Slow Food Nations, a gathering of people from around the world centered on food, made Denver the epicenter of conversations that revolved around food freedom, sovereignty, taste, cooking, farming and everything in between. On Saturday morning a panel led by Slow Food’s founder and president Carlo Petrini addressed, with contagious passion, a flock of hungry for fair food followers on the streets of downtown Denver.
“We must have global consciousness around food,” said Petrini, “a vision that is local, that allows us to know, respect and support our local producers, our local food, and our local community… at the same time we ought to have a global vision of food and value other communities the same way.”
This is the second time Slow Food has chosen Denver to bring voices around real and fair food for all. In 2015, the conversation revolved around Slow Meat, questioning the meat production processes and systems established in the U.S. and the record meat consumption of our growing society.
Slow Food changed the way I see food. For more than a decade I have followed this grassroots organization and its philosophy that good food is a right not a luxury. It was Alice Waters who first introduced me to Slow Food when I became enchanted by her vision and passion for supporting local farmers, for eating a summer peach with the pleasure and excitement of a once a year occasion, and for her relentless dedication for change in our food system, beginning with educating children through direct immersion in school gardens.
This weekend I met Alice Waters, I sat in two of her talks and relished in her ideology of “seducing people through taste,” as she said. Waters, as many of the important public food figures who visited us this weekend, believes that if we put our efforts together we, all of us, can help change our toxic food system. “I can’t think about food without thinking about the land,” she said, and her sentiment carried out through the conversations and the different events held over the weekend. Denver chefs and visiting chefs from around the country and the world put together dinners to honor the land, the sea, and the cultures, including flavors of Mexico, sustainable seafood, heritage grains, plus many workshops in techniques like sourdough bread, cheesemaking, butchering, and more.
For me the most impactful piece of this weekend were the talks and seminars on food systems and policies, and specifically the opportunity to listen to Carlo Petrini and his panel on Food and Freedom; and the Gardens Galore panel with Alice Waters, Ron Finley, and Kimbal Musk, talking about the importance of school gardens and educating our children about food from garden to mouth.
Food and Freedom
We might thing of food and freedom, fair food for all, as a given, as something we already do, but when we dig deeper into the subject we can see that our food system is everything but fair to all involved in it. From farmers who live below the poverty line, to farm workers who suffer from debilitating illnesses due to the toxic chemicals they work with around the farms, or the low-income families who can’t afford fruits and vegetables and rely on government subsidized cheap junk and fast food creating an imbalanced diet for their kids who then struggle at school for lack of nutritious food in their diet, and who later develop food-related illnesses such as diabetes. Not to count the environmental and cultural impact of a system that promotes the excessive consumption of junk food and cheap meat. All of it here in the U.S. All of it to support the ever-growing monopolios that run our food system at the expense of our right as citizens, as farmers, as growers, as eaters, as communities. “Fighting monopolies is what allows you to stand for your rights a citizen, to protect your community, your family, your income, and your food,” said Barry Lynn, author of “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction.”
When asked about it in a global context Carlo Petrini stood up fueled with passion and rage recalling the 2011 Arab Spring, “It wasn’t a political revolution,” he said, “it was a hunger strike, the people were fed up with the monopolies that had figured out how to speculate with staple foods like wheat and rice, which have become a commodity and have lost their real value [as food].” The fact that a commodity like chicken is used as a bait by U.S. to get China to open its doors to the American beef industry is the reality of our food system thanks to those who manipulate it. As consumers, we don’t have the power to compete with these kinds of deals, as citizens we have the right to reject a food system that wastes our lands and resources, diminishes the value of our farmers’ work, and risks our food sovereignty while growing the power and reach of a few large companies.
This talk enlightened me in areas of food I hadn’t fully considered, how every food related decision I make affects someone in the system, Petrini said it better, “We vote not left or right, we vote with our own actions, it’s a new form of politics, the freedom [food freedom] will come from our personal behavior” … “we are all guilty of supporting this system, we all expect cheap food, we relish in expending less money on food and more on other accessories,” he said as he held his cellphone in front of the audience, “in 1975, 30% of a person’s income went to purchasing food, in 2017 it has gone down to 12%.”
The fact is that our governments are proud of it, they and the companies subsidizing their political careers use this statistics to continue promoting what Petrini calls “a criminal system,” a system that increases hunger, malnutrition, illnesses, low wages, environmental damage, and loss on biodiversity.
“Six Weeks to Kale”
The Gardens Galore talk focused on school gardens for all schools as a way to engage children in a clean and healthy relationship with school, their community, and the planet. Alice Waters, who created The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, 20 years ago, said that “school gardens open kids minds through their senses,” that kids are first apprehensive about the experience of working in a garden, around dirt and bugs, and unfamiliar vegetables, “by now we know that it’s six weeks to kale,” she said, referring to how long it takes kids to change their view of food that they have grown and care for, how quickly kids learn values, the stewardship and nourishment to care for the land, and how it helps them develop communication and collaboration skills as part of a team.
When asked about his Gangsta Gardener project and the kids involvement, Ron Finley replied, “First of all, I don’t grow food, I grow people,” Finley’s project started as a need to have a beautiful garden on the median outside his house, “I was tired of walking outside my house and seeing trash and ugly,” he said, he wanted to use beauty as a medium to get the beauty out of people, one plot at the time, and to create a sense of community around healthy food, “I want the gang fights to be about who grows the biggest tomato.”
Together with Kimbal Musk, whose organization brings movable gardens to schools around the country, they posed the question, “if food is such a big part of our lives and our culture, how are we not teaching it in schools? They also questioned the viability of our unsustainable food system, “I consider myself a smart guy,” said Musk, “but even if I tried to create a worse system I couldn’t.”
All of these projects aim to create a better food system for kids and the community around them. They also aim to educate them in a more interactive way, to keep kids of underprivileged areas in school, “We want to introduce the lunch in academia curriculum to all schools,” said Waters as she held a placemat with drawings of foods and a map, “this lesson, for example, is the foods of Morocco and kids can learn about geography and culture while eating foods from the area made from produce they grew.”
This weekend of food tastings, talks, seminars, workshops and chef’s demos, was a gathering created by Slow Food to bring to mind to the community, local and global, the topic of clean, fair food for all; to seduce those new to Slow Food with delicious nibbles from dozens of vendors, to engage those who want to expand their cooking through exciting workshops, and to continue to inspire and educate those who believe that a change in our food system is necessary, as Kimbal Musk said, “Understanding where your food comes from is not a privilege is a human right.”
Slow Food Nations 2017