Food with a mission: Slow Food aims for a safer, tastier planet

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

Slow Food may be one of the fastest growing movements in America.

It’s a sort of food on a mission – a mission to re-connect people with their food sources while creating tastier, safer and cleaner food.  The core belief of the movement is that a great deal of our food may not be healthy for people, good for the environment or fair to the farmers and growers who produce it.

A local chapter, called Slow Food Delmarva, formed this summer. In addition to the local chapter, there are University of Delaware and Brandywine Valley chapters of Slow Food.

“Buying and eating local food not only is healthier due to its freshness and nutritional value, but it also tastes better, saves gas, creates local jobs and connects you directly to the food source,” according to the Slow Food Delmarva facebook page. “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”

“I think people really want to be connected to their food source,” said Hari Cameron, chef at Nage and one of the founders of Slow Food Delmarva.

Slow Food websites are filled with stories about the disappearance of heirloom apple varieties, organic gardening, rising obesity rates among children, urban gardeners, renewable energy and farmer’s markets.

In addition to healthier, fresher, tastier food, supporters say that Slow Food encourages local traditions, whether it’s corn mazes, pick your own pumpkins, producing local honey, canning your own vegetables or visiting a farmer’s market.

“With our society going as fast as it does and people always on the go . . .It is important to honor traditions of cooking and to honor people doing things the right way,” said Cameron.

An article on heirloom apples on the Slow Food USA website notes that 11 apple varieties make up more than 90 percent of America’s apple crop. A century ago, there were more than 15,000 uniquely North American varieties of apples.

Only one fifth of those varieties have survived, according to the article, which descibes apples as the canary in the coal mine. “We are losing our delicious, edible history.”

The Slow Food movement was born 20 years ago to counteract fast food and faster lifestyles, according to a blog Delmarva Drives written by Fran Severn. Severn wrote that the movement counters “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

With a Delmarva  rich with crab feasts, oyster fritters, pick your own peaches and blueberries, local vineyards and micro-breweries, Smith Island Cake and the like, why would you want generic, mass-produced foods, Severn asks.

“So, today, instead of sitting in line at the drive-through and taking home a tasteless bag of something you won’t notice you’re consuming, why not plan to spend some time in your kitchen and reaquaint yourself with your taste buds? It could lead to an entire shift in the way you live your life. Or just be one good meal.”

Cameron calls the concept a chance “to re-connect with those things we’ve gotten away from.”

As a child, he remembers growing a garden with his parents. There was nothing better, he said, than “picking a tomato still warm from the sun.”

The movement says that while many foods seem cheap and convenient, they may have hidden costs in environmental consequences and in our own health.  Increased fuel to transport food across thousands of miles means increased air emissions and more energy dependence on fossil fuels.

The University of Delaware Slow Food chapter website asks “How fair is your food?” It then goes on to say that tomato pickers in Florida still earn some 50 cents per 32 pound basket of tomatoes picked, the same rate they were paid in 1978. “Tomato pickers’ wages have been stagnant for over 30 years. . . At this rate, a worker must harvest 2.5 tons of tomatoes in one day just to earn the equivalent of Florida minimum wage.”

While not specifically aligned with the Slow Food movement, a recent documentary film called “Food Inc.” is very critical of America’s food supply. The movie’s website alleges that “our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.”

Slow Food Chicago representative Amy Cox was recently asked about important food trends. She was quoted as saying one trend is gratitude. “More and more people slowing down to appreciate what is on their plates, who grew it and who prepared it.”

Slow Food Delmarva has a facebook page and is working to develop its own website. The group has held two meet and greet events to educate people and get to know each other. The most recent was held at Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach on November 3 (Mariah Calagione of Dogfish Head is a founding member of Slow Food Delmarva).

For more information on the Slow Food movement, go to www.slowfood.usa.org

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