I’m back in the land of chapped lips, dry hands, and multiple clothing layers. And so far it feels pretty wonderful. Of course I miss the warm sun and grapefruit breakfasts but my welcome to the US was warmer than any wood fire or gas furnace can get.
It just so happens that the day we decided to fly in to Atlanta, GA also coincided with the Georgia Organics conference in Athens. We didn’t make it down there, choosing instead to stay with my parents dear and spectacularly amazing friends Bob and Susan in Atlanta (I inherited them as my own friends and I could ask for nothing better- they have chickens in the city, which says it all (if you read chicken-owner-language)). But Georgia Organics brought Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food and Terra Madre, to the US of A. Since he had already hit up the GA Organics he decided to make the Georgia rounds and I went and heard him speak in Atlanta at the CDC.
Slow Food has a mixed reputation in the US. I think some people confuse it with the ‘elitist view’ on food- the type of people who like to collect truffles and mound caviar on their chic crackers. I won’t get into the Slow Food mission- it is fairly familiar and can be read here…. I am pretty sure “organic” food is gaining an elitist following all over the world so of course there are many warped perceptions on what the entire Slow Food movement means. What I want to write about is not “those people” (we are all “those people” in our own ways) but about what I took away from Petrini’s talk at the CDC.
When we arrived to Atlanta we were shipped via a vibrating Volvo to Bob and Susan’s house/chicken farm. We ate pizza that we helped make and sat around and talked about a little of everything- health care, Dominica, food, chickens (of course), life, soccer, chat roulette…. This is the only real way to share a meal. Along with the food there must also be a lot of talking. The next day we wandered around the city, went to used book stores, drank our first good beer in four months, and watched dog owners watch their dogs in a nearby park.
The next morning we checked out the famous Morningside Market and bought kale, radishes, beets, cilantro, parsley, cinnamon raisin bread, sweet potatoes, and bok choy. Later, my entire immediate family came down from TN and we all ate together (along with several friends). We had cranberry beans with roasted beets and cilantro, a kale-beets green-bok choy- radish slaw, brown rice, Sequatchie Cove pork chops with Susan‘s yard rosemary, and a dessert of Ashley’s sweet potato galettes.
This was a good warm-up for the Petrini talk and also a wonderful welcome back to the southern US. If we had eaten at McBurgero and stayed in the Days Inn in Atlanta I would be sorely missing the warm soft times of Dominica. But there is nothing better than good food and wonderful stimulating company.
So on Monday we ate local city egg quiche with Sequatchie Cove sausage and some raisin cinnamon bread toast for breakfast and headed off to the CDC after a short walk around the neighborhood that involved spying on people’s yards. I’ll spare you the entrance fee of security gates and museum and cut to the Carlo chase. He gave a short talk on why we should eat local sustainable food and next there was a panel with him, a chef, the Director of the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and a woman who was the Acting Director of the Policy Research, Analysis and Development Office (both CDC)
The preliminary talk with Carlo was simple. Which is actually the most wonderful part about it. When you hear a world leader speak you expect some kind outrageous loud statement. Carlo Perini does not speak English so he had a beautiful Italian woman translator who spoke perfect school-book English. Petrini speaks with his hands and his own language so he shunned a microphone as he paced the stage and told us the four steps to eating well and locally.
The first was, of course, know your farmers- get back to nature and eat food grown by men and women who surround you.The second was to learn seasons- you cannot eat sustainably if you do not know what grows around you and when it grows. You are ridiculous if you want to eat a cucumber in September, October, November, or April. The third was to waste less food. America is not the only country that throws away food. And the fourth was to learn how to cook with leftovers. He encouraged us to go home and look in our fridge. I take that to mean all four points- do we have local, sustainable foods in our fridge that are in season? And do we have a clean fridge, free of molding jellies and jams, hardening, dried out cheeses and rotting stews? In translation of course it seems as though the first two points should be one and the second two should be as well one. Eating local farmer’s food involves learning the seasons and not wasting food involves learning to cook with leftovers. Carlo Petrini made his leftover point by describing some dish his grandmother used to make involving bread or pasta and tomatoes or some wonderful Italian things….
So of course this sounds simple and even disappointing. Here in America we are ready for a revolution constantly. We are a country founded by people who fled the old beliefs and violently founded their own- not necessarily through physical violence but there was a definite haste in the decision. We are a country of fastness- we have no time to stand in lines, listen to hand gestures, or wait for strawberry season. When we hear a leader speak we want riots to break out, amens to circulate, our blood to flow hot. Carlo, this world leader of thousands of peasants, farmers, cheese makers, cooks, mothers, fathers, musicians, students, store owners, shoe makers…stood up and said all we have to do to save our society is eat local and cook with leftovers. I wanted something I could write down and make a poster with. I wanted flames, cheers, and bright colors, not what I was already doing. I didn’t want a world leader to justify the left-over frittata I make on Tuesday night, I wanted someone to shout something I can’t say in my own kitchen. But the talk went on and Petrini avoided every question asked him with a more apt answer that did not answer the question directly- eg How did you start this movement and where did you begin to educate the population on eating local? Answer: Education begins with yourself. If you as a human are not thoroughly self educated and do not know what you want then you cannot educate your community. You have no community if you are not educated and if you do not eat well then your community does not exist sustainably.
Mike (the more political half of myself) always says that there are no "political" movements that speak for “moderation.” There are no protest groups in America going out with posters and signs that say “Let’s be moderate!” They don’t say let’s eat simply, live simply, live well, have fun, create community, appreciate our doctors, pay them what they’re worth (ask doctors to appreciate us), eat out food, pay farmers for their work. Movements and protesters always have to have an ultra right or left point, even if it isn’t political. It just has to be very right. In our society we have to strongly believe in something- conserving or not using electricity or gas, eating locally, growing our food, homeopathic medicine, fighting the health care system, justifying the health care system, not eating meat, eating CAFO meat, eating grass-fed meat, driving an SUV, bio diesel, riding bikes, seed saving, tree saving. All protests and points, right or wrong, have to be strong. They have to have a semi violent point, even though the point in it’s origin may be super peaceful. Maybe presenting a single point as the only right way is just plain violent. (yeah I know, it might be too much- my editor isn't here so I said it)
I didn’t mean to get on that rant. All I meant to say is that after the talk I turned to Mike and I said over tea- this guy speaks for MODERATION! That is what the Slow Food movement is- moderation and simple living- the true way. It is really nice to hear the founder of a world wide organization speak and sound so humble, down to earth, and real. Sometimes I feel like maybe the people who have warped Slow Food into the super trendy expensive food world aren’t really Slow Food at all. It seems to me that all Carlo Petrini wants mine/your/our family to eat from the earth on which we stand, to develop our communities, become strong men and women who can adapt and grow with the present, past, and future in responsible sustainable ways, who are intelligent enough to learn from the past, present, and future, and who want nothing more than to be human who are also proud of being human. Although obviously being a human is a loaded concept. We aren’t a species who is happy feeding, procreating, and dying. We are a species who has some insane thought pattern that involves morals, intelligent community, and structures including emotions and thought. We have speech, greed, sensuality, and umami.
But rarely do you hear an international modern leader speak so humbly and yet so radically. All Slow Food stands for is sustainable community. It doesn’t even stand for McDonald’s bashing- although that might be where the name came from. Slow Food, or should I say Carlo Petrini, doesn’t want to go around tearing down fast food restaurants. We, the Slow Fooders, don’t have time for that. Slow Food stands for moderate consumption of local food grown healthily, traditionally, and moderately by real small-time men and women who are proud to be human. We are proud to carry human traits like umami, anger, love, greed, guilt, compassion, and generosity.
Petrini also said he doesn’t like the word consumption- it is and sounds like a disease. We are not consumers, we are co-producers. As eaters of food we are co-producing with the farmers. We can make the choice (which sadly we have to do just that, make a choice) to become a fellow producer with the farmers who grow our food. So when we buy a bunch of collard greens (Carlo’s new favorite southern delicacy), we are choosing to stand beside the farmer in the field where these greens are from. If we buy collards from California in mid-summer we might very well be sweating in the sun with our Latin American brethren. As a consumer we can return to our cush homes and cook those collards in top quality consumer rated pots but the people we worked the fields with that day might not have the same dinner (and we, as aware compassionate human Americans should know what that means by now). On the other hand, if we choose to buy collards in April from the sustainable farm down the road we can work the fields with those brethren and bring our collard dish to the local pot-luck later that night and share it amongst friends.
The saddest thing about that last paragraph is that we aren’t actually co-producers in the present. Surely our decisions will affect the future but right now in the present we don’t really have to co-produce. We can eat those organic collards grown in California by our Latin American brethren and not actually feel a dern thing. We don’t actually have to live their lives just yet. But somebody will. And that most likely will be my grandchildren.
And what I like about Carlo Petrini is that he is not like me. He does not say radical things like I do. And yet he has somehow he gathers eight thousand “peasants” together every two years to talk. Terra Madre is a meeting of moderation- a gigantic pot luck- where peasants, food producers, fermenters, young business owners, leaders of community, farmers, natural dyers of cloth, weavers, basket makers, shoe repairmen, cooks, musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, cheesmakers can all get together and just COMMUNICATE. That means to start a world-wide COMMUNITY of this simple moderation that defines humanity completely. The title Slow Food is such a shallow name for such an important movement. It is not about food, it’s about humanity. We are co-producers of our life. Everything we do is shoulder to shoulder with our neighbor.
And that brings me to the end of this crazy ranting letter. After the Carlo talk we were once again at Bob and Susan’s. We watched the chickens and ate fried rice with, yes, California organic Swiss chard. The rice was from some random Asian country and the soy sauce was from unknown organic soy source. But the eggs were from Susan’s chickens in the back yard and they were Georgia-organic-collards-fed. And that’s not even the point. The point was the meal, the sharing, the community. We can’t do everything all at once. We can be aware, kind, generous, sharing, intelligent, and wholesome though. We have to be advocates of moderation. We have to eat less meat, but respectfully. We have to use less gas, but gently. We have to turn off the lights when we leave the room, but naturally. We have to eat from our farmers, but as a community. This is not a violent revolution because it is not a revolution. It is simply life and therefore there is nothing to SAY.