The Slow Food movement was founded in 1986 by an enraged Carlo Petrini after McDonalds attempted to open a franchise in Rome. With more than 80,000 members in 50 countries, the movement has secured a firm place in the world. Slow Food helps redefine people as "co-producers" rather than "consumers," showing how the choices about what we eat give us a role in the food system and puts us side-by-side with farmers in many ways.
Slow Food's international role has grown far beyond the pursuit of great taste and into the realm of making ours a better world, starting at home. Slow Food USA, founded in 2000, has been both revered and attacked by farmers and the general public. Consider this piece an invitation to join me as I delve into various views regarding Slow Food USA's effectiveness in connecting to small-scale farmers and the various convivia representing their local regions. As an American organic farmer and Slow Food (SF) member, I represent both sides equally with hopes of generating healthy discussion on the topic.
And delve she does, but only skimming the surface of what I consider to be the most important single issue facing the Movement in the USA:
Szanto believes the major flaw of Slow Food is ironically its great strength: its universally accessible brand with access for producers, processors, consumers, community organizers and activists, alike. Szanto views these many entry points as necessary for Slow Food, which believes in using cross-disciplinary action to bring about change; people want to be aware of food's taste, history, environmental impact, anthropological significance, production techniques, economics and nutritional benefits, he said. "You would also want people in places with wildly different food cultures to connect to a common cause and direction, so it does have to have a pretty wide and loose brand. That means at the local level, Slow Food looks different from place to place as convivia approach food through taste education, producer concerns or fancy food."
Szanto emphasized that it would be wrong to take the Italian Slow Food model and force-fit it onto the U.S. "One of the problems with food culture in the U.S.—aside from separate and simultaneous overemphasis on nutrition and convenience—is the focus on fancy food and food elitism. Good food becomes an aspect of consumerism, rather than about environmentalism, tradition or social justice. We are, after all, a highly consumerist society, and until that changes, food will remain a subset of that culture." There are really two Slow Food movements operating in the U.S., Szanto offered in wrapping up our conversation: the national leadership with its overarching culture, and the collectivized organization embodying a mosaic of cultures.
Szanto has a point. But the real issue is in that perception of elitism, an image almost impossible to shed in our culture once you are tagged with it. Sow Food's been tagged and it truly pins my ears back when I hear it because it simply isn't true. It is, however, easy to understand why people think it may be true, that we are just a bunch of well-heeled yuppies stuffing our craws with foie gras, even though what we are truly about is genuine salt-of-the-earth stuff, and not just figuratively. Our purpose in celebrating all these wonderful, unique (and yes often "gourmet") foods is not a way for us to demonstrate some ill-conceived moral superiority, as BR Myers tried somewhat whiningly to assert in his Atlantic Monthly piece this month, but rather it is our attempt to preserve the histories, traditions and cultures that make each of us who we are.
"Patriotism," Lin Yu Tang once said, is "love of the foods we ate as children." Looked at on a macro-level, then love of humanity and love of the earth is love of the foods that make people distinct. Protecting that food, whether it is fois gras and caviar or bread and salt, is not an act of elitism but instead of human love. As such it would be ridiculous not to also revel in the pleasures the food offers because what is the point of love if it does not also bring joy? And it is in that reveling that some see the tinge of elitism, even gluttony. But Thoreau said "he who distinguishes the true savor of his food cannot be a glutton. He who does not, cannot be otherwise."
Petrini said it very well on his recent US tour. "A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."
I hope that Slow Food Nation, the event, will go a long way toward dispelling these misconception. It had better.
Posted on Mon, August 27, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
The folks in Florida have noticed the wisdom of eating locally:
Rat poison in pet food from China. E. coli in bagged spinach from California. Peanut butter tainted with salmonella from Nebraska. Cans of chili sauce bursting due to botulism.
Food safety recalls and warnings are undermining our confidence in the commercial food industry. The response: Buy local from small-scale, local farmers you know.
"I don't trust the U.S. government when it comes to the food supply, said Fort Pierce resident Karen Cosoy. "If it's important for you to eat healthy, there's no option but supporting local farms. You know that they're not using pesticides. The stuff you get at the supermarket, you don't know how they processed it or whether they even processed it at all. You don't know what they used to make it look so gorgeous."
Eating local also has an environmental appeal. Most produce stocked in supermarkets — and even at many roadside stands and farmer's markets — comes from wholesalers who truck food here from afar, especially during our hot summer.
People have started telling me that " 'sustainable' has gone mainstream." Sure hope they're right.
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.