Slow Food convivium leaders and members from across Canada flocked to the country’s beautiful Okanagan Valley for the four-day Slow Food Canada National Conference that ended yesterday. From April 25-28, those active in the movement had the opportunity to come together, exchange ideas, brainstorm and discuss future strategies to support the growing public interest in an alternative to the pervasive industrial food system.
“Slow Food in Canada is dealing with a situation in which consumers have very few rights,” says Ingrid Jarrett, leader of the conference host convivium, Slow Food Thompson Okanagan. “For example, there is now a glue on the market that is used to stick together scraps of meat that are then sold as ‘pork roast’. We have no labeling on GM foods. In some ways this is a crime, but at the same time it has resulted in the growing interest in purchasing directly from our farmers. As Slow Food in Canada we are working hard to develop a parallel system and to demand the right to choose where and from whom we buy our food.”
Convivium leaders presented their activities from the past year: fundraisers, campaign actions, film screenings, cooking lessons with women at a domestic violence shelter, guest lectures at universities and more. They then moved on to the future, asking the question, “What do we want Slow Food Canada to be?” and discussing how to further their goals in promoting indigenous food producers, supporting local small-scale farmers, increasing the participation of youth in events and projects, adding more Canadian products to the Ark of Taste, and increasing the inclusiveness of convivium activities so they are accessible to everyone.
“Coming together like this really strengthens us as a network,” said Jarrett. “We are such a huge country that we rarely get the chance to come together. This ‘face time’ is really valuable for us, to be able to talk, share, build friendships and make connections. We come away with fresh ideas, and a more solid decisive strategy. In the meeting this year we have come to the realization as a group of how important it is to become more political.”
The conference didn’t go without good local food, with dinners that included a fundraiser, a Slow Fish dinner with young local chefs preparing creative dishes with sustainable fish, plus a market with Okanagan Valley wines and Canadian Ark of Taste products. The convivium also took participants to discover some of the region’s small-scale artisan producers: bakers, family farms and winemakers.
“A lot of people think of Canada as GMOs, mass production and commodity-driven agriculture,” says Jarrett. “And some of it is true – we sell a huge percentage of our raw materials and then buy back the finished product. But we also have little pockets like the Okanagan Valley where people are appreciating and reconnecting to their territory. I wanted the producers of this region to see that there is an entire movement that values the way they work and their philosophy. As an ex-farmer I know what it feels like to be a producer in a commodity-driven system, and I want them to know that we support them.”
To find out more about Slow Food in Canada, visit www.slowfood.ca