I was working with the local Slow Food convivium in Batroun, Lebanon, when I first witnessed the holy trinity of good, clean and fair food, from conception to consumption. So much of what happened that summer was symptomatic of the paradigm shift that had begun to take place: reassessment of the state of the rural economy, the return to farming, the rebuilding of self-esteem that is derived from making responsible choices that feel and taste good.
Slow Food is a nonprofit organization that was founded 20 years ago in Italy by Carlo Petrini to combat fast food, fast living and people's waning interest in food sources. The movement was sparked after a protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome's Piazza di Spagna and is founded upon the concept of eco-gastronomy: balancing life's fundamental pleasures with the act of bringing awareness to the table.
"I'd say that in order to experience the pleasures of good food, leave the politics, leave the health issues and leave the ecological issues aside," Dan Barber, chef and board member of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture says in an interview with Salon. "Tasting good food is a pleasure that people will come back to. That's what this is: hedonism, a to z."
As with most things, the short way is fast but the long way is pretty. Slow Food Santa Fe's leadership, of which I am a part, has always been a labor of love, driven by volunteer efforts. Founded by illustrious cookbook writer (and formidable chef) Deborah Madison, under whose auspices the convivium has flourished, Slow Food Santa Fe has 240 members and 200 non-members on its mailing list.
The convivium's goals include preserving the heritage of local agricultural and culinary traditions, improving opportunities for farmers, and helping to advance the understanding of how the choices we make around food and farming affect our economies and our health within this ecoregion. This year will bring potlucks, farm tours, panel discussions, tastings and other educational events.
Debates rage on about the oft-perceived elitism of organizations such as Slow Food. An article written by Bruce Sterling, published in the March 2008 issue of Metropolis magazine, rife with slapdash reductionism, has been particularly inflammatory fodder for the culinary cognoscenti of online food forums. In an ironic twist, Sterling's article indirectly begs the question of whether Slow Food, in its employment of the tools of globalization to allow artisan producers to market their products globally, is itself a direct threat to small farms and local producers.
The dam broke when Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, provoking brouhaha and thousands of incendiary backlashes, made comments in his book Slow Food Nation about "boutique" and "luxurious" Bay Area farmers markets.
Kurt Friese is a chef, restaurateur, Slow Food USA board member, publisher (with his wife, Kim) of Edible Iowa River Valley and the author of Slow Food in the Heartland. He launched a lively discussion on
eGullet.com with the title "Assault on Slow Food: Too elite?"
Friese, who posts under the name of his Iowa City restaurant, Devotay, published this delicious rebuttal to Sterling's argument: "I've often wondered what it is about food and wine that makes those who appreciate it automatically labeled 'snobs.' Wine is just fermented grape juice actually one of the simplest foods known to man. Appreciating quality is not snobbery. Pretending to know something one doesn't actually understand—that's snobbery."
Spoken like someone who chews his words carefully—and perhaps slowly.
Kurt Friese visited with Slow Food Santa Fe on Jan. 25 at an event called "A Taste of The Heartland: La Quercia, Whiskey & Popcorn."
You can visit Slow Food Santa Fe's blog to stay current on updates, or send an email to find out about membership or to be placed on the mailing list for future event listings.