Pictured here: a bouquet created by the apprentices up at UCSC's Farm & Garden (aka "CASFS") for a dinner last night. I shopped, chopped (500 cherry tomatoes, eight pounds of yellow wax beans), cooked (the beans), and prepped for eight great hours.
SLOW FOOD NATION 2008
So, unlike tens of thousands of people in San Francisco who are paying $58 and up for the privilege of suffering through traffic and parking and being crammed into buildings like sardines, I am absolutely committed to avoiding all things under the Slow Food umbrella this Sunday. Slow Food Nation: Come to the Table 2008 starts tomorrow.
When I first heard about it, it sounded exciting. But I realized I was Having Thoughts about it, and that most weren't pretty.
Turns out I'm not alone. (I might not be in the majority, but that doesn't matter.) With her usual graciousness and aplomb, Jennifer Jeffrey (who lives in San Francisco) wrote her plus-minus take on the event. She manages to find the possible positives, which honestly would have eluded me.
To preface this: I have enjoyed every single Slow Food event I've ever attended—with one exception, due to a chapter leader seriously lacking in social skills. But the Santa Cruz leaders, Cliff and Claudette Warren, are exemplary people who are gracious, tasteful, kind, and generous. They have none of the puffery or self-importance that, to me, characterizes the organization, and which trickles down from its founder, Carlo Petrini. I'm thinking, "You people didn't actually discover food, you know?"
I admit freely that I am still unforgiving about last year's Petrini incident, wherein he wrote an unflattering and untrue portrait of a "surfing farmer" at the Ferry Plaza market, which he also decried as being elitist—a charge I have less of a problem with, but still. Petrini absolutely and utterly failed to take responsibility for lying, and claimed that it was a gap in the language and translation. Bull pucky: he has editors and proofreaders and, supposedly, fact checkers who failed him. So there's that.
But after being a member for a year, I came to the conclusion that it's stupid to pay an organization for the privilege of being, perhaps, over-privileged. I wouldn't join Mensa, either: what's the point? (Yes, I qualify. Or I did before I nursed a child for some years.)
I'm sitting here at my dining table with Rebecca Thistlethwaite, who's simultaneously working on her own blog post, while we share ideas and (yes) gossip. Farmer gossip! Slow Food gossip! She alerted me to a conversation of comments on the Slow Food Nation blog about the Charcuterie Pavilion.
It interested me, because I have run across a couple of blog posts recently that are superior in their assessment of Slow Food. The first, "Slow Food Needs Reality Check, Not Makeover," from the People's Grocery in Oakland, by Brahm Ahmadi (to whom Rebecca gives high marks). The last paragraph is as succinct and thoughtful as anything I've ever read about the problem with Slow Food:
The article in the New York Times affirms that Slow Food is currently distracted by its own self-important belief that it should be a big tent for lots of people, rather than simply being an equal member of a much bigger movement or coalition in which the movement itself is the big tent. (Emphasis mine.) Unless Slow Food shifts its thinking and stops applying its old framework onto a new reality its efforts to broaden and diversify aren’t likely to be successful. The Slow Food Nation Conference may, as the article proposes, signify a makeover of the organization. Or it may signify that Slow Food is out of touch with reality. We’ll soon see.
A friend sent me a link to the second one, "Winds of Change" from the "Life Has Taught Us…" blog. Nashvillians (Hi, Nashville! I miss you!) Jenny and Kevin write:
We have a "slow" tradition and it definitely is not being "preserved" by a wealthy few. It is being enacted every day by groups of folks who would feel mighty uncomfortable eating at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. In fact, they would probably have a difficult time even speaking the same language as Alice Waters.
What we see happening with Slow Food USA is a classic example of an elite class co-opting the traditions of the lower classes. In doing so, they remove the "taboo" barrier associated with class, claim ownership of the tradition, and make it inaccessible to the lower classes who created it in the first place.
Rebecca laughingly said, "We have a taste pavilion. It's called the Santa Cruz farmer's market. You can go there on Saturday or Sunday this weekend, and everyone will let you taste what they grow." (Which is mostly true.)
My favorite quote in the New York Times expresses what I've said many times:
“I do slow food. Why should I join it?” said John Scharffenberger, who made his name producing sparkling wine and chocolate in Northern California. “But I think it is a really good way to promote Italian food.”
Here in little Santa Cruz, pretty much everyone I know does slow food, but we don't put a © or a ® or a ™ on it. While some people, me among them, have packaged food in the house, we know it's "food in boxes." But no one I know would show up at a potluck or make a dinner using Food in a Box. Oh, yes, I will be transparently hypocritical and admit to having Trader Joe's stuff in my refrigerator. (Bruce Cole, please avert your eyes.) But it's there for our convenience, because I am not going to ask Bob, when he comes home from a nine-hour workday (this week, on a 3500 square foot deck in the broiling sun) to make dinner for Logan and him if I'm not home to do so.
Rebecca and her husband, Jim, were delegates at the most recent Terra Madre, a Slow Food gathering in Italy. As ranchers of extremely high-quality meats, they were invited, and we held fundraisers to help them go. Rebecca emphasized one thing when we talked about it: the celebrity chefs got all the special treatment. Producers were fed truly awful cafeteria-style food—Rebecca said she and Jim went out seeking restaurants where they could get a decent meal. She said they could peer into windows of elaborate dinners with special food and wines, to which only chefs were invited to partake. "Jim, we totally need to crash that!" To me, that's just plain wrong.
Jim told me that none of the meat he tasted in Italy was better than what he himself raises here. This is not said to insult Italians: I love love love Italy.
Neither Rebecca nor Jim were invited to participate in any of the events at Slow Food Nation 2008. Which is fine with her, because on Sunday, we will be celebrating an honest and authentic slow food event: a tour of TLC Ranch, followed by a dinner of braised lamb shanks raised by sheep dairy entrepreneur, Rebecca King. We will be in the company of Local Harvest founder, Guillermo Payet, his wife, Amber, and baby Joaquin. There may well be another rancher couple in our midst: we're waiting for the RSVP's to roll in. Along with the lamb shanks, Bob and I will bring vegetables, smoked with guava wood and mesquite, and tomatoes from our garden. And maybe deviled eggs, made from TLC Ranch eggs.
I encourage the values of Slow Food, but without the boosterism and without the feeling that Slow Food is drawing a circle around its members to the exclusion of minorities and the unwealthy. I'd like it to be part of a bigger picture, as Brahm suggests above—a picture with lots more color, and lots more soul.
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "He drew a circle that excluded me; so I drew a circle that included him." (Paraphrasing Edwin Markham here.)
Thanks for visiting. Go slowly and drink in the beautiful summer days.