One S.F. community blogger called Slow Food Nation, the anti-fast food event staged this past Labor Day weekend in San Francisco, “a place for arrogant white snobs to chastise the working class for not being able to eat and live more leisurely.” The blogger had it wrong.
Not that this event doesn’t involve some fine foods and some lofty concepts. But as this year’s event showed, SFN is increasingly about rooting those high ideals in the rich soil by offering real strategies on how to eat the stuff your grandfather used to pick from the garden or your grandmother bought from the butcher. And it doesn’t take a snob-caliber budget.
A full 50,000 people gathered in San Francisco to participate in workshops, panel discussions, slow food journeys through the Bay Area, and– yes!– lots of tastings from the great harvest of California that celebrate the possibilities of our local farms and regional specialties. In other words, the vision of Slow Food USA, that food should be good, clean and just and bring community together (its founder Carlo Petrini coined the term “eco-gastronomy” when it started back in 1986) was exemplified beautifully.
The lawn in front of city hall was transformed into a Victory Garden demonstrating how to take an urban plot, make it green and grow food without a big budget.
The Youth Food Movement at Slow Food Nation held many free events linking students from all economic backgrounds with farmers, cooks and food policy makers and the resources they need for a broader food education. Students toured the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley to learn about how food is grown and what food to grow in a public school garden, spent a night at Slide Ranch, a teaching farm in Marin County, or participated in an EAT-IN at Dolores Park, where teams of young people picked up foods at local farmers markets and took it back to kitchens where chefs led them in preparing food.
The Food for Thought series focused primarily on three leading issues of our time: health (how cheap calories are contributing to obesity), energy (how we can make the shift from fossil fuels to biofuels to grow our food) and climate (how the world’s current food systems rely on trucks, trains and planes).
A giant scroll called a Declaration of Healthy Food and Agriculture was unveiled on Friday, Aug. 29, and kept the assembled masses ambitiously on mission. By fall 2009, its stated goal is to gather at least 350,000 signatures to present to Congress in Washington D.C. “The purpose of U.S. Food and Agriculture must change,” said Michael Dimock, the former chairman of Slow Food Usa who initiated the concept of the petition. “It can no longer focus on the production of cheap calories.”
Such an effort, like all of Slow Food USA’s, will depend on the activity of its many small local chapters, who champion and defend the foods and food traditions of their particular area. On the Central Coast, Carmel, Santa Cruz and Monterey have active chapters.
Predictably, the Slow Food Nation’s showstopper of a 45,000-square-foor space called a Tasting Pavilion was the talk of the event– and made it hard to eat anything slowly. Judge-selected items like chocolate, charcuterie, tea, coffee, honey, fish, cheese, wine and beer were everywhere. The futurisitic-igloo-like Ice Cream Pavilion dished out melonball sized scoops of strawberry-basil, pistachio and molasses. Rhubarb chutney with a shmeer of fomage banc stood out at the Pickles and Chutney joint.
With the rich flavors, it could’ve felt highbrow to the ignorant– but at its heart it merely showed how transcendent well-grounded food can taste. As one of the brothers behind McClure Pickles said as he sampled out his naturally fermented garlic dill cucumber, “It’s passed down from my great, great Polish grandmother’s recipe.”