I write this having just returned from an incredibly inspiring weekend at the Slow Food Nation conference in San Francisco. Marion Nestle, Winona LaDuke, Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan were amongst the speakers I was able to hear. Re-iterating the mantra of Slow Food's founder, Carlo Petrini, that food must be good (that is, delicious), clean (sustainably produced) and fair (for all involved, from grower, to harvester, to server, to those ingesting it),the conference approached food production from all angles, comprehensively addressing the subject.
Marion Nestle, emphasizing the need to keep the pressure on government officials to craft new food policy, was particularly engaging. She referred to the U.S.'s system of food surplus production (necessary for showing required corporate profit), when coupled with suspect safety standards, as resulting in a broken food system. As the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU, she knows a thing or two about food policy in this country.
As part of Slow Food Nation's efforts to re-localize food distribution networks in this country, repeated stress was placed on breaking the distance between farmers and consumers and putting "culture" back in agriculture. Furthermore, in his discussion on Re-Localizing Food, author, journalist and professor Michael Pollan drew attention to the fact that the current presidential candidates cannot adequately address climate change, energy independence and health care, the three issues voters indicate as mattering the most to them, without addressing food policy and production. While emphasis on local production and use of foods was the focus, attention was also directed to what Petrini refers to as "virtuous globalization", that is, support of foods globally traded fairly and equitably.
Perhaps my favorite part of the conference was the Victory Garden, planted on what was previously a stretch of turf directly in front of City Hall. Planted in concentric circles, a Native American agriculture technique, the garden was lush and abundant, while conserving water and resources. Imagine such a garden on the White House lawn! What an incredible precedent that would set for growing locally nationwide!
As it was a conference about food, getting down to tasting it was an incredible delight. Held in the cavernous Fort Mason, the Tasting Pavilions were a series of vignettes showcasing artisan food categories nationwide. On display were producers of charcuterie, beer, bread, pickles, seafood, honey & preserves, tea, coffee, chocolate, ice cream, cheese, olives and wine. The intersection of art and food was epitomized at these stations. Careful curating culminated in an event that was as mesmerizing to behold as it was to consume! Ball canning lids, painstakingly attached to fishing line, were suspended above the pickle booth in a wave fashion. Above the indigenous seafood display, pointed fishing weights drew the eye up. Wooden pallets enclosed the chocolate area, alluding to the crop's import status, while baskets for gathering fruit surrounded the preserves area. When tasting beer, participants were offered hand-blown glasses; at a tea tasting, small ceramic cups from Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics held samples.
Careful, scrupulous attention was paid to every aspect of the entire weekend's events. Striving to be a zero-waste and bottled water-free event, filtered tap water was instead offered, in either compostable cups or purchasable stainless-steel bottles, and waste disposal boxes were marked as recyclable, compostable, or landfill. Witnessing first-hand the interest and enthusiasm, let alone the feasibility of bringing about profound paradigm shifts in the way those in this nation interact with food, has left me humbled, enthused and motivated. And, in full disclosure, I've been listening to "A Love Bizarre" from Sheila E. and Prince while typing this, which has rendered me even more enthused and motivated than I might have been had I not been listening.