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Slow Food and Carlo Petrini


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Unless you live in Springfield, you don't really live in a city if you're living in southwest Missouri.  (Rolla is a large college town.)  I would be surprised if there weren't plenty of options for fresh, local foods all around you.  It's really we cityfolk who are deprived in this sense, and I guess that shows you my own bias in carrying on with this discussion.  However, since about three-quarters of all Americans now live in urban areas, that bias may be a valid one.

I do live in Springfield. And, according to an article I read in the newspaper last week, the population of the Springfield metropolitan area is now inching toward a half-million. Hardly New York stats, but still enough hardy souls to be considered a small city by most people's standards.

There are at least three active farmer's markets that I am familiar with, but I've been told that there are more, with new ones opening all the time, according to this article about the increasing popularity of farmer's markets.

The biggest one, and the one that I patronize most often, is the Greater Springfield Farmer's Market, held in the parking lot of the mall. The management of that market makes regular visits to the farms of the vendors to be certain that they are selling only produce that they have grown themselves.

It doesn't cost much more to buy produce there. But it does require more time and effort to remember when the market is open, and rearrange my schedule. Not only do I have to shop on certain days, I have to get there bright and early or much of the "good stuff" is gone.

All I'm saying is that I'm not so sure that patronizing farmer's markets is a money issue. Except insofar as money influences education.

Edited to fix link.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Here is the letter Carlo Petrini wrote to CUESA. He wrote and sent this to CUESA BEFORE the meeting with the farmers which went so poorly. CUESA chose, for reasons unknown, not to share this letter with the farmers before that event. I don’t know if they have done so yet.

*****************

Dear CUESA,

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, and I hope that with this in mind, we

can come to the table together to recognize our common values and chart

a path forward that unites our work in the pursuit of food that is good,

clean and fair.

In friendship/Sincerely/With respect,

Carlo Petrini

President

Slow Food International

Peace,

kmf

www.KurtFriese.com

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I was actually posting to talk about a conversation I had with Alice Waters today, but I'll address the apology first. I met him, he stands by what he wrote. It's not a translation problem. All of Slow Food USA signed off on it. They read it and saw no problem. I think it's neat that he is sorry that I am offended but he should be sorry he goofed, even just this once. I will give him credit, in person, he did not play the language card. And I only found out about the meeting with Petrini and Lesser (Slow Food USA head) that morning as I was unloading. I don't know how far in advance CUESA knew about it. I've also been shown the internal memo that Lesser wrote where she claims I'm spreading vitriol on the internet. Honestly, these people need a Dale Carnegie course, and quick.

I've loved the intelligent back and forth over this subject, especially here but also on most of the blogs and forums covering this. I haven't deleted a single comment on my blog. It's been intelligent, civil and I've learned a lot. Even devotay, who I think believes nothing will make me happy or shut me up, has interesting things to say. I still maintina a simple, "we goofed on this one" would have done it. In fact, it still would help.

Here's what I pray is my final blog entry on this:

Let's Ask Alice

I promise that tomorrow we'll be back to food, but today was an eventful day. I have some major national papers calling me about all this and unfortunately, the question of Alice Waters comes up. Waters is in an uncomfortable position of being on both boards, CUESA and Slow Food. I cut her a hell of a lot of slack because her intentions are always clear and whatever you may think of her, you know she's trying to do the right thing. As a Bay Area native, being on the opposite side of a food fight with Alice Waters is not something you enjoy. Dread is a better word. So I called.

We talked for a good while, mostly about things we agree upon. She insists Carlo's intentions are good and I kept bringing it around to why would he write such things, especially if they weren't true. Waters talked about her history with the market and how defensive she is of it but the food movement was a bigger issue. The more she talked, the more I had the sinking feeling this was going to go nowhere.

Finally I said, "Would you feel it's fair to say that you support Petrini 100% and the goals of Slow Food, but in this one case, he got the market wrong?"

There was a pause, and then she said, "Absolutely."

"So even though you support him, he didn't 'get' the market."

"Absolutely. He got this one wrong. But I support his right to express himself, 100%"

As far as I'm concerned, she's my new hero. This one small acknowledgment changed everything. I would love it if Slow Food could come out and say something similar but that's for another day or someone else.

We continued talking about farmers we knew mutually, price, perception and the struggle to get real food to the table. I had the feeling a two week headache had ended.

One of the things that had upset her was my saying that she didn't shop the market. She tells me this just isn't true, so I apologize.

In related news, my fellow Terra Madre delegate and madder than hell farmer friend, Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farms told me this morning he's still madder than ever but plans to renew his membership to Slow Food and hopefully make some changes from within. Good for him! If you still have a connection to Slow Food,  I'd encourage you to do the same. For me, it's not my group anymore and I think I prefer to continue with my favorite seed saving organizations but one path isn't any less valid or mighty than the next, obviously.

Whether Ferry Plazas prices are as outrageous as claimed are true or not, it doesn't matter, because there's the perception that they are. I hope this opens up a whole new dialog between the farmers and CUESA and the public. I don't find the market all that expensive for vegetables but maybe I'm nuts. We'll find out. I also hope Slow Food takes a look at themselves as well. Whether it's true or not, the perception among many is that they're arrogant and elitist. Again, if that's the perception, I hope they can address it because it might as well be true.

Now, shut up and eat!

Edited by rancho_gordo (log)

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I keep that hypothetical shopper trying to feed a family of four on $75 a week (or two -- apparently it's harder if you're feeding fewer mouths, because you can't take advantage of economies of scale, which are also present in the supermarket...) in mind as I read this.

This evening I attended a terrific panel discussion on the Farm Bill 2007 that was organized and sponsored by the Washington, D.C. Convivium of Slow Food. It was the first time I've ever been inspired to attend one of their events and it was incredibly worthwhile. Lots of federal policy wonks and government specialists present in addition to concerned ordinary folk, the advantage of the first two categories being the amount and caliber of information being shared with the passion of conviction if in subdued, decorous tones. It proved an example of genuine terroir in terms of Slow Food taking advantage of "local specialties" and bringing together farmers, journalists and the feds. I'll have more to say about this some time in the near future.

Meanwhile, Sandy and others might be as interested as I am in a project announced by someone in the audience. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is helping to address some of the socioeconomic issues that a number of us have addressed here in a variety of topics related to farmers markets. Thanks to a grant, a local community with a large immigrant population is going to launch a market that is tailored to its needs. Since it's late, I'll leave it at that and invite you to read about the national effort here: Project for Public Spaces.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I've loved the intelligent back and forth over this subject, especially here but also Here's what I pray is my final blog entry on this:
Let's Ask Alice

I promise that tomorrow we'll be back to food, but today was an eventful day.

[details of hatchet-burying conversation with Alice Walters deleted]

Whether Ferry Plazas prices are as outrageous as claimed are true or not, it doesn't matter, because there's the perception that they are. I hope this opens up a whole new dialog between the farmers and CUESA and the public. I don't find the market all that expensive for vegetables but maybe I'm nuts. We'll find out. I also hope Slow Food takes a look at themselves as well. Whether it's true or not, the perception among many is that they're arrogant and elitist. Again, if that's the perception, I hope they can address it because it might as well be true.

Now, shut up and eat!

(emphasis added)

Whether or not we like it, perception is reality -- and while the two are not congruent, rarely are they completely contradictory, except in cases where changes in reality have failed to dislodge outdated perceptions.

Case in point: the Wegmans supermarket chain, the upscale grocer based in Rochester, N.Y., that is slowly colonizing the larger metropolitan areas in its region, including Philadelphia. Those of you who read the Pennsylvania board will recall an exchange on the Cherry Hill, N.J., Wegmans in which I expressed astonishment that on regular grocery items, the chain's prices are as good as or better than the competition's. Another poster responded that Wegmans management, noting that customers flocked to their stores for the fabulous specialty foods but left to do the rest of their grocery shopping elsewhere, decided to lower their prices to match their rivals'. However, the chain's reputation for priciness survives intact, based in large part on those specialty foods.

So, I suspect, it is with the Ferry Plaza market, as it is with Whole Foods. On my visit to Ferry Plaza on a Sunday, I did find merchandise whose prices were in line with merchandise elsewhere -- one of the produce stands, for instance, and the mushroom seller charged the prices I'd expect to see at the Reading Terminal, which undersells the supermarkets on produce. But what people notice are the specialty and artisanal producers, whose prices are indeed significantly higher for their category (except for specialty cheese, which is "expensive" no matter where you buy it), and even though those prices reflect the higher quality ingredients and extra care and skill that go into making the foods sold, many average shoppers won't figure that in. Overcoming such perception bias isn't easy -- you'd need to hire scores of PR folk like me to even hope to make a dent in it. Shall I send you my resume? :smile:

This evening I attended a terrific panel discussion on the Farm Bill 2007 that was organized and sponsored by the Washington, D.C. Convivium of Slow Food.  It was the first time I've ever been inspired to attend one of their events and it was incredibly worthwhile.  Lots of federal policy wonks and government specialists present in addition to concerned ordinary folk, the advantage of the first two categories being the amount and caliber of information being shared with the passion of conviction if in subdued, decorous tones.  It proved an example of genuine terroir in terms of Slow Food taking advantage of "local specialties" and bringing together farmers, journalists and the feds.  I'll have more to say about this some time in the near future.

Meanwhile, Sandy and others might be as interested as I am in a project announced by someone in the audience.  The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is helping to address some of the socioeconomic issues that a number of us have addressed here in a variety of topics related to farmers markets.  Thanks to a grant, a local community with a large immigrant population is going to launch a market that is tailored to its needs.  Since it's late, I'll leave it at that and invite you to read about the national effort here: Project for Public Spaces.

Somehow, reading the words "terroir" and "Washington, DC" in the same sentence inspires gales of laughter, but I guess there is a special character to the land and the surroundings.

This is good news. I'll check out the site when I get the time.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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from the Chronicle today:

Peace in the Slow Food corral: After ruffling farmers' feathers with his criticism of high prices and glitz at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini has issued a politician's type of apology, saying he is sorry "for any offense caused by this passage" in his new book, "Slow Food Nation."

And the surfer farmer who came across as a gouger and slacker in the book? Petrini insists he meant to give a "positive impression." He blamed his writing, and the translation, for distorting his efforts to illustrate the complexities of slow food in a fast world.

Alice Waters, the Chez Panisse founder who is an adviser both to Slow Food and to the market, is also in a conciliatory mode, trying to smooth things out of the path of her next big thing: Slow Food Nation, an artisanal food market event planned for San Francisco next May. She's in fundraising mode, and Petrini was here for the public kickoff during his book tour when things ran off the tracks.

"I don't think he was wrong about his perception that food is more expensive (at Ferry Plaza)," Waters told Scoop on Monday. "But I think he's wrong in his analysis of why it was."

The cost of raising good, fresh food and hauling it to market in the city "is something that's important for all of us to talk about," Waters says. And while she wishes Petrini hadn't written what he did, she supports him 100 percent.

Rancho Gordo bean grower Steve Sando, a market farmer who met with Petrini a week earlier and left the meeting enraged, spoke with Waters and felt satisfied with her message.

"That's all I wanted. I told her, 'You go, girl!' " Sando says. And now, "I'm happy to get back to some real dirt!"

I'm embarrassed to say that it's true I said "You go, girl!" to Alice Waters. I don't think I've ever used that term before, even in jest. I just got caught up in the moment.

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from the Chronicle today:
"I don't think he was wrong about his perception that food is more expensive (at Ferry Plaza)," Waters told Scoop on Monday. "But I think he's wrong in his analysis of why it was."

Hrm. More expensive than what? I think Waters needs to read that Becks & Posh blog entry up-topic, and keep in mind the many different kinds of analyses of the "cost" of food.

Waters and Petrini have actively cultivated the personae of charismatic leaders, and, whether they like it or not, with that comes a need to pay pretty close attention to what they say about the issues that are, I'm sure, sincerely dear to them (and, clearly, many of us).

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Rancho Gordo - I'm with you on this one. Even if he were just a newspaper or magazine journalist doing a piece on the rising popularity of organic produce and local farmers markets I would still find that piece insulting and offensive. It reeks of sloppy research and a lack of awareness relative to the real costs of being an independent agricultural producer who is not part of the agri-business system.

It reminds me of some of the misimpressions offered up in the documentary film Black Gold. Granted - the film does raise awareness about the myriad problems faced by growers in coffeee producing nations. But it tries to reinforce its point by comparing the poverty and living conditions of growers families with the circumstances of affluent US consumers shopping at Starbucks etc.

Here's an excerpt by "M06" from the discussion forum at the above referenced web site. He makes the point rather eloquently:

The movie opens with a comparison of how a cup of coffee will cost you $2.90 in the western world while coffee farmers get somewhere around $0.54 for a pound of raw beans. Now I am a fairly regular consumer of coffee from Starbucks and I generally pay about $1.50 for my coffee. You are no doubt referring to some of the specialty drinks (Café Latte, Cappuccino, etc.) that such purveyors sell and which may include all manner of additional ingredients not to mention some special attention from the baristas behind the counter.

Furthermore, it should be self evident that there are a host of other cost factors (the real estate, labor, etc.) which contribute significantly more to the overall cost structure of a cup of coffee than does the coffee itself. In fact the cost of the coffee in your cup generally makes up less than 5% of the operating cost at such establishments – something that you have either not taken the time to find out or willfully ignored in your movie.

Clearly the comparisons you make here and throughout the movie are designed simply to elicit the most indignant reaction possible from your audience although they are of course divorced from the reality of a free market system and the real problems behind the circumstances that Ethiopian coffee growers find themselves in.

Yes. And not only does that 54 cent pound of beans cost the independent roaster about $2.25 to $3.00 per pound before the costs of roasting and doing business are factored in... independent cafes can expect to pay $5 to $7 per pound for fresh, hiqh quality roasted beans. But the cost of the beans is the least signficant cost of doing business as a cafe. Once you add in cups, condiments, labor, insurances, taxes, marketing and a moderate take-home pay for the owner..... you need to sell one hell of a lot of coffee just to remain viable as a business. And there are definitely no extedned surfing vacations.

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FWIW, Petrini was in the Philadelphia region last week, promoting his book. He gave a lecture at Princeton University (obligatory trivia: located where it is because the town is halfway between New York and Philadelphia; Presbyterian church leaders in both cities wanted to establish a college and decided to work together) and stopped into a local gelateria that embodies his principles.

Here's a report on the gelateria visit from The Philadelphia Inquirer's food editor, Rick Nichols.

It looks like the event was promoted by NJ Slow Foodies, but not those in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

It also doesn't look as if he ruffled any feathers locally. Probably because there's nothing about this area in his book.

Edited to correct spelling. Perroni, Petrini, they all look alike to me....

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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But it tries to reinforce its point by comparing the poverty and living conditions of growers families with the  circumstances of affluent US consumers shopping at Starbucks etc.

I'm just thinking aloud here but mabe the change has to come from the wealthiest and work its way down, at least in our country. To start, only the wealthiest can afford to buy the free trade coffee or the organic vegetables. In the case of food, the trickle down has now affected even Wal-Mart. And as gross as the Wal Mart model is, it's better than it was and if we keep trying, who knows, they may be buying locally within a generation. That's why it's so defeating to make fun of the well off who are trying to do the right thing and at least listening to the conversation.

And the more I look into this, it's not the price of vegetables that's going to send anyone to the poor house. Vegetables were the first wave and the prices seem to be stable or coming down. It's now the proteins that seem so out of whack. Again, I'm thinking out loud here, but I'd imagine small producers would have a hard time keeping up with government standards that are geared towards a large slaughterhouse.

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  • 1 year later...

How can I put this delicately? Maybe this isn't the best way to win the hearts and minds of those who are interested in food, food politics and standard hygiene.

From the NYTimes:

“I don’t know if it’s going to be the youthful, happening Woodstock they want it to be, but it certainly has the potential,” said Corby Kummer, a food columnist, book author and Slow Food board member. “It will be a failure if it is only well-dressed people over 35 from the Bay Area treating it as if it’s another Ferry Plaza Farmers Market” — a reference to the place where well-fed San Franciscans and celebrity farmers chat over perfect peaches and soft, ripe cheese.

I keep thinking there is some kind of communication problem but with this, a board member speaking to the NYTimes, I now have no doubt SF has a basic disdain for the US. Or they are completely nuts. What possible kind of reaction do they expect from a comment like this?

Link to the entire article, including a great quote from eG's Steven Shaw.

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How can I put this delicately? Maybe this isn't the best way to win the hearts and minds of those who are interested in food, food politics and standard hygiene.

From the NYTimes:

“I don’t know if it’s going to be the youthful, happening Woodstock they want it to be, but it certainly has the potential,” said Corby Kummer, a food columnist, book author and Slow Food board member. “It will be a failure if it is only well-dressed people over 35 from the Bay Area treating it as if it’s another Ferry Plaza Farmers Market” — a reference to the place where well-fed San Franciscans and celebrity farmers chat over perfect peaches and soft, ripe cheese.

I keep thinking there is some kind of communication problem but with this, a board member speaking to the NYTimes, I now have no doubt SF has a basic disdain for the US. Or they are completely nuts. What possible kind of reaction do they expect from a comment like this?

Link to the entire article, including a great quote from eG's Steven Shaw.

Steve, I understand and respect your disdain for Petrini and Slow Food as well as the (incorrect IMO) attitude and disrespect displayed towards the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, but one of the biggest criticisms lobbed against Slow Food USA and one they are trying hard to change is the appearance of being an elitist organization geared towards a single demographic - the one highlighted by Kummer. As wonderful as it is and as much as I do not begrudge any of the farmers getting the prices they deserve, as a whole the market is not reflective of the broader appeal that the organization is trying to achieve. While it sounds like a slap in the face to the market and that demographic, I don't believe that it was intended as such to either party. The fact is, though, Kummer is correct. If that is what the event is, it will have failed. Slow Food needs to broaden its appeal, its message and its success beyond limited demographics. It has to become more mainstream for it to ultimately make a difference.

FWIW, I will be meeting Erika Lesser, the Executive Director of Slow Food tonight and spending a good portion of the weekend with her. I will try to get a better feel for this then.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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How can I put this delicately? Maybe this isn't the best way to win the hearts and minds of those who are interested in food, food politics and standard hygiene.

From the NYTimes:

“I don’t know if it’s going to be the youthful, happening Woodstock they want it to be, but it certainly has the potential,” said Corby Kummer, a food columnist, book author and Slow Food board member. “It will be a failure if it is only well-dressed people over 35 from the Bay Area treating it as if it’s another Ferry Plaza Farmers Market” — a reference to the place where well-fed San Franciscans and celebrity farmers chat over perfect peaches and soft, ripe cheese.

I keep thinking there is some kind of communication problem but with this, a board member speaking to the NYTimes, I now have no doubt SF has a basic disdain for the US. Or they are completely nuts. What possible kind of reaction do they expect from a comment like this?

Link to the entire article, including a great quote from eG's Steven Shaw.

Steve, I understand and respect your disdain for Petrini and Slow Food as well as the (incorrect IMO) attitude and disrespect displayed towards the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, but one of the biggest criticisms lobbed against Slow Food USA and one they are trying hard to change is the appearance of being an elitist organization geared towards a single demographic - the one highlighted by Kummer. As wonderful as it is and as much as I do not begrudge any of the farmers getting the prices they deserve, as a whole the market is not reflective of the broader appeal that the organization is trying to achieve. While it sounds like a slap in the face to the market and that demographic, I don't believe that it was intended as such to either party. The fact is, though, Kummer is correct. If that is what the event is, it will have failed. Slow Food needs to broaden its appeal, its message and its success beyond limited demographics. It has to become more mainstream for it to ultimately make a difference.

FWIW, I will be meeting Erika Lesser, the Executive Director of Slow Food tonight and spending a good portion of the weekend with her. I will try to get a better feel for this then.

Is it a crime to be over 35?

Is a crime to to have an interest in fashion?

What the hell does that have to do with food?

Rather than pick on something that is actually doing something, why not lower the price of a Slow Food event or the membership fee, which is pretty much guaranteed to be affordable by mostly over 35 well-dressed people who support farmers markets and CSA?

Sorry. I don't buy it and Lesser is a huge part of the problem. She made the situation even worse when Petrini was making up farmers to make his point by refusing to address them. And she tried to sneak into the meeting about the very situation by introducing herself as interpreter, not the head of the US organization.

I think people over 35 and people who like fashion should find something else to do. Why go to a party that doesn't want you?

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Without getting into the political aspects of this too much, I find Slow Food comes off a bit "leftist nutjob" to me. Regardless of anyone's political beliefs or lack thereof, it seems that there is sort of a stigma that radiates from what Slow Food is doing.

I have a personal goal to do as much as I can to convince people their lives will be greatly improved by eating real foods. There is zero political motivation behind it in my case. I simply feel that eating real food is more enjoyable and undeniably healthier than the alternatives. That said, it's difficult for me to convince my best friends (or my girlfriend, for that matter) that avoiding packaged and chemical-filled foods is the way to go. They get to see up close the difference such foods make, and yet it's still a challenge to dislodge the notion that food is fuel, and convenience is king.

I guess my point is that I feel Slow Food could be MUCH more successful if it dropped the political notions that cloak its basic message. The idea that almost everything they do is sort of blurred by the inevitable leftwing ideology puts off a lot of people, even those that may, to a certain extent, agree with their political views.

Food and politics are a bad combo. Food is pleasure, pure and simple. Politics are the furthest thing from pleasure. Why combine the two? Drop the politics and carry on with bringing the best food to peoples' plates, and I'll support it 100%.

ETA: Oh, and Ranch_Gordo, I'm with you completely. I think a trickle-down from the wealthy to everyone else is exactly what it's going to take for this to be a success. The ability of these sorts of foods to compete in a situation where mass-produced, cheap-at-all-costs foods dominate the scene is based entirely on obtaining the necessary funding to become widespread. Not gonna happen unless people with money starting forking it over.

Edited by MikeHartnett (log)
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ETA:  Oh, and Ranch_Gordo, I'm with you completely.  I think a trickle-down from the wealthy to everyone else is exactly what it's going to take for this to be a success.  The ability of these sorts of foods to compete in a situation where mass-produced, cheap-at-all-costs foods dominate the scene is based entirely on obtaining the necessary funding to become widespread.  Not gonna happen unless people with money starting forking it over.

Well, it sure would help if the folks with money would come on board.

I think what I react to is that it's not enough that Slow is dictating how to grow the food and to some degree, which food to grow. When the hoopla happened, it was then a question of who grows it. I don't think that matters Now it seems they want you to be a certain kind of customer as well.

Don't forget, the end of the sentence "Slow Food is elitist" is "and arrogant." Dictating the aesthetics and politics of dining is a real mistake, especially in America.

And you would think I would be the poster child for the cause. I take rare and neglected seeds that often are on the verge of extinction, most of them certainly not grown commercially by anyone else. You have to slow cook my food. You don't just heat it up, you have to learn the tiniest bit about cooking. Happily I'm on the brink of actually making a small profit after many years and many 7 day work weeks, not thanks to Slow Food, but in a large part because of the very farmers market they respond to with such disdain.

My book comes out in about 4 weeks and in the bio on the back flap it states I'm a member of Slow Food Napa Valley. I am completely embarrassed that this is stated. It's not a membership I can be proud of.

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Slow food is a member organization. It is up to the members to make of it what they will. The politics to me beyond the politics of food are, to me, secondary. I started a convivium with my son, because I wanted to make a difference and be able to direct and be a part of what it does and how it does it. I also believe in the basic motto of good, clean and fair. I believe that their approach right now taking the message to the young in schools is an important one.

Steve, where we disagree on the interpretation of Kummer's statement is that I do not feel that it excludes those people (I am one) or anyone else. However, if that demographic is the only one involved or taking it to heart, it is not enough. Sure, the choice of words could have been better and yes, I think they have been foolish to not embrace the Ferry Plaza FM, for whatever reasons. Neither of those things detract from the basic goals SF is trying to accomplish.

Your stories on Erika Lesser disturb me, but I believe in giving each individual the benefit of the doubt, and will form my opinion based upon my own experience.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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Slow food is a member organization. It is up to the members to make of it what they will. The politics to me beyond the politics of food are, to me, secondary. I started a convivium with my son, because I wanted to make a difference and be able to direct and be a part of what it does and how it does it. I also believe in the basic motto of good, clean and fair. I believe that their approach right now taking the message to the young in schools is an important one.

that's well and good and just. But the message is also that our producers need to be well paid working class people. That our model, heaven forbid, should be on Italy.

That a market that is actually feeding people and helping farmers is a problem. It's like a church. Your congregation may dig farm dinners and bake sales but the message from the Vatican is very different.

Steve, where we disagree on the interpretation of Kummer's statement is that I do not feel that it excludes those people (I am one) or anyone else. However, if that demographic is the only one involved or taking it to heart, it is not enough. Sure, the choice of words could have been better and yes, I think they have been foolish to not embrace the Ferry Plaza FM, for whatever reasons. Neither of those things detract from the basic goals SF is trying to accomplish.

You get Lesser or Petrini or even better, Kummer, to say that and I'll happily concede that point. But they won't.

The funny thing is all those cool under 35 year olds are going to be at Burning Man and if it is a success, it will be because of those natty seniors who pay Petrini's bills.

Your stories on Erika Lesser disturb me, but I believe in giving each individual the benefit of the doubt, and will form my opinion based upon my own experience.

You threw her name out. I only responded. I was being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about all the hoopla and called her as a courtesy to see if we couldn't solve things before it went further. She couldn't bring herself to answer a direct question but promised some kind of statement that would "help". Nothing ever arrived.

But what disturbs me most, and why I think SF should have a very limited leadership role, is this inability to own up. Petrini made up facts to bolster his impression. Oops! Sorry about that. Doesn't mean we don't believe in the rest of it or that all the kool-aid is tainted. He just blew it. But it take a certain brave brand of hubris to pretend it didn't happen. I wonder if Kummer could say he should have said things more tactfully. It wouldn't hurt.

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Happily I'm on the brink of actually making a small profit after many years and many 7 day work weeks

Congratulations, Steve! Does this mean we can look forward to lower bean prices in the future? :laugh: Sorry - just trying to bring a little levity to the situation.

FWIW, I am slightly over 35 (though it pains me to admit it) and part of the apparently unwelcome demographic. I joined the local convivium and quickly grew disenchanted because, well, how to put this tactfully, the people who went to the events were middle-aged sticks-in-the-mud and I had hoped it would be so much more than, um, never mind. I forgot whose point I was trying to make. :wacko: And, upon seeing a notice of a Burning Man ticket for sale at my office, I immediately thought "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded" and with a $265 price tag, I think their demographic has 'suffered' as well. Damn baby boomers ruin everything.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Happily I'm on the brink of actually making a small profit after many years and many 7 day work weeks

Congratulations, Steve! Does this mean we can look forward to lower bean prices in the future? :laugh: Sorry - just trying to bring a little levity to the situation.

Not a chance! And double for you!

FWIW, I am slightly over 35 (though it pains me to admit it) and part of the apparently unwelcome demographic.  I joined the local convivium and quickly grew disenchanted because, well, how to put this tactfully, the people who went to the events were middle-aged sticks-in-the-mud and I had hoped it would be so much more than, um, never mind.  I forgot whose point I was trying to make. :wacko: And, upon seeing a notice of a Burning Man ticket for sale at my office, I immediately thought "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded" and with a $265 price tag, I think their demographic has 'suffered' as well.  Damn baby boomers ruin everything.

That's funny. It's still a pretty big thing here and I knew people who went last year and still haven't shut up about it.

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I take issue with Mike Hartnett's comment that food and politics are a "bad combo" and that food is simply about pleasure. To much of the world's population food is a desperate necessity and "taking pleasure in food"--slow or otherwise--is meaningless. When huge numbers of people lack food, potable water, shelter and anything else we might think of as basic rights on this planet it's all political.

If the goal of Slow Food festivals and events is to entertain and entice people who can afford a steep entry fee so the organization can raise money that goes to rehabilitation projects in New Orleans or projects around the globe that help feed hungry people, then I won't argue with it. If their intention is to simply spread the word about how important slow food is and how much fun it can be to "take pleasure in food" then I have a beef with it. Either way, it has political ramifications.

There is a tendency among locavores and slow foodies to simplify, but all the aspects of food production, transportation and affordability are really complicated, and every action has consequences. Go to the farmers' market in Berkeley or the Ferry building. Buying local small crop produce is very expensive. Who's buying there? I guarantee it is not a very diverse crowd. Try downtown Oakland farmer's market: The produce is cheaper. Not all of it is local or organic or pesticide free, but much of it is, and most of it looks nice and fresh. The crowd is far more diverse. And how about all the people who can't get to any good produce market because they don't have transportation and they are working two jobs? They are forced to shop at expensive markets where much of the food is processed. Ask them if they have to time for slow food or if they can afford peaches at $3.90 a pound? I'm sure they wish they could.

Even the concept of eating locally isn't simple. Take those lovely strawbs from the farm 100 miles from your market in Chicago. Delicious, organic and you chat with the seller every week. Seems like you are doing a good thing if you can afford it. But what about the carbon footprint? It's been shown that it costs more in gas per basket to drive a small pick-up 100 miles than it does if that basket of strawbs were trucked by a semi from nothern California. And that was three months ago. Not so simple.

I'm very lucky. I live in a place where the choices, for those of us who can take advantage of them, are fantastic. I have a flexible schedule and a car, so I can get to the farmer's maket when and where it is happening. I have the time to cook dried heirloom beans. I don't eat a lot of meat, so I can splurge on sweet onions and tomatoes that cost, frankly, a ridiculous amount of money. They're awfully good, but none of this is cheap and often it is neither quick or simple to prepare. It's a luxury to eat like this and through no fault of their own, most people can't and don't. Sorry, but everything about the way we produce or consume food has political implications.

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The essential conundrum, the inherent catch-22 of Slow Food is that food that is micro-produced is going to cost more than food that is mass produced. Therefore, the audience that is receptive to higher priced meat and produce will naturally be a wealthier customer.

The person who is stretched to the limit to feed a family is not the natural Slow Food target demographic.

I went to the Slow Food Nation website to see what the goal of the event is and this is the home page quote, “Join us in San Francisco this Labor Day Weekend for an unprecedented event!

Taste delicious food, meet farmers, wander urban gardens, and discover the recipe for a fair and sustainable food system.”

The website home page has flashy ads and a homey story about picking berries.

My overall impression was that of a well marketed food fair with great cheeses, wines, fruits and berries. Oh, and I get to meet a farmer! As if this is some rare and unusual artifact that will be on display and I’m picturing a farmer locked in a diorama at the Museum of Natural History.

Or I can wander an urban garden, which on Labor Day weekend should be just about bursting with harvestable foods, but who will actually benefit from and eat the fruit of these gardens? Wouldn’t it make more practical sense to spend the money on going into areas truly in need of this sort of education and helping them clear a lot and plant a garden? The whole marketing of the event has that preaching to the choir feeling rather than doing something at the needy, grass roots level.

And ‘discover the recipe for a fair and sustainable food system’? That has to be one of the thorniest, complex issues facing us during this time of ‘global food crisis’. If Slow Food has indeed found the recipe they should start sharing it right now!

I don’t mean to be bashing Slow Food, I just think that it is nearly impossible for an organization of this type, which rescues and promotes food that is more ultimately more expensive than the average person can spend on food, will naturally be perceived to be elitist. And is that wrong? I don’t think that all elitism is inherently bad, but we do need to scale our expectations for the Slow Food movement more in line with the reality of economics.

What other organization is actively helping those on the lower economic rungs to eat clean, sustainable food?

Steve, I know you do some of this work, is there any sort of national organization that addresses this?

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The problem is, Judith, the economics of food are quite complex. Not everyone can afford the justifiably expensive peaches of Frog Hollow, but varieties of good peaches should be available - at least regionally- at fair prices. Why is cheap food cheap? In some cases there may be economies of scale that do make a difference, but are those actually sustainable? In other cases, governmental support places artificial economic advantages to subsidized food products, generally of the large scale industrial variety. What would happen if those supports were removed and there was a truly free economy when it came to food? What would happen in the third world if cheap American grains were not dumped there making it difficult for local farmers to compete? You are correct, Judith, that economics are key and few people can afford much of what is currently considered a luxury item. But economies of scale are important for a biodiverse food supply as well. Boutique foods of extreme quality are important to build markets and demand and to experience maximum enjoyment, but it won't really make a difference until the mainstream is able to economically embrace foods that are good, clean and fair.

There may be other organizations that have a similar agenda, though I know of none that have the global presence of Slow Food or the relative influence of the organization. I think that it is important to not let personal issues stand in the way of achieving legitimate goals. Though my own views do not coincide 100% with many other members of SF, I am finding it to be not too difficult to have a voice within the organization. For me personally, I do not know that I can find the time necessary to make a huge difference, but I feel like I could if I were able to spend the time and energy necessary. I know that I have the ability to make a difference locally where I live.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The problem is, Judith, the economics of food are quite complex. Not everyone can afford the justifiably expensive peaches of Frog Hollow, but varieties of good peaches should be available - at least regionally- at fair prices. Why is cheap food cheap? In some cases there may be economies of scale that do make a difference, but are those actually sustainable? In other cases, governmental support places artificial economic advantages to subsidized food products, generally of the large scale industrial variety. What would happen if those supports were removed and there was a truly free economy when it came to food? What would happen in the third world if cheap American grains were not dumped there making it difficult for local farmers to compete? You are correct, Judith, that economics are key and few people can afford much of what is currently considered a luxury item. But economies of scale are important for a biodiverse food supply as well. Boutique foods of extreme quality are important to build markets and demand and to experience maximum enjoyment, but it won't really make a difference until the mainstream is able to economically embrace foods that are good, clean and fair.

There may be other organizations that have a similar agenda, though I know of none that have the global presence of Slow Food or the relative influence of the organization. I think that it is important to not let personal issues stand in the way of achieving legitimate goals. Though my own views do not coincide 100% with many other members of SF, I am finding it to be not too difficult to have a voice within the organization. For me personally, I do not know that I can find the time necessary to make a huge difference, but I feel like I could if I were able to spend the time and energy necessary. I know that I have the ability to make a difference locally where I live.

I completely agree with you that economics of food are complex. There was an excellent editorial this week in the NY Times regarding food/farm subsidies. It actually broke through the emotion surrounding this topic and delved into the economic science.

To stay on topic, I think the issue here may be that the Slow Food message is muddled. What do they want to be? What do they want to accomplish globally and in the US?

I don't have any personal issues with SlowFood, unlike Steve who has some legitimate beef with how things were handled at 'his' market; I'm just genuinely unclear about what the overall message is that Slow Food is looking to communicate. Bear in mind, I've attended a Slow Food sponsored school in Italy which was completely devoted to local producers and preserving regional Italian traditions, I've visited the impressive Bra university (where they would be proud to be called elite food theorists) and I'm a Slow Food member in NY, but when someone asks me to explain what it is that Slow Food actually does, I do 'fumpher' to come up with a coherent answer.

So, are we talking about a PR failure to communicate?

Or is there an actual level of disdain for American growers and producers?

edit to add NY Times link

Edited by hathor (log)
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Obviously I've been thinking more and more on this.

Our situation is very different than Italy's and this group is being run as if we're the same. We don't have a rich food tradition. We have one, but it's not comparable to Italy's and we'd throw it out the window in a second if we thought we could make a buck. So Slow Food's worrying about the type of person who chooses to enter the realm of producing clean, safe, real food and having the chutzpah to base the success on who attends their jamboree, is irrelevant here. As long as someone is buying it and producing it, we can at least tread water.

You may not agree with them 100%, but remember, the head of the worldwide organization, the head of the US organization and at least one board member who understood he was talking to the New York Times feels this way.

Of course it's going to be wealthy 35 year olds and up who are going to dictate this with their dollars. I just saw in Wal-Mart that they have organic cotton tees. And logo totes to avoid using plastic bags. It's not perfect, but it's a start and it wasn't from management sitting around pondering how to make the world a more loving place. And why should a poor person who is working a crap job and loves football going to go to the farmers market and spend the afternoon lovingly preparing French lettuces? He's just not that into food. It starts with the "elite" things like the ferry plaza market that gets locals and tourists excited about food.

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Hello all,

I'm afraid I haven't the time just now to wade into this, and will try to return soon to offer a fully formed opinion, but I did want to register one point of information, just for the record.

NYT got their facts wrong - Corby Kummer is not a member of the Board of Directors and does not speak for Slow Food USA (or international) in any official, formal respect.

More when I have a chance...

Peace,

kmf

www.KurtFriese.com

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