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08.27.08

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Phaedra

Slow What

By Alastair Bland


Slow Food Nation's much-anticipated celebration in San Francisco has come and gone, and last sunny weekend at Fort Mason thousands of bona fide foodies ate well and drank splendidly.

But did Slow Food's message—that fresh, thoughtful, healthy food is far worthier than cheap, fast, convenient food—really reach the people who need to hear it the most, the low-income consumer likely to be uneducated on the fineness of fresh? Unlikely. Alice Waters needs to pull her head out of her organic lettuce patch and smell the flowers, because she and her Slow Food cohorts are preaching to the choir. At $45 to $65, the price range of tickets to the Taste events on Saturday and Sunday surely precluded almost all but the most devoted foodies from attending. These privileged intellectuals already know that gardens are great, that cheese comes in many colors and that the good life's finest pleasures include opening up Michael Pollan's latest 400-pager on the back patio.

Slow Food touts organic produce, often prohibitively expensive, as the starting baseline for a better lifestyle. In doing so, the movement passively alienates half the world with an elitist approach while drastically failing to demonstrate how cheap and affordable eating well can actually be. That token single mother in the trailer park on welfare whose sympathizers claim she is too busy and broke diapering her kids to feed them proper food needs to be shown how cheap and easy it is to put a pot of brown rice, lentils or beans to simmer on the stove as the base of a quality meal. Anything beyond, maybe a salad or simple sauté of affordable vegetables, would be an added bonus and something the kids could even throw together. After all, slow food is a joy of life accessible to all, but when the movement's advocates set their sights strictly on organic produce, artisanal charcuterie, multicourse banquets, Lodi Zinfandel and other luxuries of gourmet living, their message goes sailing over the head of that poor single mother.

She likely doesn't have time to manage her own garden or shop at the yuppie supermarkets that sponsored Slow Food Nation. She probably can't afford the produce, anyway, and she certainly wasn't at Fort Mason this weekend marveling at the virtues of award-winning cheddar, wild Arctic char and cask-conditioned beer.

Someone needs to tell her about simple whole grains and easy salads. That may not be up to par for Chez Panisse, but it's a feasible gateway—and it's still pretty Slow.


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