A Big Slow Food Show of Hands
This afternoon, I'm headed to San Francisco, where I'll spend the long holiday weekend attending Slow Food Nation, a four-day mega-event "highlighting the connection between your plate and the planet." Part food and music festival, eco-conference and lecture symposium, product expo and tasting, schmooze-a-thon and gastro-intellectual salon, SFN is the first of its kind for Slow Food USA, the 16,000-member American branch of Slow Food, an international non-profit organization based in Bra, Italy. (Stay tuned for the ABCs of Slow Food in tomorrow's space.)
On the eve of the festivities, I'll arrive just in time for an event that is poised to set the stage for a broader, longer-term conversation after the projected 50,000 foodies have come and gone. Later this afternoon (5 p.m. local time), Slow Food USA, in conjunction with Roots of Change, a Bay Area non-profit consortium, will unveil a Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture, in a public reading at San Francisco's City Hall.
You might remember hearing about the 2007 Farm Bill that was stalled in Congress for so long that it ultimately was renamed the 2008 Farm Bill (it finally passed in June, overriding a presidential veto). As I mentioned last summer in this space, the Farm Bill is huge: Worth hundreds of billions of dollars and setting the course for food and agriculture policy in this country, for better or for worse. The bill is an omnibus beast, meaning that it covers food stamps, school lunch programs, low-income nutrition, land conservation, international trade and commodity crops, to name just a few constituencies. Every five years, the food and farm programs are up for review, and inevitably, partisan politicking and deal making ensues, often resulting in prolonged debate and, as we saw this year, stalled passage.
Created in 1933 as the Agricultural Adjustment Act to assist farmers and rural communities, the Farm Bill has largely morphed over the past 30 years into mega-bucks subsidies for commodity crops (think corn, wheat, sugar), with comparatively little assistance for small or non-commodity-crop farms (the stuff you see at your local farmers' market). According to data compiled by Washington public interest and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, 66 percent of crop subsidy benefits went to just 10 percent of all farmers in the years 2003-2005.
The Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture, say organizers, is a direct response to current U.S. farm and food policy: "The earth and people are becoming less healthy as a direct result of current policy; the efforts to solve food and agriculture challenges are not being addressed to the degree required by the scale of the problems; and the last farm bill cycle confirmed that a tight cadre of lobbyists control the debate to protect the status quo rather than aid the population of the nation," writes SFN communications and policy director Naomi Starkman in a press release issued this week.
The current final draft of the Declaration, which includes 12 principles that "should frame food and agriculture policy, to ensure that it will contribute to the health and wealth of the nation and the world," is the collaborative effort of nearly 100 academics, scientists, environmentalists, farmers and labor activists led by Roots of Change president Michael Dimock.
As of this morning, the Declaration is available for online consumption for 90 days, with an invitation to post comments and suggestions which will be considered for the final version. In the fall of 2009, organizers plan to present the Declaration to members of Congress, with the hopes of influencing the next Farm Bill, scheduled for 2012. And no, it's not too early to start talking -- after all, the early bird usually gets the worm.
After you've had a look at the Declaration, tell me what you think: Is this a Declaration worth pursuing or is it a bunch of hot air? Does it have a chance of getting the ear of Congress? What would you add or delete to the current version?
Stay tuned for SFN coverage from the Post's Jane Black, both over the weekend and in the Sept. 3 issue of the Food section. I'll also have a first-hand report on Tuesday, Sept. 2, in this space.
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