In 2012 I was selected to represent the Midwest region of Slow Food USA at Slow Food’s biannual international conference Terra Madre in Turin Italy. Because of the generous financial support of the SF Chicago chapter, I was able to attend.
Slow Food is an organization that links the pleasures of good food with a commitment to the environment and community. Its philosophy is “Good, Clean, and Fair Food”.
Our food should be tasty, seasonal, local, fresh and wholesome.
Our food should nourish a healthful lifestyle and be produced in ways that preserve biodiversity, sustain the environment and ensure animal welfare – without harming human health.
Our food should be affordable by all, while respecting the dignity of labor from field to fork.
Good, clean and fair food should be accessible to all and celebrate diverse cultures, traditions and nations.
Terra Madre is a gathering of foods, culture, and people from around the world who work towards these ideals.
My favorite moment, the one that really drove home the message of a movement that was both universal and personal was at a panel presentation on producing goods using local sources. I went into the small conference room and looked for the almost ubiquitous headphone that allowed you to tune into the simultaneous translations of the various speakers. Upon learning that this session was not being translated, another English speaking audience member and I gathered our belongings to slip out before the discussion began. The moderator asked the audience if there was someone who could translate for us. An extremely kind young woman modestly said she would try.
As she sat between us, translating and paraphrasing on the fly I was struck by how this discussion, in a language I didn’t understand said so much that was utterly familiar. Helped by the kindness of a stranger I got an insight into the challenges and successes that these producers encountered that were SO MUCH like the challenges and successes that I and my friends and colleagues at home faced.
It was then that I really realized the value of bringing together so many people, each of whom worked in their own local sphere. It wasn’t because any of us wanted to become a global influence. It was so we could internalize the utter importance of what we all do in our own back yards, and know that hundreds, thousands, of other people were facing similar challenges, celebrating their own successes and linked together though that effort.
That was when I fell in love with Slow Food.
That was fall of 2012, in the Spring of 2013 Terra Madre Delegates were invited to attend SFUSA’s national meeting in New Orleans. Again, through the generosity of SF Chicago I was able attend.
Where Terra Madre had been, for me, about ideals and philosophy of the movement the national meeting was about the boots on the ground work that the organization does.
There I met Slow Food leaders from around the country, reconnected with other Terra Madre alums and learned about the three main initiatives that the organization was pursuing at that time.
1000 Gardens in Africa – a project that has since expanded to 10,000 Gardens, it works to help communities in Africa establish gardens that rely on local expertise and native plants to bring food to their people and preserve their culture.
Edible Schoolyard – an initiative to grow community around school gardens by providing technical assistance, resources and partnerships to cultivate the next generation of healthy eaters of good, clean and fair food.
Ark of Taste – a catalog of culturally significant food from around the world. Eat it to save it is the motto of this venture. By identifying and championing these foods we can keep them on our plates and maintain biodiversity.
By preserving and promoting the foods listed on the Ark of Taste we nurture the future of farming by looking to the past. Keeping these foods in production is important to maintain the vast array of bio-diverse, locally adapted, culturally significant foods that small holders (the majority of farmers worldwide) can produce and propagate.
As a farmer and an eater I love this project. Just by looking through the website I’ve learned about new foods to try and gained an appreciation for varieties and breeds I was already aware of.
When I learned in the fall of 2013 that the Slow Food Chicago Board was accepting applications for new members I threw my hat into the ring. After the fantastic opportunities that the Chicago chapter had given me and the exciting work that the organization was doing I hoped to get involved and make a contribution.
I was elected to the board and I’ve now served almost a year and a half of my 3 year term. Let me tell you now about what Slow Food Chicago does. (By the way, this is the part of my presentation full of shameless plugs for Slow Food Chicago)
We are one of the most active Slow Food chapters in the country. We have over 5000 supporters that we reach regularly though our newsletters and social media.
We have large annual events, like our farm roast – our biggest fundraiser of the year and our Sweet Summer Solstice, a free potluck.
We also maintain a really active calendar of other events throughout the year.
Right now you can find information on our website about our “Slow Drinks” series, which highlights both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages using locally sourced produce, dairy, Fair Trade ingredients, and much, much more.
We are partnering with Graze magazine to host a book club where friends and members can come together to discuss food and books and books about food!
We honor local food related businesses that contribute to the good food movement with our “Snail of Approval”.
Our annual Tomato Seedling Sale, coming up May 16 & 17 at Bang Bang Pie Shop in Logan Square benefits our Terra Madre delegate fund.
And all summer long we maintain a community garden at our preServe garden in the North Lawndale neighborhood.
This is all done by a volunteer board, members and volunteers! It’s a fantastic community of people who enjoy food, care about the way it is produced, and speaking for those that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, are generally really awesome folks.
You can join Slow Food USA through our website, slowfoodchicago.org. You can join the Slow Food Youth Network for only $30. Be sure to select Chicago as your chapter affiliation. You can also connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and sign up for our monthly newsletter.
Going back to the national Slow Food organization I want to highlight another initiative they have undertaken, which is near and dear to my heart:
Slow Meat – an endeavor to raise awareness and bring together a variety of stakeholders in the US meat industry in order to further the goal of “Better Meat, Less Meat”. It works to bring meat production and consumption into alignment with the ideal of good, clean and fair.
My husband Jody attended the first Slow Meat gathering in Denver last spring, and will be returning this year to continue the conversation.
This year he’ll be joined there by Richard Wood of Food Animal Concerns Trust. (FACT) We first met Rich way back when he came to that first farm tour that we hosted to share the findings from out grant project. When FACT launched their “Fund a Farmer” grant program to facilitate peer-to-peer farmer education and to increase the number of animals that are raised humanely Rich asked Jody to serve as one of the application reviewers. He’s been a part of that process ever since.
Now Rich will be making a connection with the Slow Food movement on the national and local scale as he represents the Chicago chapter as our delegate to this year’s conference. The SF CHI board is looking forward to establishing an ongoing relationship with FACT.
Slow Meat is an excellent example of a grassroots organization, which generally affects change through the many individual actions of its members, working to have responsible influence in the larger system. By facilitating conversations and working to influence policy we can help move the needle of meat production in the US.
Factory farms that produce much of the meat American consumers eat are neither humane for the animals they raise, nor healthy for the workers that are employed by them. While the meat they produce seems inexpensive, there are many, many hidden costs in the system.
By encouraging consumers to eat Less Meat, Better Meat, Slow Food is helping to educate all of us to vote with our forks for a better alternative.