Lancing A Slow Boil

On the one hand, the folks at Slow Food Nation have done an awesome job of staging this high-profile, low-impact extravaganza; the Marketplace and Victory Garden at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza are giving the public a lovely and luscious lesson in all things local, while Friday’s Food For Thought forums brought out a galaxy of sustainable superstars: Vandana Shiva, Wendell Berry, Carlo Petrini, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser, and Dan Barber, to name just a few.

And the trail-blazing steps the Slow Food folks have taken to spread the sustainable gospel and curb the carbon footprint of this Sasquatch-sized shindig are truly heartening, from Food and Water Watch’s tap-touting, bottle-banishing water stations, to the composting exhibit demonstrating the alchemy that transforms waste into that precious commodity we call black gold, to the clever use of reclaimed materials everywhere you turn.

On the other hand—hey, are those teeth marks? Geez, can’t Alice Water’s Ambassadors of Good Food count on nothing but goodwill when they give a humble (and hungry) blogger entrée to the “VIP preview” of the Taste Pavilions?

This “monument to fresh delicious food” transformed a 50,000 square foot pier at Fort Mason into a dazzling culinary display that Destin Joy Lane, the luminous leading light of the Eat Well Guide, rightly described as a “Willy Wonka playground for adults.” For me, it was Alice Waters In Wonderland--a lavish through-the-local-looking glass array of seductive sips and snacks declaring “EAT ME!” or “DRINK ME!” The Ice Cream pavilion had me grinning like a Chesire Kat, lapping up every last drop of the dreamy, creamy confections in my corn-based compostable bowl.

The Taste Pavilions showcase the finest, hand-picked regional foods, chocolate, wine, teas, coffees, etc. from the cheesemongers, brewers, bakers, beekeepers and others who are leading the real food renaissance. So why can’t I just give my impressions of this gourmet gala without biting the hand that feeds me—especially when the food is so undeniably delectable?

Well, maybe because my mantra, according to agrarian “it” girl/Greenhorns director Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, is “My name is Kerry Trueman, and I care about what’s true, man” (if only I could return the favor and devise a clever slogan for soil-saving Sev, who’s to the manure born and a genius at making shit happen.)

So I’m compelled to sound off about a couple of slightly sour notes in the middle of this sweet ‘n’ savory symphony. As I noted in a previous post, a whiff of elitism clings to the Slow Food contingent despite all the fine work they do on behalf of building a better food system. Look, I’m as fond of artisanal cheeses and biodynamic wines as the next sustainable ag advocate, and of course there’s a place for such gourmet goodies in the grand scheme of things.

But there were some critical components of the good food movement missing at this invitation-only event. Clearly, in this case, VIP didn’t stand for Very Inclusive Party: the complexion of the crowd ran--if I may poach a line from Dorothy Parker--the gamut from A to B, as in alabaster to barely beige. It’s safe—and sad—to say that the audience at the Republican convention next week will feature more people of color than we saw at Fort Mason.

I fear there’s a parallel here to The Unbearable Whiteness of Green that Van Jones laments in the environmental movement. Jones has noted that it’s a tough sell asking folks who are just treading water to get worked up about the fact that polar bears are having the same problem as climate change melts the ice sheets out from under them.

And speaking of climate change, what was up with the speaker (whose name I didn’t catch because we arrived at the pier mid-way through her remarks) who stated that the single most important change you can make to your diet if you’re concerned about global warming is to “eat organic.” As Anna Lappé’s Take A Bite Out Of Climate Change website clearly spells out, you’ll get way more mileage out of eating less meat and shifting to a plant-based diet. Anna’s participating in the Food For Thought Climate Change and Food forum later today and I’m sure she’ll make this point effectively and eloquently. Here’s hoping that will help offset the misconception conveyed to the crowd last night at Fort Mason.

Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle, our most high profile advocates of eating “low on the food chain”--i.e. putting fruits and vegetables front and center on your plate--were among the happy eaters at the Taste Pavilions last night. But where were the fruits and vegetables? Admittedly, the more populist, free-to-the-public Marketplace does feature lovely local produce, so perhaps the Slow Food folks thought it redundant to add fruits and veggies to the culinary cornucopia of cured meats, fish, cheeses, honeys and jams, breads, pickles and chutneys, chocolate, coffees, teas, beers, wines, spirits, olive oil, ice creams, and native foods.

Given that part of Slow Food Nation’s stated mission is to support “clean,” i.e. “environmentally sound,” food, though, it seemed odd that produce had no presence at the Taste Pavilions.

But at the end of the day, the kudos far outweigh the quibbles. I arrived in San Francisco Friday mid-morning a sweaty mess after a two-hour drive from Boonville where I’d been visiting friends, and rushed straight to the Herbst Theater to hear the forum on Building a New Food System. The panel featured, among others, Marion Nestle and the Center For Food Safety’s Andrew Kimbrell.

It was the only Food For Thought forum I was able to attend yesterday (for a terrific write-up of all the day’s forums, see Paula Crossfield’s post over on the Slow Food Nation website.) But the lively and thoughtful discussion of the dire need to reinvent our broken food chain was a fine example of how Slow Food Nation is bringing experts and eaters together to take on this challenge.

Marion Nestle ventured beyond simply blaming the Big Food baddies for the lousy diet that kills more Americans each year than Al Qaeda could ever hope to. She noted that without campaign finance reform, there’s no hope for fundamental change in our food system. She cited another culprit, too; Wall Street’s obsession with quarterly profits, which compels food manufacturers to focus all their energies—and their vast resources—on persuading Americans to fill up on empty calories.

So, at the end of the day, I wholeheartedly share my fellow blogger Bonnie Powell's enthusiasm for Slow Food Nation; any conference that provides The Marionator, as we fondly call Dr. Nestle, with a platform from which to fire away at the forces that have held our nation hostage for so long to fake foods that are as artificially cheap as they are artificially flavored. And you can join the call for real reform of our food system, too, by signing on to the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture that Marion and some of her fellow famous foodies recited at a Slow Food Nation reading on Thursday evening. Can we change our food chain? Yes, we can. Along with you!

Nice Post.

Nice Post.

Our population didn't grow

Our population didn't grow to outlast the resources, but our easily available resources have shrunk out of many people's reach. The resources we can get are now too precious to provide for the population that we currently have. I guess this is kind of a peak-oil, peak-food, peak-water, peak-peace kind of notion.

I agree completely. We are

I agree completely. We are almost at peak-everything! There doesn't seem to be much of a backup plan either. Our children are going to have to work hard to fix our mistakes. Kimberly - MotorSense

Yes here I am back again.

Yes here I am back again. Because this article has me thinking alot that there is really something about loving our food that is going to save this planet.

When you go on a diet, the docs teach to savor your food, really taste it, encounter it, rather than just chugging it down.

If you are going to really love your food, you have to be able to content yourself that it has come from a good place. The specter of feed lot cows and factory chickens is not a tasty thought, as you sit there with your fork. The blessings of sunshine and green plants growing, nurturing your body in turn, that's good eatin'!

If you are going to love your food you have to slow down your life enough to know where it comes from, to help produce and prepare it, and in turn, to love it with a heart free from care about the cost of it.

If you talk to slow food

If you talk to slow food purveyors, both in the US and EU you will find that their #1 need is marketing their products beyond their local area. I know that's not what you want to hear, but it is what it is.

One thing the slow food

One thing the slow food movement certainly seems to be achieving, is to make better foods a fashionable and desirable choice for more consumers and industry leaders. That is a good thing. The force of fashion and taste, while certainly a form of materialism, is a strong motivator. Even foxes and earthworms like to eat the foods that they savor, prefer, and need the most.

Look at the force of fashion and taste in bringing about progressive change in our culture during the 1960's!

Let's just say, that being accomplished, another even more important job will be to bring affordable, humane, healthful, and sustainable food to more world citizens, in a way that also conserves money, ecosystems, water, energy, and air.

Sustainable foods are the neccessary and ethical route for everyone, if we wish to make human survival probable during the next 200 years!

Hey, this essay is

Hey, this essay is disarmingly honest. Self-exmaination is such a valuable path to self-improvement, whether you are a person, or a movement. I agree that slow food should not equal food for the rich. THERE HAS GOT TO BE A WAY to feed people without storing up national debt, personal debt, and environmental debt. The backyard/empty lot/flowerpot garden is a great place to start, and what do we find there? PRODUCE!

Schools should teach kids the basic of safe and tasty home food preservation. When I was in home-ec, we learned to make mac-n-cheese from a box. As a friend of mine said, who is almost entirely self-sufficient AND who lives quite a nice lifestyle, "I had to just accept the fact that a large percentage of my time will be spent in activities just to provide food for myself." As Thoreau might have pointed out, we can spend the time growing/preparing our own food, or we can spend even more time working for the wages it takes to underpay someone else to do it for us. When we pick up the seed pack and the paring knife, we win.

I was also thinking the

I was also thinking the other day about our problem of feeding ourselves sustainably. (Thanks for cooking up my sustainability songstress moniker, too. You are a great moniker-maker, kat, I must say! If I ever make money at it I will reimburse you as my moniker-writer!)

Anyway, I was thinking how people have feared we would become overpopulated, and then run out of food and resources. This change would be generated simply by the growth of the human population.

I am sure there are many books about this notion, that I have not read, but it occured to me that since our easily-available resources are essentially gone, due to world political and environmental changes, we are overpopulated now! Our population didn't grow to outlast the resources, but our easily available resources have shrunk out of many people's reach. The resources we can get are now too precious to provide for the population that we currently have. I guess this is kind of a peak-oil, peak-food, peak-water, peak-peace kind of notion.

Slow food as a movement needs to come to the rescue, here, and get people on the track to feeding the world sustainably, not just well-heeled restaurant-goers. Not that I don't love me some really good organic goat cheese or pricey, individually packaged fruit juices from South America. Let he who is without sin cast the first mango!