Slow down, already

Slow food is great, if you can afford it. What about the rest of us?

Alastair Bland is an occasional SN&R contributor.

Slow Food Nation’s Labor Day weekend extravaganza in San Francisco drew more than 60,000 people. They tasted the best of organic produce; craft beer; biodynamic wine; fresh, wild seafood; and other spoils of the good life.

But did the 7-11 and Burger King aficionados who most need exposure to the joys of slow-food living learn anything constructive? Better question: Were they even there? Tickets to the tasting events on Saturday and Sunday started at $45, and likely no one but dedicated foodies attended.

Slow food touts an idea that fresh, healthy nutrition is better for the spirit, body, community and environment than fast food. The movement’s supposed goal is to assure that the slow-food lifestyle is readily available to all. Anya Fernald, executive director of Slow Food Nation, said in a written statement to the press following the event, “Slow Food Nation started a conversation … to ensure that access to good, healthy food is a universal right, not a privilege of the elite.”

But Slow Food dinner events held at restaurants around San Francisco during the ongoing festivities were even pricier than the walk-around tastings, ranging from $65 to $250 per person. Such expensive meals are nothing but experiences for the elite. Though the spoken objective of the movement may be a socially correct humanitarian one, the unspoken message of the movement says that excellent, healthy food must cost $20 per course and is best eaten with fine wine; that prohibitively expensive organic produce is the starting baseline for a slow-food lifestyle; and that it’s OK for tomatoes to cost $4 per pound and for artisan cheese to cost $15.

What founder Alice Waters and her Slow Food allies need to do is tell the nation’s fast foodies that slow food can be simple and affordable, for if the poor and uneducated are faced with only two options—a complicated, sophisticated one or an instant, prepackaged one—who can blame them for choosing the latter? Promoting organic food and nothing less may be too extreme, and it’s certainly too expensive.

So why not compromise just a little if it could bring millions more to the table? The iconic single mother (with too many kids in the house to keep track of) who supposedly has no time to cook decent food is a phony ploy by the fast-food industry. Agreed, she may not have time to grow her own chard or visit the week’s farmers’ markets, but she could manage the task of boiling a simple lentil soup and providing some reasonably priced vegetables on the side, even if they aren’t organic. Wouldn’t that be progress? How slow must we go?

Slow food must come down from the clouds and speak a simpler message, because most of us live on Earth. Not all tablecloths here are white, wine doesn’t pair with everything and not all food is organic. But it can be affordable and, if you prepare it right, savor the flavors and enjoy it with friends, still be deliciously slow.