National: Take It Slow

Welcome to the first day of coverage of this weekend’s Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco. I’ll be at the event, snapping photos, talking to participants and stuffing my face, and you can attend vicariously through me by reading the coverage right here. It’s going to be a tough job wandering around collecting edible samples, but with your support, I’ll get through it. To find out just what this weekend is all about, I got on the phone with Anya Fernald, Slow Food Nation’s executive director.

Hanging around, staring at that victory garden outside City Hall, waiting for Slow Food Nation to start, is like nibbling bread while you wait for your entrée.

In this case, that entrée is a local, grass-fed steak with a side of tomatoes from the garden. The bread is homemade from organic flour, and the butter was just churned yesterday at a farm in Marin County.

“Middle America, 30 years ago, this was the norm,” Anya Fernald, executive director of Slow Food Nation, told me, as we chatted about the upcoming Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco this weekend. Part festival, part conference, part exhibition, the four-day American food celebration will draw an expected 50,000 attendees overall, Fernald said.

The weekend includes tasting expos, a marketplace, workshops, panel discussions, special dinners, as well as things like hikes and farm tours, all to encourage attendees to take a second look at the way they—and we, as a society—eat.

The idea is to wean Americans off our current dependence on processed and fast foods, and to “build momentum and demand for an American food system that is safer, healthier and more socially just,” according to Fernald’s press statement.

“We want 10 percent of the attendees of this event to make one change ever day, every week. We It might be a small step like I’m going to cook dinner for my family this week or plant a garden, it might be I’m going to learn about food politics or pack a bag lunch… We’re not talking about radical life changes. This is about realistic, doable every day changes that everybody can make,” Fernald told me.

Fernald was quick to address and dispel any charge of elitism. “When did making your own jam become a privilege of the elite? Up until 1950, really a sign of poverty was making your own jam, growing your own garden, and people strove to become part of the middle class by rejecting that,” she said. The slow food movement aims to return to those values.

“Looking at that presumption that this is an elitist movement, I think America has been bamboozled into thinking that fasts food is the food of the masses,” Fernald said. “We need to push back against that notion that fast food is American food.”

But how can a bunch of activists making a big noise about sustainable food in a city as “blue”—downright aquamarine—as San Francisco?

“We’re drinking American wine, beer, we’re making pickles, we’re having dinner with friends, we’re planting gardens,” Fernald said. “It’s really “red state”’ values we’re talking about but they happen to be about food and they’re somehow associated with the left.”

The weekend is packed with things to do, and participants will have the opportunity spend as much time and money as they want. Free activities and exhibitions such as the slow marketplace and slow hikes, compete with ticketed events including panel discussions, dinners, a concert, field trips, and tasting exhibitions, running from $10 to more than $100.

Of all the 115 or so events that comprise the weekend, Fernald pointed to the slow marketplace as a cornerstone. That’s where attendees can buy the produce, grain, and small-scale products central to the movement. It’s also adjacent to the victory garden at City Hall.

Planted in July, the garden’s crops will be harvested and distributed by the San Francisco Food Bank over the weekend. The name comes from the World War II era, when individual families grew food on their own small plots.

Small-scale farming, small-scale food preparation, small, slow dinners with friends—these are the focuses of one massive event. It’s going to be a delicious weekend.

Slow Food Nation [Official Site]

[Photo: The City Hall victory garden, via Slow Food Nation Blog]

National: Take It Slow