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08.27.08

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Slow Food Nation

By Stett Holbrook


NEXT WEEK, Slow Food Nation kicks off in San Francisco. The first-ever event is being held Aug. 29–Sept. 1 and it's billed as the largest celebration of American food ever. With panel discussions, field trips, food shows and live music, it promises to be something of a Woodstock for the arugula set and Slow Food partisans. Instead of Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Joan Baez, the event will feature rock stars of the Slow Food movement like writers Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters.

I'll be there in the crowd, but I confess I planned to pass on the event at first because I feared it would be a just a big pep rally, a sermon to the converted. Slow Food is an inherently political organization that's challenging mass-produced food and the consumption of rootless, convenience foods instead of more traditional, locally produced ones, but I wondered whether a gathering of like-minded foodies in the liberal nirvana of San Francisco would change minds in Middle America and less affluent areas.

I'm all for Slow Food, don't get me wrong. The preservation and celebration of traditional foodways is critical from a gastronomic and environmental point of view. The Slow Food movement started in Italy as a rebellion against fast food and has since grown into an international organization. Among other things, Slow Food chapters around the world seek to preserve heirloom varieties of vegetables, create seed banks, educate consumers about the perils of fast food and agribusiness, celebrate local culinary traditions and organize local, small-scale food production. What's not to like about that?

While Slow Food supports Old World, peasant food practices as a countering force to the homogenizing forces of mass production, the organization has been accused of elitism because of its reverence for often pricey, gourmet foods and ingredients that most people can't afford. While the cost of many of the foods Slow Food supports remains a fundamental challenge for the organization, I don't see Slow Food as elitist. Healthy food produced by people instead of machines shouldn't be a luxury, but it is and Slow Food is trying to change that.

The effort to change the way we eat and treat the earth has to start somewhere and it might as well be San Francisco. The frightening rise in world food prices, America's high rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes and the environmental costs of agribusiness all point to the need for a radical re-examination of the way we grow and eat food. I just hope the next Slow Food Nation takes the enthusiasm the San Francisco event is sure to generate and heads elsewhere in the country where folks might need some more convincing. That's where the real work needs to be done.

For more information about Slow Food Nation go to slowfoodnation.org.


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