A Taste of Slow Food Nation
Like a really good lunch buffet, Slow Food Nation was enormous, a feast for the eyes, belly and mind. The four-day event in San Francisco drew a crowd of 60,000 over Labor Day weekend, according to organizers, who are calling it the largest celebration of food in America. It was also a first for parent organization Slow Food USA, the North American arm of the international Slow Food movement.
The choices for what to see, taste, hear and discuss were many and varied, and my biggest challenge was in deciding what to do first. There were lectures with star-studded panels, smaller workshops with artisans and activists, a farmers' market, Victory garden and open-air food court, book signings, film screenings, a rock concert and a "Taste Pavilion," an indoor regional/artisanal foods expo.
As a member of the press, I cobbled together my wish list without worrying about what such an event-filled weekend would cost. The final tally of three lectures and an evening at the Taste Pavilion was $130, excluding the cost of eating lunch at the free and open-to-the-public marketplace at the Civic Center Plaza. (One blogger noted that she paid $6 for two peaches.) Had I attended as a paying member of the public, I would have probably narrowed my choices.
The cost of gastro-enlightenment and inspiration, unfortunately, is beyond the reach of most Americans trying to put food on the table -- slow, fast or a combination thereof.
Ticket costs aside, SFN accomplished many things -- it got people talking, it got people excited, and going forward, it's got people thinking -- about what they're putting in their mouths. Mister MA, who joined me on the adventure, remarked how this event, by and large, has made him see and really understand just how intertwined food is with climate change, that it's not a separate issue that can be addressed and discussed independently. More than once I heard journalist Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") say that there will be no progress in this country with regards to health care, the economy and the oil crisis without including food in the conversation. Food represents about one-fifth of the climate change equation, says Pollan, due to our extreme dependence on oil-based energy.
As much as I loved the Mexican huaraches (black bean-filled masa pouches) and watermelon agua fresca from El Huarache Loco in the open-air food court, I loved even more the tap water stations organized by Food & Water Watch, which served up 1,000 gallons of free filtered tap water each day of the event, eliminating the need for an estimated 100,000 plastic water bottles
As much as I loved the spectacular eye candy of the 50,000-square-foot Taste Pavilion, which served up food and nectars of the gods, I loved even more hearing New Delhi-based environmental activist Vandana Shiva declare that "We need every one of us to be the Rosa Parks of food" and author/academic Raj Patel argue that "We grow food not to eat it -- but to set it on fire" (referring to crops grown for ethanol). Patel also reminded the audience that one of every five calories eaten on earth is rice, the cost of which continues to soar.
I loved when Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini asked why food was excluded from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's nomination speech, urging that "food must regain the importance of being part of modern American discourse."
And I'm grateful for the opportunity to get an early look at Food, Inc., a powerful new documentary (premiering this week at Toronto Film Festival) about the industrialization of the food system, including montages about Monsanto's control of U.S. corn and soybean crops (70 and 90 percent respectively, according to the film) and Stoneyfield Farm yogurt's relationship with Wal-Mart.
Going forward, I'd like to see some representation of fruits and vegetables at the Taste Pavilion, more options for vegetarians and more of a visible presence of school groups, seniors and lower-income communities who otherwise would not be able to afford the cost of a ticket, let alone a Mexican huarache. But I'd reckon, after all the plates and cups are composted and the Victory Garden is harvested, this newborn nation is poised for greatness.
The Post's Jane Black has more SFN coverage.
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