Walking at a clip through rows of big black radishes from Pardailhan, miniscule blond lentils from Saint Flour and foie gras galore, I could see the first gleam of a big idea in Alice Waters’ eyes. It was my first big trip as her assistant, and we were happily exploring the produce at Aux Origine du Goût, Slow Food France’s answer to the Salone del Gusto.
“Why don’t we do something like this back home? No need to reinvent the wheel, we could organize a little American salone…” she trailed off, but I could see the thoughts buzzing around in her head. Inspiration hit and it wasn’t long before the Board of Slow Food USA was voting to create Slow Food’s first large-scale national event. A task force composed of Slow Food superstars like Michael Pollan, organic farmers Judith Redman and Dru Rivers, and former director of Slow Food International, Renato Sardo, are working busily with the Slow Food USA staff to plan the first Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco for the spring of 2008.
It was about time! The United States has the second largest Slow Food membership (14,000) of any country and a bustling New York City-based national office with a dozen employees. The 800 American farmers, producers and chefs at this year’s Terra Madre demonstrated that we have a critical mass of innovators working all across the country to create food that is good, clean and fair. We are now ready for this first big event, a cross between a county fair, farmers’ market and interactive museum — Slow Food style.
Our goal is to bring ‘slow food values’ to a wider public, expanding the reach of our movement and dispelling the misconception that Slow Food is little more than a ‘supper club’. With plenty of opportunities for student involvement and targeted outreach to our country’s immigrant communities, we can introduce a whole new audience to the pleasures of the table.
Every Slow Food Nation event will be in a different city around the country. While it will include a small sampling of the best products from the nation, 60 percent of the space will be a showcase for that particular region’s farmers, producers and cuisine, as well as a forum for people to discuss the most pressing agricultural issues. For the inaugural event in San Francisco, items on the agenda will certainly include immigrant farm workers’ rights, the dwindling fish and crab populations in our coastal waters and the revival of small artisan food production.
With Slow Food Nation, we hope to make connections between agriculture, politics, the environment and culture. In addition to education through taste, the event will offer a wide range of activities, including talks, forums, taste workshops, and films that will teach people the importance of preserving traditional foods and production techniques, while, at the same time, alerting the public to the broader implications of their eating choices.
Anchoring the event will be a marketplace of two hundred farmers and artisans from across the country that will indicate the range of traditional American foods. Attracted by the simple pleasures of the table, participants will leave having learned how American food production affects global issues. Our hope is for the projected 50,000 attendees to emerge with a broad-based vision of the life-enriching benefits of a sustainable approach to food and life, as well as the tools to implement that vision.
Sarah Weiner is an assistant to Alice Waters and lives in Berkeley, California.
Map courtesy of RAFT and Slow Food USA.