slow meat fair denver

So, What the Hell is Slow Meat?

For days I ran around spreading the word about Slow Meat like my dog likes to spread his drool all over my black pants when I get home. The response was less enthusiastic “Slow Food? Slow Meat? What’s that?” A constant reminder that this symposium is just as unknown as the problems our society faces with the current meat production system.

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Slow Food
Let’s backtrack to 1986, some crazy Italians {I’m married to one} didn’t want a McDonald’s built next to the Spanish Steps in Rome and demanded slow food instead of fast food, or so goes the story. In 1989 the movement brought delegates from fifteen countries, which signed a manifesto to promote Slow Food as a way of protecting traditions, farmers and producers, consumers and the environment. Part of Slow Food’s manifesto states:

“We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.”

Our disconnect with food, its origins, the problems it might be causing outside of our plate, is the reason for the birth and growth of the Slow Food movement.

Slow Meat

It’s a conversation that started in 2004 about the meat we consume, a deep look into animal raising practices utilized in the United States and around the world.

slow meat symposiumThe Symposium

The Slow Meat symposium took place in Denver June 4-6 with visits to local ranches and farms; multiple dinners at restaurant that support the cause; and the daylong seminars and talks from industry leaders, writer, ranchers and advocates.

On Thursday at the Curtis Hotel, I worked the registration desk welcoming delegates from Mexico, New Guinea, Australia, Canada and other countries; and many from the U.S.

At Fuel Café, one of the multiple sites reserved for dinner that evening, the laughter and loud voices carried stories of ranching, hunting and animal husbandry filling the room with reasons to support the movement. The conversation revolved around what food items some delegates won’t eat because of their carbon footprint, like refrigerated proteins, under ripe bananas, avocados or quinoa. My full attention devoted to every sentence, forgetting to capture the moment with my camera. Each voice brought up a different point of view and different questions, but they all returned to the same core message: to support those who work hard to raise animals ethically.

On Friday, 200+ delegates gathered to discuss meat production in the U.S. and around the world. To rise questions about quality versus quantity; the impact of factory farms; heritage breeds; what the animals eat, and more.

slowmeatfairOn Saturday, the fair brought together local business including Tender Belly, Marczyk’s, and MMLocal, plus food trucks and fermented beverages. There was also an educational tent where speakers voiced their expertise and concerns, and answer questions from the pubic.

Workshops offered insight on how to make sausage, butchering, plus cure meats and cheese tastings. The Terra Madre kitchen featured food from the Navajo Nation, Mexico, South Africa and American South.

The Animals
I don’t eat beef, and neither does Nicolette Hahn Niman, a vegetarian rancher who wrote the books Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production and Righteous Pork chop: Finding a life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. Nicolette spoke about factory farms and the conditions in which animals are raised. She also addressed the controversy raised by the film Cowspiracy, which asserts that more than 50% of greenhouse gases are produced by cows and she argues that in fact, in the USA, 2% come from ruminants themselves.

The focus kept falling on the way animals are raised and the food they are given, even beyond the breed. “Breed is important, in pigs for example, but what we feed them is even more important,” said Tammi, from Jonai Farms and MeatSmiths in Australia.

Taking aside the ongoing debate on the safety of the GMO feed most animals consume, the questions posed by many was the sustainability factor of growing that feed. GMO corn and soy make up the vast majority of the food pigs, chickens and cows eat in our ‘modern society,’ statistics that advocacy groups have used to place the blame on animal consumption rather than on the production system.

Even the word “production” when talking about raising animals feels awkward.  Hundreds of pigs, cows and chickens trapped behind walls, rubbing against each other and eating unhealthy food showcases the very mentality of our modern human existence. Next we should put giant televisions with sports games at full blast.

TraditionsroykadyofnavajonationcreatingfireOne of the main focus of Slow Food is keeping cultural traditions alive through local, homemade food, which also allows for biodiversity of produce and animals to continue and flourish.

I’ll admit to have no voice in this subject as I haven’t carried out my Colombian traditions here in the States. However, I have embraced the local culture and learned to live with what my new environment offers me. Honestly, mangos and plantains that have travel thousands of miles and were picked underripe don’t taste the same and I don’t find much joy in eating them.

I enjoyed meeting Benedicta Alejo Vargas who came from Mexico as part of their delegate team to offer traditionally made food, together with chefs Joaquin Bonilla and Drew Deckman. BenedictaAlejoVargasatslowmeatdenverBenedicta showed the process of making tortillas from freshly ground corn, while proudly wearing the traditional clothing of her culture.roykadynavajonationfireblessingI was also enthused to see the Navajo Nation delegates headed by Roy Kady who started the fire used to bless the food the chefs had prepared; and chef Franco Lee and Aretta Begay who spoke about the Navajo-Churro sheep and its cultural importance.almondcakenavajonationatslowmeat

Final Words
The one goal of this three-day gathering is to spark conversation and action about the many issues our grilled pork chops and rotisserie chicken bring to the table. To reconnect people with their food and to foster and regrow cultural traditions, biodiversity and community connections through it.

Thoughts? Drop me a line and continue the conversation. Thanks for reading!

Colorado has a big say in the production, slaughtering and packaging of meat.  JBS USA is located in Greeley and its parent company JBS Brazil is the largest beef packer in the world. About 80% of all meat four companies control production in the world. Like many other commodities, meat has become a game for the big guys. Its production is unsustainable, cheap, and unhealthy for the animals, the consumers and the environment.

Here is a Colorado Public Radio story on JBS‘ attempt to gain traction with the public.

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