What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Thu, May 16, 2013 by Slow Food USA
We chefs are blessed with the capacity to influence the public’s food choices. And our purchasing power is equally as influential among producers and purveyors. We will continue to push for ingredients produced and harvested with a passion for quality that matches our own; and we will continue to share the stories behind these ingredients with our customers, schoolchildren, public health professionals, the media—anyone, in fact, who will listen.
In the late 1980s, I was a cook at Square One in San Francisco, California, where the food revolution was already under way. While the word “sustainability” did not exist in our vocabulary as chefs, there was an overarching belief that to be the best chef—and to make the best meals—you needed to start with great ingredients. It was not uncommon for chefs in that area to search out the best farmers, ranchers, bread bakers and cheesemakers because we knew that they put just as much care into their work as we did.
When I returned to New England in 1996, I found a much different culture. The area was not as robust with farmers, fishers, and other food artisans who shared a commitment to grow and produce great food, and it was a struggle to find the caliber of ingredients I was used to working with.
By then, Chefs Collaborative had a presence in Boston, and the organization connected me to like-minded chefs and food producers. Through my participation in Chefs Collaborative, I had an epiphany that flavor, healthfulness, and quality of ingredients are intricately linked to the care that is shown to the environment during production.
We chefs are blessed with the capacity to influence the public’s food choices. And our purchasing power is equally as influential among producers and purveyors. We will continue to push for ingredients produced and harvested with a passion for quality that matches our own; and we will continue to share the stories behind these ingredients with our customers, schoolchildren, public health professionals, the media—anyone, in fact, who will listen. With these and other efforts, we hope to keep this conversation—this movement—progressing.
With The Chef’s Collaborative Cookbook: Local, Sustainable, Delicious: Recipes from America’s Great Chefs, we start where we always have—with a mixture of flavor and community. These two values have anchored us to our mission and principles since we began our work 20 years ago, and we have no doubt they will carry us into the decades to come. The community at our core is reflected in it—from the chefs who have provided recipes and information about our food to the farmers, ranchers, fishers, cheesemakers, foragers, and others who have brought the food into our kitchens and given us the tools and the context to understand how great flavor is created.
This cookbook is a blueprint for cooking like a sustainably minded chef. You’ll find delicious dishes that feature less familiar cuts of meat, like Beef Shin and Farro Soup, Pork Heart and Sausage Ragoût over Pasta. Lesser-known seafood species show up in Whey-Poached Triggerfish with Asparagus and Coconut Black Drum Seviche. And seasonal showpieces like Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Spring Peas and Tarragon and Autumn Pear “Ravioli” with Chanterelle and Shaved Pear Salad will inspire you to cook in the rhythm of the seasons. The recipes will make you want to head straight to the kitchen (with a quick stop at the farmer’s market first, of course).
Sustainable cuisine is about an approach to sourcing and cooking predicated on flavor, quality, and sharing our passion and knowledge. The pleasures of the table—that mix of flavor and community—enrich us in mind, body, and soul and inspire us to do our best work.
Posted on Thu, May 09, 2013 by Slow Food USA
We need to hold our pet food to the same standard as our own. Sure, Fido doesn’t need to feast on filet mignon every day. But with the amount of chemicals, low-grade fillers and artificial colors in many commercial dog foods, he could be eating much better.
By: Emma Rachel, co-founder of FidoDogTreats.com, an online natural dog supply shop
Simply put, pets are a part of the family. We need to hold our pet food to the same standard as our own. Sure, Fido doesn’t need to feast on filet mignon every day. But with the amount of chemicals, low-grade fillers and artificial colors in many commercial dog foods, he could be eating much better.
Products like corn and corncobs, meat by-products, feathers, soy, cottonseed hulls, peanut hulls, citrus pulp, weeds, and straw are often added to dog food as fillers and low-grade fiber and protein content.
As you can imagine, these additives can lead to health problems in your pup. Along with the preservatives and artificial colors that are added to many dog foods, they can cause food allergies, digestive issues and glucose intolerance.
Adding cheap fillers to dog food is increasingly convenient for manufacturers as they compete with other low-priced foods while their manufacturing, marketing and shipping costs simultaneously rise. This kind of irresponsible pet food manufacturing can have serious consequences, as we’ve seen over the years with the increase in dog food recalls.
Keep your dog safe by buying and/or making high-quality, natural dog foods.
If you buy your dog food, read the label first. Look for natural fiber sources like flax seed, real fruits and unprocessed vegetables. These ingredients will keep your dog healthy and help improve his skin and coat.
If you’re making your dog’s food, know that healthy human foods are not necessarily dog friendly. While many tropical fruits are nutritious for dogs, common fruits and vegetables like grapes and onions can be toxic for them.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore this new frontier of slow food! Fido will pay his thanks in kisses and exhausting games of fetch for years to come.
Posted on Tue, April 30, 2013 by Slow Food USA
Last night I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Carlo Petrini speak at the Slow Money National Gathering at the beautiful Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado. Always charismatic, his remarks were engaging, electric, challenging, and inspiring.
By: Abbe Turner, co-leader of Slow Food Northern Ohio
Last night I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Carlo Petrini speak at the Slow Money National Gathering at the beautiful Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado. Always charismatic, his remarks were engaging, electric, challenging, and inspiring.
His keynote address united Slow Food and Slow Money as important institutions charged with leading the efforts to reverse the effects of a broken “criminalized” food system. As we know, the focus of Slow Food is protecting and promoting food that is good, clean and fair; the focus of Slow Money is to bring money “back down to earth” by encouraging investment in food and farm entrepreneurs. The Slow Money network has had a hand in shifting over $24 million into over 190 small food enterprises over the past few years.
Petrini spoke of the importance of a new way of doing politics at this historical moment where change really matters and we must show strength in this new economy. Citing the challenges of soil fertility, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, climate change and landscape destruction, Petrini stated we need to understand the central role that food has as a vehicle for change.
He went on to say that food is the energy of our lives and for this reason our vision of food must be holistic; respect for nature, love of landscape, music, spirituality, knowledge of family and agricultural traditions, and knowledge of other cultures. “We must respect food because it is the very essence of life — Food is not just economic and political, it sustains life, and to do this we must return money to the soil. As Americans you do this through reciprocity and the exchange of resources at farmers markets, CSA’s, and more… You have started a revolution with your money!”
Because of important organizations such as Slow Food and Slow Money the opportunity to join this revolution has never been so ripe. The local food scene throughout the world is being invigorated with an entrepreneurial spirit that needs to be supported, rewarded, and nurtured. At Lucky Penny we are proud to be a part of this revolution. Come join us; make change.
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 Sat, April 20, 2013 by Slow Food USA
While Section 733, called the “Monsanto Rider” by some, did not make it into the Ag Appropriations Bill, similar provisions were included in the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, which was not debated nor adopted by the House of Representatives.
By Ed Yowell, Slow Food USA Regional Governor, NY, NJ, CT
GMO foods are a source of continuing controversy about long-term effects on humans, wildlife, and our food chain. GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), GE (Genetically Engineered), GM (Genetically Modified), or “transgenic” foods are meats and plants that are changed through genetic engineering.
Although we have genetically modified animals and plants for thousands of years, we did it through selective breeding over decades and even centuries. Now, technology enables the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another to create different, theoretically desirable, variations.
According to the February 12, 2012 New York Times article, “Modified Crops Tap a Wellspring of Protest,” by Julia Moskin, “...about 90 percent of all soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets raised in the United States were grown from…transgenic seed. Most processed foods (staples like breakfast cereal, granola bars, chicken nuggets and salad dressing) contain one or more transgenic ingredients according to estimates from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, though the labels don’t reveal that. (Some, like tortilla chips, can contain dozens.) Common ingredients like corn, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, soy protein, lecithin, monosodium glutamate, cornstarch, yeast extract, sugar and corn syrup are almost always produced from transgenic crops.”
Moskin continues, “...consumer resistance to transgenic food remains high. In a nationwide telephone poll conducted in October 2010 by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio, 93 percent said if a food has been genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients, it should say so on its label — a number that has been consistent since genetically modified crops were introduced. F.D.A. guidelines say that food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s, don’t have to say so and can still be labeled ‘all natural’.”
The House of Representatives FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill almost contained a rider (Section 733), innocently and strangely, entitled the “farmer assurance provision.” According to the Center for Food Safety, if adopted, the rider would have stripped “federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of illegal, potentially hazardous genetically engineered (GE) crops while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) assesses potential hazards. It also would inexplicably force USDA to allow continued planting of a GE crop even if a court of law identifies previously unrecognized risks. In addition, Section 733 (would) target vital judiciary oversight over USDA approvals by barring courts from compelling USDA to take action against agriculture policies that may harm farmers and the environment.”
While Section 733, called the “Monsanto Rider” by some, did not make it into the Ag Appropriations Bill, similar provisions were included in the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, which was not debated nor adopted by the House of Representatives.
According to Colin O’Neill, of the Center for Food Safety, “...these (biotech industry-friendly) riders have the potential to completely eliminate the critical role played by our most important environmental laws. They unreasonably pressure USDA with impossible deadlines for analysis and decision, while at the same time withhold funds to conduct necessary environmental reviews and limit the regulatory authority of other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These riders create multiple backdoor approval mechanisms that would allow for the premature commercialization of untested biotech traits to enter our food system. Insulated from pushback, the industry riders also force USDA to adopt a controversial policy that would for the first time set allowable levels of GE contamination in crops and foods. It’s an unprecedented and dangerous path that is being carved out.”
In November, 2012, California voters had the opportunity to vote on mandatory GMO food labeling. In an August 22, 2012 Forbes article, “Monsanto, DuPont Spending Millions to Oppose California’s GMO Labeling Law,” Amy Westervelt writes, “(Proposition 37)...could have broad implications for food producers throughout the country: whether or not to require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Other states have tried to pass similar measures and failed, but California is taking the issue directly to voters, who have largely been in favor of labeling. Prior to the vote, the supporters of Proposition 37 were polling far ahead of the opposition…but that doesn’t mean the vote is all sewn up.”
Westervelt’s premonition was correct. Despite seemingly overwhelming popular support, Proposition 37 was narrowly defeated.
A group called the “No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme,” was formed to stop the measure. The group’s major donors of the $25 million effort included Monsanto, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing the interests of PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg and several other large food and beverage companies.
According to the Forbes article, “The primary arguments against Prop 37…(were) that it would cost food producers money – both to re-label products and in the form of lost business due to customers who are scared off by the label – and thus raise food prices for consumers, and that it could lead to frivolous lawsuits.”
While the “Monsanto Rider” did not prevail, as many opponents anticipated, it didn’t go away. On March 21, the House adopted the Senate-passed appropriations continuing resolution (CR), which will fund federal programs through the end of the federal 2013 fiscal year.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), despite efforts to the contrary led by Senators Jon Tester (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), in addition to other regressive agricultural policy roll-backs, “The bill… (included) a… rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of transgenic (GMO) crops. The rider permits USDA to deregulate genetically modified crops even in the case of a court ruling invalidating or vacating such a deregulation. This is a clear violation of the separation of powers and judicial review. Conventional (non-biotech) and organic farmers have suffered economic losses due to contamination from biotechnology products, and this policy rider likely makes that situation worse in the future.”
It is expected that Congress will get back to the Food and Farm Bill in April or May 2013. Marker Bills and platforms, pointing the way to a 2013 Food and Farm Bill process, are being written and revived. There will be opportunity for us to demand that the “Monsanto Rider” does not ride again, thereby retaining federal courts’ authority to halt the sale or planting of biotechnology products that have not been reviewed adequately for environmental and economic impact.
Posted on Tue, April 16, 2013 by Slow Food USA
On the edge of San Francisco’s Mission District is Sanchez College Preparatory School, an elementary school that is working to address issues of hunger, poor nutrition, and deteriorating health within one of the city’s most affected populations.
Originally posted by Raymond Isola and John & Lolita Casazza for EdibleSchoolYard.org in March 2013.
On the edge of San Francisco’s Mission District is Sanchez College Preparatory School, an elementary school that is working to address issues of hunger, poor nutrition, and deteriorating health within one of the city’s most affected populations. The school has a child development center that has established a unique community-based program to improve nutrition and health habits for its 300 students and their families.
Sanchez School reflects the make-up of its neighborhood with a diverse population of students: 80 percent are Latino, with the remaining 20 percent of Filipino, other Asian, African-American, and European decent. Of the 82 percent of the students who qualify for the school lunch program, many of their families are considered low-income. What we are learning is that better diets equate to improved health, which can be correlated to more regular school attendance and increased learning.
A study in 2010 entitled Hunger In America found that “children from food insecure households are likely to be behind in their academic development compared to children from food secure families.” Given these findings and a deep understanding of the student population at Sanchez School, leaders of the school community sought to create a community education center to offer a proactive strategy for improving student and family nutritional knowledge and habits, while also improving student academic performance.
This vision deepened during a visit to Sanchez School by Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food International. Mr. Petrini and Dr. Isola, the former principal of Sanchez College Preparatory School, developed a School Community Development tool that incorporated three main goals:
One of the first actions taken was to develop a Green Schoolyard Master Plan as part of a voter-approved, bond-funded project where parents, students, staff, and the community at large would help to design a hands-on learning model. This model would offer more open space and an outdoor learning environment for all children at school.
With the help of organizations like Slow Food San Francisco, INKA Biospheric Systems, Bi-Rite Market, Education Outside and others, the once underutilized areas on campus became active areas with a school garden and greenhouse. The landscape included multiple beds of greens, herbs, flowers, and vegetables; a compost bin; an earth bed to play in and explore for insects and worms; and a state of the art vertical garden. Based on the school master plan, a large section of asphalt was taken out and two obsolete portable classrooms were removed to make room for a teaching garden and natural outdoor play environment.
A full-time green schoolyard specialist was hired through a grant. This specialist co-taught with the science teacher to incorporate the students’ garden learning into the science curriculum being taught by classroom teachers. The students also learned about recycling and composting. These combined learning experiences helped students develop environmentally responsible stewardship behaviors that are connected to ecological values within the context of the school’s daily operation. As students worked on building beds, they were visited by Apolinar Yerena, a local strawberry farmer and Mexican immigrant who shared his knowledge of strawberries as he planted them with students. Eventually these strawberries became a popular fruit for the students to eat and make sorbet with.
Soon the larger school community started to take interest in the greening project. Mothers who grew up in the Mexican and El Salvadoran countryside commented that their children, who live in the city, had the opportunity to experience what they had lived growing up in their far away countries. In the spirit of continuing to build community, Sanchez School constructed an outdoor meeting space and peace garden right in the middle of the playground that included native plants, a cobb bench, tiled murals, and large rocks where the students could play and relax. This collaboration was an effort between the school staff, the Sanchez Neighborhood Association, and the student council. There is also a sculpture garden on the west side of the school building that community members can see on a walk through the neighborhood.
To complete the garden project, Sanchez School formed a partnership with the San Francisco Food Bank in 2008. By then, Sanchez School had built a learning space and enacted a curriculum, but still desired more structured participation from parents and the community as a whole. This partnership with the food bank would allow students and families to have greater access to healthy food directly at the school. A weekly food pantry of seasonal food would be provided for 80 families along with nutritional snacks for the students during the school day. Parents would be responsible for organizing an equitable distribution system at the pantry — a responsibility they continue to oversee to this day. The staff from the San Francisco Food Bank also continues to be active partners by providing parents weekly cooking classes and bilingual recipes.
These classes and recipes help parents become familiar with foods they are sometimes unaccustomed to preparing. They also have the opportunity to learn how to cook these foods at home — knowledge that increases their cooking confidence and provides their families with a balanced and nutritious diet every day.
Has this community development tool been successful?
Only time will tell as it continues to evolve, but we are clearly seeing stronger school community relationships amongst people living and working in the neighborhood, an increased awareness about the school garden project, and improvements made to eating habits and student performance.
In the spring of 2012, the California Department of Education’s learning goal was a five-point academic performance index growth on the California Standards Test. Sanchez students exceeded this goal with 68 points academic progress, more than 13 times the expectation. In science, taking the most recent three-year average, fifth graders at Sanchez performed at the 59 percent proficiency level, just below the average for their peers in SF Unified School District, demonstrating a 62 percent proficiency, just above the state average of 58 percent. Comparing Sanchez School to several elementary schools with similar student populations, the average science proficiency levels at these schools hovered around 25 percent.
Sanchez School’s level of science proficiency is impressive given that it is a high-poverty school with a dramatic over representation of students learning English as second language with identified learning disabilities. Sanchez School parents are very supportive of the hands-on approach to learning in an outdoor classroom and view this education as a way for their children to develop science knowledge and healthy eating habits. Our hope is that other school communities adopt a similar tool to raise awareness about the important place that outside education has in the learning process and students’ ability to thrive, because a nutritious and healthy lifestyle is certainly connected to academic learning within green, vibrant spaces.
Dr. Raymond R. Isola is the former principal at Sanchez School Elementary for thirteen years. Currently, Dr. Isola is writing a book with Jim Cummins, who is professor and lead researcher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto in Canada. John and Lolita Casazza are current San Francisco Slow Food Board members.
Posted on Mon, April 15, 2013 by Slow Food USA
Spring has sprung, and I come bearing bad news. I’m sure you’re not surprised. It turns out that even though you’re doing everything right, industrial agriculture is still screwing you — and the planet — up.
By: Philip Newell, Climate Nexus
Spring has sprung, and I come bearing bad news. I’m sure you’re not surprised.
It turns out that even though you’re doing everything right, industrial agriculture is still screwing you — and the planet — up.
You’ve abandoned tasteless tomatoes for your own homegrown heirloom beefsteaks, yet Big Ag is still causing you trouble. That early warmth that teases of spring before dashing your hopes of growth against the jagged rocks of March frost? That bloom-deceiving early warmth is climate change.
Even though you obsess over your patch of garden with a pair of tweezers to remove bugs rather than spray pesticide, “The Industry” is bringing more pests to your plot. Their (and, to be fair, everyone else’s) reliance on fossil fuels drives climate change. The higher temps mean your plot is becoming more attractive to new kinds of insects chomping at the bit to chomp down on your ‘cukes.
I could go on, but for your (and my) sanity, I’ll stop here and move on to what’s even more important:
What can you DO about it?
Well, for one thing you can take a look at some of the material we’ve gathered. Think of it as intellectual ammunition. That way next time someone scolds you for being a hippie-dippie, patchouli-scented stereotype, you can ditch the paisley overalls for a white lab coat, and drop on them some science that illustrates how climate change is altering phenological patterns in the U.S.
Further, you can take it on the offensive: surely some of your friends and neighbors, while maybe not growing their own spelt for bread, are interested in gardening.
Take the opportunity to talk about the impacts of climate change on our backyards — while you’re both working away amid them.
For those who do not live and breathe environmental issues, gardening is one issue that illustrates climate change is not a threat for the future but is happening NOW. The more you can show others who enjoy the outdoors how those spaces near and dear to our hearts are changing, the more hope we have for real action on climate change.
And it’s not only gardens being impacted (as I’m sure you know) but also animals, like birds. Everyone appreciates the playful call of their local songbird (unless it’s before 7 a.m. or the first coffee of the day), but few appreciate the potentially perilous impacts climate change is creating for them.
Taking things a step further, we at Climate Nexus would love to talk to you. We’re a non-profit group whose mission is to communicate the science of climate change.
While we have no problem finding the latest scientific research, we are not able to find something vastly more important: the real-life stories of how this science plays out in real life.
That’s where you all come in.
Given that you’re ‘in the dirt’ day after day, we’re sure you have some stories, anecdotes, even tips on how to handle these climate-related troubles.
Have you lived in the same place for all your life and can speak to the changes you’ve seen in your lifetime? Have you watched as birds arrive earlier and earlier every year—or maybe they’ve stopped leaving for winter all together?
Posted on Thu, March 28, 2013 by Slow Food USA
An Interview with “In Organic We Trust” Director/Producer Kip Pastor
By Slow Food USA Intern, Adrienne Lewis
Slow Food USA members can get a special discount on the DVD of “In Organic We Trust.” Click “member benefits” in your next email from Slow Food USA to find out more.
“In Organic We Trust” Director/Producer Kip Pastor
We can no longer stomach our food system. It’s killing more and more Americans and costing billions in healthcare. 78% of Americans eat organic food, because they think it’s healthier. But is organic really better for us or just a marketing scam?
When corporations went into the business and “organic” became a brand, everything changed. The philosophy and the label grew apart. Can gummy bears or bananas flown halfway across the world truly be organic?
“In Organic We Trust” is an eye-opening food documentary that looks beyond organic for practical solutions like local farmer’s markets, school gardens, and urban farms that are revolutionizing the way we eat. Change is happening from the soil up.
My fellow classmates in “Food Systems: Food and Agriculture,” a component of the Food Studies, Nutrition, and Public Health Program at New York University, sat down with Director/Producer Kip Pastor to talk about the film.
How is soil health related to human health? How do organics play a role in this?
Soil is often misunderstood. People confuse dirt and soil all the time. Dirt is sort of like displaced soil, or soil without the nutrients. Believe me when I say, you can see and smell the difference. Soil is the lifeblood of nature. It contains the nutrients, minerals, and mircobials that plants need to grow and thrive.
There’s a direct correlation between the health of our soil and the health of our agriculture. Healthy soil produces nutrient dense food. If the soil is sick, the plant will be sick, too. In that way, the health of the soil relates to the health of the plant, which in turn relates to our health.
I think that it’s legitimate to conclude that there’s a direct relationship between healthy soil and healthy people. But it goes even deeper than that.
Conventional agriculture uses billions of pounds of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals not only damage the health of the soil, but they end up in our air and waterways. Nitrogen fertilizers are part of water runoff from farms and have caused algae blooms in the Mississippi River and the Golf of Mexico. This is an example of a less direct consequence that unhealthy soil has on human health.
On the other hand, soil that is not treated with chemical pesticides and fertilizers can be healthier and absorb water and nutrients more easily. Although nitrogen fertilizers can be used in certified organic farming, the toxic chemicals, for the most part, cannot. Most organic farmers rotate their crops and nurture their soils, though it is not a requirement of being certified. I think that it’s fair to say that organic farming has a profound impact on soil health.
A real issue in organics seems to be political corruption; what can organizations like Slow Food and we, as individuals, do to bring about change in such a broken system?
Since the term certified organic is a legal classification, it can be changed and shaped in whichever way the governing body deems appropriate. As a result, corporations have been involved with intense lobbying and have exerted pressure to influence politics. Some groups and farmers have caused controversies to the USDA certified organic label, and there’s growing criticism that some big organic growers bend the rules. However, I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that organics suffer from political corruption. Yet, it is fair to say that the process of certifying organic is also flawed.
Certified organic does not, by definition, follow the philosophies of being organic. To be certified, you are not required to promote healthy soil or conserve water. You can input enormous amounts of nitrogen fertilizers, which impact the soil and waterways. You can also import organics that are out of season or shipped from a far-off land. These allowances split with the philosophy.
But the certification system was not created to address all of these parts of our broken food system. It is imperative that organizations, like Slow Food, take a broader approach to agriculture and food. Slow Food takes the strands of our broken system and weaves them into a complete narrative that connects with individuals and communities. Food access, farmer worker justice, edible education, and many other issues have overlapping themes, but so often we just focus on one.
The food system is fractured. There is not a clear vision on how to fix it. Slow Food builds community in order to foster learning, development, and change. At this point it’s a cliché, but it’s still just as true, you can vote with your wallet. Demand healthy, local, organic food for yourself and your family. Individual choices will have a profound impact on how and where our agriculture is grown in the future. You can get to know farmers and farmer’s markets, engage your community at an urban farm, and educate the next generation about healthy eating habits and how to grow food at school gardens. At the very least, you can grow something by a window at home.
Change will come from the soil up, not from the top down. Corporate interests will push for scale, large distribution, cheaper products from overseas, and anything to increase shareholder stock. In turn, those corporate interests lobby the government to create regulations that favor them – subsidies, crop insurance, etc. In order to change the system, we have to come together as a community. Slow Food is a place and an idea that joins us together.
Do you see a place at all for corporate organic agriculture on the market, specifically when thinking about areas where access to small-scale organic products is limited?
There is a place for corporate organic agriculture in our current situation. Absolutely. Although many corporations don’t care about the organic philosophy or investing in soil and conserving resources, corporate organic doesn’t have to be bad. Above all, they are not using dangerous chemicals that poison us, the water, and the soil. Furthermore, the large growth of certified organic can be attributed in part to these corporations.
Most people don’t get their food from farmer’s markets or CSAs, they get it at Walmart and other big chains. The large companies have the production and distribution networks that get organic food to more people, in more places. That’s a positive thing. As a result, there is a growing awareness that chemical pesticides and their residues on food are dangerous for our health and the environment. This conversion would not have happened as quickly without these corporate supply chains. However, it is my hope that once people understand that organic is the only way to go, we’ll start sourcing it more locally, from farmer’s nearby, and growing it ourselves on our rooftops, balconies, and communal lands. I full-heartedly believe that we can transition away from industrial agriculture and push harder towards more sustainable farming with new methods.
How could the organic system cope with the increasing demands of customers in time?
I think the essence of the question is – can organic feed the world? I’ll get to that, but first, I’d like to reframe it a little. We are reaching a crisis in agriculture – the average age of farmers in the US is fifty-nine, farmland has been consolidated into huge corporate monocultures, conventional farming uses dangerous petrochemicals, food transportation is expensive and harmful for the environment, and water resources are getting scarce – what does the future look like?
This is the ideal time to go organic. We need to rebuild rural America, we need to reinvest in young farmers, expand small farms to urban areas on rooftops, abandoned parking lots, sidewalks, schools, we need to educate our youth about soil and nutritious food choices. Let’s teach them organic and sustainable methods. If we put these things together, we can cut down on carbon emissions from chemical applications and transportation, increase food access, raise public health, become free from petrochemicals, and give jobs to the next generation of growers.
All of those solutions are part of the fabric of the organic philosophy. More than anything, this organic philosophy needs to be disseminated to everyone. Over time, organic production will be able to handle consumer demands. You don’t have to be certified organic to be “organic.”
I believe that all food will be produced organically one day because our current system is based on petrochemicals, which will one day run out. It’s an unsustainable system. However, we have a little time before that happens, and we are already making a strong transition to more ubiquitous use of natural gas. Certified organic agriculture represents about 1% of total cropland in the US. I don’t have the actual statistics, but I’ve been told that non-certified organic represents another 1% or so. It is growing but not fast enough to feed the world… yet.
A combination of education, ingenuity, and technology is the way to move forward. I’m a big advocate of growing food where you live – in your home, balcony, at a community garden, or on your roof. Also, some different technologies make it possible to grow food in smaller spaces while using less water – aquaponics and hydroponics. We must invest more in agricultural research and start using water for farms, not lawns. It’s inevitable that we’ll go back to an organic farming system, the only question is how long it takes. With passionate people and a growing demand, I believe it can be faster than you’d think.
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, March 19, 2013 by Angelines Alba Lamb
Slow Food USA sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to ensure that efforts to reduce expenditures are not made on the backs of our most vulnerable and protect funding for nutritional assistance programs and sustainable food and farming.
Last week Slow Food USA Executive Director Richard McCarthy sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to conserve programs that help the most vulnerable with nutrition assistance and supports sustainable farming and family farmers. Click here to view the letter.
For more information on funding levels for farming and nutrition see the National Sustainable Agriculture’s blog.
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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.