Pictured here: Eureka lemons from Betty Van Dyke, a living goddess farmer here in Santa Cruz, and I will be visiting her orchards again soon.
I got something in the mail last night from a Convivium leader, passed down from Erika Lesser, who stood to translate for Carlo Petrini at CUESA when some farmers/growers of the San Francisco Farmers Market were angered at the portrayal of their market in Petrini's fictionalized anecdotes in his just-released Slow Food Nation book.
I had, upon reading some excerpts at the Rancho Gordo blog, gotten pissed off. Then I read about the actual meeting at CUESA, which Steve Sando (aka Rancho Gordo) attended (and abruptly left), and I got more pissed off. (It'll pass.) The short story is that Carlo claims something was lost in the translation: the poetic nuances and wisdom of his vast and benevolent soul, no doubt. But the fact remains: SOMEONE wrote those words, and SOMEONE smeared the farmers...I'll print this again, because I want to drive it in just what lies these are [emphasis mine]:
Petrini wrote: "The former [of two farmers], with long hair and a plaid flannel shirt, held his lovely little blond-haired daughter in his arms and told me, in a conspiratorial tone, that he had to drive two hundred miles to come and sell in that market: he charged incredibly high prices for his squash, it was “a cinch,” in just two monthly visits he could earn more than enough to maintain his family and spend hours surfing on the beach."
1) While it is true that some people may drive 200 miles, those people would be inland, and not surfing at all. Santa Cruz is about 75 miles from San Francisco: the farthest coastal city, I believe, located on the CUESA map of farms. (How cool is that map?)
2. The "conspiratorial tone" really bothers me. It's a really ugly word, isn't it? Coming from a Latin word meaning "to breathe," it implies secrecy and evil...whispers of deceit or illegalities. Someone approved that word in conjunction with an organic farmer.
3. "In just two monthly visits": what a lie. The implication here is that this guy just casually gathers his crops (which magically grow themselves, because who wants to bend over and get dirty doing actual work?) and shows up for Gravy Train twice a month, bilking all the "actresses" (I wonder, do they all dress like this up in San Francisco?) who are prancing around with their "jewels" ("peppers, marrows, and apples"), and then laughing all the way to the bank.
The day after this scandal (and it is a scandal) broke, I received an invitation from Slow Food USA to attend an event in San Francisco. For $50, I could attend a festival featuring "top Italian indigenous & regional wines" and receive an "engraved wine glass" ("etched" is more likely). Well, I wrote them back immediately, pointing to Steve Sando's blog posts, saying this:
Slow Food has lost my membership, thanks to Mr. Carlo Petrini's remarks in his book, Slow Food Nation. (I was probably not going to renew it anyway, but his lies about the farmers were the last straw.)
Also, I do not support events or restaurants that feature all-Italian (or any all-imported) wine lists. That carbon footprint is unnecessary, especially given the abundance of wineries within 100 miles of San Francisco.
Ciao, Slow Food! (You could do it better without Petrini!)
Shortly thereafter, I received a response from Erika Lesser:
I am very sorry to hear that you were upset by Carlo's comments. We are sorry to have lost you as a member.
Please know that it was absolutely not Carlo's or our intention to denigrate or attack the farmers of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I hope that you will consider the range of Slow Food projects that the organization has created and sustained over the past twenty years as a testament to the deep admiration we feel for the farmers who grow sustainably and depend on the direct market economies of farmers markets, both in the United States and around the world.
I appreciate your feedback about local wines, and agree that local sourcing is important. We would always be happy to welcome you back.
At the Slow Food dinner I photographed last month, Heidi Schlecht (one of 1000 chefs around the world invited to attend the Terra Madre in Italy last October) said something really wonderful, but it's something I've never heard again from anyone in Slow Food...she said Petrini says that we shouldn't have all the importing and exporting, that each region should treasure its local farms and artisans. If that's true that he said it (and I believe her completely), then why all the folderol about bringing Italian wines to San Francisco? (I know, they taste good. So do California wines.)
Having said all that, here is the letter sent out by the head of Slow Food USA, Erika Lesser. I don't envy her position right now, having to do damage control about such a distorted account about some really good people. I have to think that SOMEONE needs to come clean, and say, "God, how awful that we let such things get printed: we didn't have any reason to doubt Carlo's words, because who would ever do such a thing? Gosh, we're sorry. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa."
Some of you may have heard about an unfortunate situation that arose last week, regarding Carlo’s new book and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. There is a passage in his new book, Slow Food Nation, that analyzes several aspects of the market there, and due in part to a few unfortunate omissions and loss of some nuance via translation (not to mention taking the entire passage out of the context of the book), the passage has been misinterpreted as being highly critical of the FPFM and its farmers.
As a result, the organization that governs the market, CUESA, decided to cancel his scheduled book signing there. Following this news, Carlo prepared a letter which I sent to CUESA (see below), and shortly after that we had a meeting with the Executive Director of CUESA, one of their Board members, and a few farmers from the market. Our goals were to clarify Carlo's intentions and try to make peace with both CUESA and the individual farmers. Unfortunately, these goals were not realized, at least regarding the farmers in attendance (although I am encouraged to see that CUESA has expressed interest in working with us in the future and we are in contact about this). Since then, at least two of the farmers from the meeting have spoken out about their anger, via a couple of blogs as well as the San Francisco Chronicle. It has been quite upsetting for us to discover that some of these comments are excessively vitriolic and disrespectful, with regard to both Carlo and Slow Food in general.
In the short time since the situation arose, word has spread rather quickly about these online postings, and several people have contacted us for comment. We have also received emails from a few members (4 or 5 so far) who were upset about what they heard. It is possible that you yourself may be approached and asked to comment on the situation. This is in part why I wanted you to be aware of what has happened, but I also want to emphasize that if you do not feel comfortable answering questions
about this, you can certainly refer anyone to Jerusha Klemperer (firstname.lastname@example.org) here in the national office, who will work with me to provide an appropriate response.
By way of background: in a passage of the book called “Green California,” Carlo recounts a visit he made to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, during which he observed the clientele, the farmers and the cost of the products there. His aim in recounting the details therein was to highlight some of the contradictions that exist in even the most positive examples of “new gastronomy,” such as in farmers markets. Other parts of the book go into greater detail about how he believes that farmers markets are one of the great strategies for changing the food system, not just in the US but elsewhere too.
Both Carlo and Slow Food USA value and want to maintain the good relationships we have developed with farmers and others at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market over the years. Carlo recognizes that the FPFM is one of the most important and influential farmers markets in the United States, and wants to be supportive of its mission and farmers, as well as Slow Food’s good relationship with them. We still hold out hope that we can rebuild our relationship with CUESA, as well as with the disaffected farmers in the Bay area.
We also hope that people will not spend too much time focusing on this specific conflict, as it has become divisive in a way that won't ultimately be constructive for anyone, regardless of their point of view. However, for the time being we will do whatever we can to help resolve the situation, especially if it can lead us to an open and constructive dialogue about the challenges that we all face together in changing the food system.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. We hope that you will have a chance to read Carlo’s book and explore the complexity and nuance of what he has to say about this issue, and others, and we also welcome your thoughts and comments at any time.
Here is Petrini's letter to CUESA [emphasis mine]:
I was quite surprised to learn in the past few days about some negative reactions to a passage called “Green California” in my just-published book, Slow Food Nation, and wanted to take a moment to try to explain my intentions and clarify what I believe happened.
First of all, I want to apologize for any offense caused by this passage, whether to your organization or the many farmers who are your members and collaborators. It was absolutely not my intention to denigrate or attack the farmers of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – or of any farmers market, for that matter. I hope that you will consider the rest of my book, not to mention the range of Slow Food projects I have founded over the past twenty years, a testament to the deep admiration I feel for the farmers who grow sustainably and depend on the direct market economies of farmers markets, both in the United States and around the world. The network of farmers and food producers that we brought together at Terra Madre has only helped to reinforce how strongly I believe in the importance of farmers as defenders of the earth and stewards of our future.
In part, I believe that the translation of this passage was, unfortunately, not as accurate as it should have been, and that the misinterpretation of certain phrases and the omission of a few key words resulted in a tone that differs significantly from the spirit of what I wrote in Italian. In fact, my original words were meant to demonstrate the positive impression I had of the two farmers with whom I spoke, based on their apparent success in making farming a viable livelihood for themselves.
I have also come to realize that this specific passage may be vulnerable to misunderstandings when judged outside of the context of the chapter in which it resides, not to mention the book in its entirety. For this I can only apologize for the imperfections of my own writing, in my attempt to explore some of the contradictions that exist within the highly relative concept of sustainability.
The loss of biodiversity in our food supply; the rights of migrant farm workers; the elitism argument against organic and artisanal foods; not to mention the twin epidemics of obesity and hunger that plague our planet, are all contradictions which we need to acknowledge and explore in a way that respects multiple cultures and points of view.
I believe strongly that the only way in which we can overcome these contradictions is to create a dialogue where we face these issues with an open mind and a generous heart. I very much look forward to meeting with you on Saturday where we can come together to recognize our common values in the pursuit of food that is good, clean and fair.
Slow Food International
Please send us the original Italian, so your words can be re-interpreted by a host of Italian-speaking people who can see where your interpreters failed you. I know some people I could ask. Ya mind?
• • • • • • • • • • •
I hate being disappointed in people, but it serves me right for forgetting: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Is that disrepectful? Here's what I think....as much as I loved John F. Kennedy, Jr., I heard several woeful comments when he died in his plane crash that he had no business going up that day. But sheer hubris, ignoring the warnings of more experienced people, created an impenetrable shield around him, and flew he did, like Icarus, straight into the sea.
More than once I have seen people attain celebrity status (even imaginary celebrity status, like a TV commercial) and surround themselves with yes-men and worshippers who cannot exercise healthy caution or honesty with the object of their worship. They are enchanted with power, as are the powerful themselves, just as people are enchanted with money.But money and power do not make someone special, or nice, or better.
I heard a seven-year-old once praise a volatile Hollywood actress, whom he had never met, for being "nice." (He liked her show, and clearly had never read the headlines on the tabloids while in line at the grocery store.) I said, "Why do you think she's nice?"
"Because she's on television!"
Welcome to the modern plague of thinking celebrities are special.
Which is not to say that Mr. Petrini isn't a nice person—he has done an tremendous amount of good in this world. I applaud anyone who'll give the finger to McDonald's, just start there. But he did something not nice at all: he manipulated data to make his own point, based on his own agenda, instead of doing something positive. Instead of making up this "two markets a month" B.S., he could sing the praises of one hard-working young man, who spent six months of his life sleeping in a tent or a yurt up at the UCSC Agroecology program, along with hundreds of others who made that commitment, and who now, in his mid-thirties is experiencing some success.
Success? He doesn't drive a Maserati. The surfing happens in the winter, when it's rainy and not much is growing, and he can get out of town for a few days because he's got workers he can trust. And however clean those hands get in the surf and sand, they're covered in dirt as soon as he returns to his small farm.
I know some farmers who are widely regarded as very successful: they can occasionally enjoy the delicious satisfaction of having gifted chefs turn their incredible produce into edible treasures. But that's not money: in paper, their children qualified for free lunch at school. (I think that's what I remember. It struck me because at the same time, my daughter was applying for a program at Stanford that defined "low income" as $60K a year, and we were commiserating about how nice it would be to make $60K a year.)
There are "negatives" at Ferry Plaza. It is a chic place ("chic" isn't a negative here), but the prices aren't based on the Jimmy Choo sandals all the lady farmers or their clientele wear. It's way more expensive than my local markets, but the gas for the farmers to drive there, and the price for their the stalls is (naturally) higher. But the best thing Ferry Plaza marketplace does is to inspire. That inspiration is part of Alice Waters' legacy, I think. Let's celebrate our farms. Let's treasure our farmers. (I do.)
If you would like a more comprehensive thoughts on Carlo Petrini, please head over to The Ethicurean and read Dairy Queen's posts. She writes eloquently about hearing Petrini speak, and then addresses the CUESA brouhaha.
That's about all for today. I am about eleven pages into the new Russ Parsons book: How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table, and all I want to say is: I have been waiting forever for someone to write this book, but I didn't know it until I started reading it.I will have more to say about it, but I think I'm going to just go lie down with it and soak it up. It's beautiful and useful and educational, and I think it should be taught in schools. I mean that. The man can write.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "For all the talented farmers who work hard so I don't have to." — Dedication in Russ Parsons' How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table
Thanks for visiting.