Monday, May 04, 2009

Slow Food Only Changes Everything

If Yuppies and DINKs and snooty suburbanites attach themselves to Slow Food®, that’s okay by the Italy-based HQ and equally fine with the NYC-based U.S. arm. On the one hand, the organization has noble and worthy goals; on the other, it has a deserved reputation as an elitist’s hallmark. slowsnail.jpg

Cross-post note: This is not my usual political fare, but it is progressive in concerns. It appears at Harrumph!

As a damned good cook and serious food lover, I am aligned with much of what SF seeks. At its most basic, it is intended as an antidote for the fast-food culture and cuisine. As a relentless egalitarian, I have avoided them because of the cliquish reputation.

I dragged my 15-year-old to the recent lecture at the West Roxbury library as part of its elaborate food series of events. It did nothing to inspire either of us, certainly not to join SF at museum-membership prices ($75 a couple/$60 a person per year). Yet, I remain conflicted.

First note that SF Boston’s events head, Nicole Nacamuli, is no sales type. “We don’t do a great job signing up new members,” she told the eight or so of us there. She was refreshingly candid, with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. She noted that there was a quarterly little SF magazine for members (online only for students), but “to get it is really not a reason to sign up.” Instead, she said that members do and should join because they believe in what SF does.

Snail Business

For those who ask what exactly SF is about, the list is plain and fitting the times. It includes:

  • Defense of Biodiversity. Identifying and saving foods, including animals, at risk from a culture of mass agriculture.
  • Taste Education. Everything from encouraging family meal preparation and enjoyment, to tastings and food workshops, school and college programs and co-programs with chefs. Also, SF also founded and runs the University of Gastronomic Science in Italy.
  • Linking Producers and Co-Producers. From the local fair to the national product showcases and conferences, SF gets food professionals on the production and purchase sides as well as customer together to taste and become familiar with edible and potable offerings.

At a higher level, SF has three catchphrases — good, clean and fair. That would be really enjoying your food, “created with care from healthy plants and animals,” biodiversity fostered with ecologically sound growth and harvest, and reasonable compensation for the food producers.

sflogo.jpgIn practice, we may also begin seeing the snail logo on restaurants that comply with SF’s mandates for food and wine produced in the right ways, ideally locally. (The SF site is really, really snotty about its trademark. I claim fair use here as educational illustration. )

Some European restaurants already sport the snail in the window to show their support for and practice of following SF’s aims and guidelines. Apparently, this is in the works for the United States as well. Nacamuli said that the Boston bunch has been talking with the NY folk. She doesn’t expect the first snails to appear for at least six months.

Who Can?

All that looks like good stuff. You may well wonder, what’s the problem?

Well, check here and then here for examples of the objections.

The short of it is that some SF advocates truly are snobs and the idle rich. Their conversations about food and wine can be just too precious. There was a family who wrote a book about eating locally for a year, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Barbara Kingsolver’s book is a huge favorite of SF sorts. However, it would require having your own fertile farm in a temperate zone, no other responsibilities, and ideally a steady cash flow.

In short, that’s what some find flawed in the SF movement. At its extreme, it works for situations most of us cannot duplicate. We tend not to be filthy rich or we don’t own the family farm and vineyards. Many of us simply can’t afford U.S. prices for farmer’s market veggies and fruits, much less have the equipment, time and inclination to can, freeze, and dehydrate for the winter and spring. You’d be hard pressed to duplicate or even locate the small, agrarian communities where the range of goals is even obtainable.

Hence, there is some justification for sneering at what could be seen here as play for the wealthy who would use SF as more proof of their superiority.

But Wait

Most important, none of us has to do it all at once to support the SF ideals and practices. I’ll still go to the Haymarket and still use non-local veggies and fruits. Yet, being aware of the concepts and working toward them helps.

Let’s stay aware that most of us also have our own marks of status and form our elite subsets in this very wealthy nation. We may not be able to eat only self-grown and harvested local foodstuffs, but we tend to pride ourselves in our own specialness.

Consider religion. Episcopalians are about as wealthy as we come and have been since our early Presidents. Yet, while I live egalitarianism, I also am a Unitarian/Universalist. UUs are a privileged group as a whole…and blindingly white as well.

Otherwise, I live in Boston, which is has about as huge a pride of place as anywhere in the hemisphere. I’m a long-time Volvo driver, a dual symbol of New England and liberals.

It goes on and on. Some of us can’t get over a prep school or university. Others live in exclusive suburbs who lord of the unfortunate inner-city families. We each have our areas of irrational and divisive pride.

So, there’s no reason to suppose that status seekers would not use the SF movement. They have three or four dozen other cocktail-party bragging points as well.

That’s okay by me as well as by the SF groups. They do support the goals with their memberships and other contributions. They may even play gentleman farmer and grow plants for sustainable diversity. Good on them. Of course, we don’t have to stand around and listen to them tell us how wonderful and special they are.

In a counterpoint to the SF lecture, yesterday’s tour of Brook Farm in West Roxbury played off some of the same themes. It was a much richer presentation and a post for another day.

Among the similarities is that the utopian community of the pre-Civil War was founded by well-off elite sorts wanting to live an idealized agrarian existence. They were to rely on farming, selling their produce, and balancing the hard work with educational, recreational and philosophical activities. It only lasted six years and change and many historians call the social experiement an abject failure.

Yet, it inspired other such movements. Many of the participants also went on to found other movements and organizations, inspired by their goals at Ellis Brook.

The SF movement seems a lot better funded and not contingent on successful hard work of wealthy folk with little business experience. There’s much to be said of efforts toward worthy aims.

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1 comment:

DME said...

I believe in slow food. But you do not have to join the organization to be part of the movement. On the Southcoast of Mass. we have been working hard to creat a community of sustainable living and are quite successful. Trust me we have our rich gentlemen farms but the majority of us are small family farms and we get dirty everyday. Please come out this way visit for a day and support agriculture it does make a difference. Check out these posts and will giving and idea of how we fight!