Chew on this, Reno

Slow Food Reno is underway and bigger than anyone expected

Slow Food Reno members feast at a recent meeting.

Slow Food Reno members feast at a recent meeting.

Photo By kat kerlin

It’s a recent Monday evening at Nothin’ To It café, and the first indicator that this is a Slow Food Reno meeting is, appropriately, the countertop sprawling with food. Cedar plank salmon, strawberry rhubarb tart, cardamom muffins, fresh fruit salad, buttermilk pie, Peruvian polenta, and spanakopita with Swiss chard are just a few of the offerings displayed in a tempting array of color.

The next indicator is who’s here: organic vegetable, chicken and grass-fed beef farmers, members of local CSAs, members of the food co-op, chefs at local restaurants, master gardeners, homebrewers. In general, they’re people who love food and care about where and how it’s grown.

Slow Food Reno officially started this March when, spearheaded by Joe Horn of Dish Café, the group held its first potluck. Slow Food is an international organization that began in Italy. With about 22,000 U.S. members, its group motto is “Supporting Good, Clean and Fair Food.” Slow Food tends to incorporate the concept of literally slowing down to eat good food with friends and family. It’s also about preserving genetic diversity and how food is made (making cheese, preparing a chicken from butcher block to plate); championing sustainable, small farmers over agribusiness; advocating for fair wages for farmers and their employees; and an overall drive to improve the way we eat for the health of humans, animals and the planet.

“The policies we have are being guided by big business,” Horn tells the group. “We’ve lost sight of how we eat because big business has control of how we eat.”

Before its Reno formation, the nearest Slow Food chapter was in Truckee. Just this February, members of the local permaculture group were lamenting the fact that Reno had no Slow Food chapter. One member said, “The only people likely to be part of it are here in this room” (roughly 12 people). So many were surprised to find more than 60 people eating and talking passionately about Slow Food issues at Monday night’s meeting.

As people eat, conversations range from “how’s your garden doing?” to frustration that raw milk is illegal, the benefits of Berkshire pigs, the need for a cheesemaker in Reno and where to get a good supply of goat milk. Then, with plates clean, the people split into groups to address some of the goals of Slow Food Reno. A membership group strategizes about how to get 1,000 members. Another group is creating Slow Food events. A Farm to School group discusses how to get more gardens into schools and more kids eating fresh, healthy foods. A Farm to Table group is tasked with helping regular people make a difference with their own diets. The Farm to Chef group is connecting local farmers with local restaurants. They’ve developed an email list that goes out to participating restaurants listing what the farmers have to offer that week, and if they’re interested, they put in their order for delivery.

Slow Food Reno’s identity is still forming. Eventually, membership will cost around $50 for individuals and $75 for families. However, according to Horn, “For the rest of the year, all of our events will be open to anyone who wants to come.” Once the group has drawn enough interest, membership fees will kick in, with most events open to the public but with member discounts.

But for now, “our major concern is just getting people to come and experience it,” says Horn.