Slow Food Nation

San Francisco hosted Slow Food Nation over Labor Day weekend and the energy and focus were impressive. It was a world-class event, the goal of which was nothing short of changing the way America eats and drinks. A declaration of Food and Agricultural Independence was announced (see full text on pg TKTKT) and presented at San Francisco’s City Hall. The document was framed by key players in the Slow Food movement and put the changes required squarely on the table.

The city’s Civic Center neighborhood, for many years a San Francisco eyesore, sported a green and growing victory garden featuring vivid chards, towering beans, rotund golden squash and other heirloom beauties. Carefully selected vendors hawked organic ice cream with salt and caramel topping, free range hot dogs, Mexican watermelon drinks and Indian breads. Farmers sold lion’s mane mushrooms, California olive oils, raw milk and a colorful range of ripe, bright, sweet berries. Sights and tastes that could make even the most hardcore fastfood addict take a second look.

At the other end of Van Ness Ave., Fort Mason was home to the Taste Pavilion, modeled on Slow Food International’s Salone del Gusto (Hall of Taste) in Turin, Italy. Within the pavilion, one could find the best of the best–taste wise, biodiversity wise and green wise. Innovatively designed booths featured Alaska’s sustainable fish, a bar of baristas serving macchiato and espresso par excellence, plum ice cream, organic and alcoholic spirits and wines, a run of chocolate samples and a range of America’s great raw milk cheeses, to name but a few.

The Taste Pavilion’s standout quality was the knowledge resident behind the counters. These people were not just servers but cheese makers, distillers, olive oil makers and others with years of experience in their trades.

Hawai’i was well represented at SFN by David Caldiero and Ed Kenney of Town, Adina Guest (now an employee of the French Laundry) and San Shopel–both recent graduates of the Culinary Institute at Kapi’olani Community College–a handful of Slow Food members from the Kaua’i, Hawai’i and O’ahu, and the expat resident like Peter Pahk, a St. Louis grad who is an executive chef in Napa.

Speeches by writers, professors, and food reformers enlivened the conversation about the dismal state of agriculture and its consequences in America’s food chain.

Over the course of the conference, attendees heard from Michael Pollan, author of the best selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Carlo Petrini, the Italian founder of Slow Food; Dr. Vadana Shiva who has defended India farmers’ right to produce and keep their own seeds; Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved; Eric Schossler, author of Fast Food Nation; Wendell Berry, writer and originator of the phrase, “Eating is an agricultural act”; Alice Waters, the doyenne of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and the architect of the Berkeley schoolyard garden; Marion Nestle, professor and critic of our dietary habits, and other key proponents of food reform.

Schlosser, headed up a panel of primarily Latino labor lawyers and organizers that elicited the disturbing truth that many of the problems facing today’s farm workers are the same if not worse than they were during labor leader Cesar Chavez’ time. Close to a half dozen people have died so far this year in California doing farm work. Five farm bosses pleaded guilty to enslaving farm workers in Immokalee, Florida for more than two years.

There was some good news–in Florida, organizers have gotten agreements from a number of fast food chains including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and most recently Burger King and Chipotle to pay a penny more a pound for tomatoes. That penny will nearly double the pay of the average farm worker.

The gist of the meetings, films, speeches and conversations was this–it’s time to change the way America eats and how that food is produced. We need to pay attention to sustainability, the environment, ways to save our agricultural, fishery and ecological diversity and fair treatment of our food workers. As the Slow Food puts it, food needs to be clean, fair and good.

Laurie V. Carlson is publisher of Honolulu Weekly and a member of the board of directors of Slow Food Hawai’i.

[Slowfoodoahu.org], [Slowfoodhawaii.org], [Slowfoodusa.org] [Slowfoodnation.org]