Taking it slow
Grassroots movement seeks to appreciate food in all its natural, healthful aspects
Lori Weber brings a lot to the table. Literally.
“I bring my values to the table with what I eat,” she said. “I like to know the story behind my food. It’s so much more interesting to know how it was raised. I want to know it was raised in a clean and fair way.”
Weber is one of hundreds of people in Butte and Shasta counties associated with the slow-food movement—an international, grassroots campaign that fights against the speedy, fast-food-filled culture so predominant today. Nearly 450 chapters exist worldwide. They are made up of farmers, producers, cooperatives, farm-worker coalitions and others who work together to host workshops, wine tastings and other events where locally grown food is served in an educational atmosphere.
The movement prides itself on maintaining a nonpartisan approach and allowing people to come together to support agriculture and fair food production while leaving politics on the sidelines. Members of the movement have varied backgrounds but generally agree on two things: the importance of taking the time to sit down to eat with others and knowing where your food comes from.
However, in its nonpartisan strength lies its weaknesses, Weber said. Appealing to a variety of people without alienating subgroups—for example, animal-rights activists and certain political organizations—is not always easy.
“To keep this coalition of people who have different ideologies but want to come together on this issue is its strength, but also a challenge,” Weber said. “People have different value systems, and [the slow-food movement] is just something to make people think.”
Vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike can be conscious of where their food comes from, Weber said. “That has been the biggest shift that I have experienced around all of this. It encompasses a variety of people.”
The slow-food movement began in 1986 in Italy and was marked by protest demonstrations at an intended McDonald’s site near the Spanish Steps in Rome. The following year, founding member Carlo Petrini and poet Folco Portinari penned the Slow Food Manifesto, calling on individuals to revert to the “pleasures of a slow life rather than a fast life,” Weber said.
Slow Food International was officially founded in 1989 under the motto “Good, clean and fair food.” In 2007, Petrini published the book Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean and Fair, which has since become somewhat of a bible for slow-food supporters.
The movement began spreading worldwide throughout the late-’80s and took on a different character in each country. It didn’t grab a solid foothold in the United States until the 1990s, Weber said, under the leadership of Alice Waters, the famous chef at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant, who advocated for eating locally grown food and educating individuals—especially children—about the importance of eating healthful, in-season cuisine.
Another person who helped spread the movement across the United States was Josh Viertel, a teacher, organic farmer and Harvard University graduate who co-founded the Yale Sustainable Food Project and earned a reputation as a leader in the international sustainable-food movement. Viertel was later named as Slow Food USA’s first president in 2008, and he continues to be heavily involved in youth activism in the movement today.
Viertel also has been a leader in politicizing the slow-food movement, and in 2009 he helped launch a program called Time for Lunch, a national campaign intended to tell Congress to provide American children with “real” food at school. The campaign is still under way.
Today, nearly 450 registered, regional chapters exist worldwide, run solely by volunteers. Slow Food USA oversees North America’s more than 170 chapters.
The Shasta Cascade Slow Food chapter officially became one of them in the fall of 2005, when founders Noelle Ferdon of Chico, Kathy Moore of Red Bluff, and Tyler Dawley, whose family owns Big Bluff Ranch, a sustainable cattle ranch near Red Bluff, started holding meetings in the Shasta-Butte area. The chapter is composed of nearly 100 people and holds monthly meetings in different places around Shasta and Butte counties to accommodate its widespread members.
“Active members,” who comprise the Executive Council, conduct business meetings sponsored by the Chico Grange where they plan events and collaborate with producers. The chapter periodically hosts large fundraising events for organizations in town that support the slow-food cause, such as the Chico Junior High School Garden Project and Advocates for Healthy School Communities, which focus on connecting North Valley schools and farming communities for educational purposes.
Lately, the chapter has been holding smaller events that focus on the educational aspect of the slow-food movement and allow members of the community to interact on a more personal level.
Last fall, the chapter held an olive-oil tasting workshop at Tin Roof Bakery, and most recently, at Llano Seco Rancho, it celebrated Tierra Madre Day, a “Mother Earth” holiday that celebrates activism in the sustainable-food movement on a global scale.
The chapter’s goal is to hold one small event per season at which locally sourced food is provided by producers, such as Lundberg Family Farms, Wookey Ranch, Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyard, Chaffin Family Orchards and Pyramid Farms, to name a few.
“It’s impossible to mention all the local organizations that have supported the cause,” said Weber, who recently took on the title of Chico/Butte facilitator for the chapter.
Active members in the Shasta Cascade chapter have used old-fashioned social-networking techniques such as talking and meeting people face-to-face to create what Weber calls a “delicious social web.” A number of organizations have become involved in a variety of ways, including the venues that host the slow-food events, such as the 1078 Gallery.
“We focus to collaborate with and support organizations that do things that promote good, clean and fair food practices and the bounties of our local culture,” Weber said.
“It’s not about making money; it’s about coming together and learning something,” Weber said. “Exciting ideas happen when people come together.”
The chapter plans to host a luau in early May at Llano Seco Rancho, and in mid-July the chapter will hold an event of local food tasting and art at the 1078 Gallery.
For Weber, it comes down to thinking critically and taking the time to buy locally grown products in places such as farmers’ markets.
And while many may see the ability to live the slow-food lifestyle as a luxury, “we can no longer afford to ignore the issues of production with food,” she said. She added that buying locally grown foods does not always mean breaking the bank.
“We have this mindset that it’s cheaper to buy pre-packaged foods,” she said. “But the system makes those things expensive.”
Weber also called on California to increase its residents’ regular access to farmers’ markets, where produce is relatively cheap and local farmers benefit directly from sales.
“[Eating locally] doesn’t have to be seen as a luxury.”