A Slow Food Nations Recap : Change is Slow, So How Do We Become Snails on Skateboards?

Being involved in the Slow Food movement often means you advocate tirelessly for changes that take effect, well, rather “slowly.” So how do we speed that process up? At one of the forums during 2019’s Slow Food Nations in Denver, CO this past July, a panelist suggested that we work together to share ideas and best practices, finding allies in each other and in like-minded organizations who have the bandwidth to also support our causes. By working as a network of individuals as opposed to sometimes regionally isolated advocates, we can in essence give ourselves the power to move that proverbial weighty food system needle just a little bit father than we had the capacity to on our own. In theory, this allows us to become “snails on skateboards” - speeding up the change to create the world of values we envision.

Luckily, attending events like this one organized by Slow Food USA, is always a good reminder to not get disheartened, especially when it feels like you are moving at a “snails” pace. Every act, no matter how big or how small, matters and makes a difference. And enlisting the help of our allies (whether fellow Slow Food chapters in the region or partner organizations, farmers or producers), means we are not only supported in our work, but that we can get it done at an ever so slightly quicker pace. Below, you’ll find two articles by Slow Food Chicago board member and co-president, Katie Johnson, recapping her experience at just two of the panels she attended, which reiterate this theme of collaboration married with patience to endure the journey of effecting change. Stay the course, my “slow” friends! We are making change happen, no matter the pace.

Slow Food Nations, In Images

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CRAFT BEER FOR CHANGE SUMMIT (Saturday, July 20th, 2019)

Adam Dulye (Brewers Association) - Moderator

Dr. J. Jackson-Beckham (Craft Beer for All) - Panelist

Katie Wallace (New Belgium) - Panelist

How can drinking beer effect change? With the ever growing popularity of craft breweries and innovative locally focused small-scale brewers, can you imagine the impact if more consumers paused to look at the values brewed into their beer prior to consuming it? 

Dr. J. Jackson-Beckham shared some statistics to give the audience at the “Craft Beer for Change” Summit a frame of reference for just how vast the potential is when consumers react to brewers who take “responsibility for their beer.” 

  • There are upwards of 7,000 craft breweries in the U.S.

  • Somewhere around 80-85% of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewery.

  • The demographics of craft brewing are ripe for change with only 31% of brewers being women (fewer still are owners) and an even smaller margin, 4% being African American.

As America’s most consumed beverage, it’s easy to see how the craft beer industry has immense opportunity to influence change. And with an increasing density of breweries in or near most cities, consumers have the opportunity to shake hands with and talk to brewers in person instead of heading to a grocery store where you may be able to source the product, but won’t gain the knowledge you could if you source direct from the brewery itself.  Dr. J. reiterates, relating that “something is happening when it comes to economies of value when it comes to this product.” 

“This is a large industry of people who broach that together.” says Adam Dulye, executive chef for the Brewers Association and moderator of this summit. He spoke to the fact that the craft beer industry is unique in that there exists an unparalleled comradery and sense of community, to the point where there is consistent knowledge sharing between brewers. In most industries this same mentality isn’t sustainable due to the drive for competition above all else. Dr. J. confirmed this point by calling out the collaborative nature of brewing as can be seen from the popularity of “collaboration beers,” often born out of necessity. If you are brewing a beer and do not have enough of something, you look to your community of brewers to see if one of them has what you need to collectively finish the product, emotive to the ideal of “borrowing a cup of sugar” from ones neighbor.

And the “we are all in this together” mantra isn’t just an anthem for small-scale independent breweries. It was 15 years ago that Katie Wallace (currently the Director of Social and Environmental Impact at the company) started working for New Belgium, a brewery that originally got up and running in 1991 while it was still operating out of a basement. Today, the company is employee-owned and run by wind power, speaking to the company’s commitment to focusing their product and culture on the issues of climate action, policy work and social equity (diversity and inclusion, yes, but also wealth equity and the good and bad impacts that come with new breweries - with wealth comes gentrification); tenets that are built into their business model, not to mention brewed into their beers. Katie laments, “I hear a lot of brewers say, oh, well, I’ll make more investment in sustainability once I get going. But, there are a lot of scrappy solutions that are the roots of the craft brewing industry, piecing these things together. I think it’s a myth that it’s more expensive to do the right thing.” That’s not to say that there aren’t still issues to be concerned with in the industry. And from the consumer standpoint Wallace admits “it can be really overwhelming.” Some things to look for? B corporation status, the use of salmon safe hops, efforts to reduce water use and general waste (down to installing lights that automatically turn off when not in use), the Brewers Association’s Independent seal, a commitment to regenerative agriculture and experimenting with perennial grains (like kernza and sorghum), and even reducing the waste of spent grain by repurposing it for everything from animal feed to wild yeast bread and dog treats. Dr. J. validates, saying, “Anecdotally, craft brewers tend to have more best practices in more areas of innovation. I have seen over and over again the opportunities that craft beer can open up.”

Which just goes to show that beer, like humans, can have a moral compass.

FOOD ON THE 2020 BALLOT TALK (Sunday, July 21st, 2019)

Kate Cox (The New Food Economy) - Moderator

Urvashi Rangan (FoodPrint) - Panelist

Martin Lemos (National Young Farmers Coalition) - Panelist

Jillian Semaan (Green America) - Panelist

At the time of this writing (in late July), there are somewhere around 460* days until the 2020 election. With over 20 democratic candidates, and 1 republican challenger to the incumbent, there are many voices in the arena, but will the food policy issues that impact farmers and consumers be part of the national discussion? 

On one hand, moderator Kate Cox kicked off the “Food on the 2020 Ballot” talk by commenting on “how interesting it is that food and agriculture is making any news at all.” In past years, agricultural concerns have failed to get much play in the national media, much less on the debate stage. However, with anti-trust and corporate consolidation being the center of many of the forerunner’s platforms, there seems to be some sliver of hope that this correlation to “big ag” can become part of a universal conversation. Agriculture certainly hasn’t remained untouched by the claws of consolidation, as can be seen from the monopolization of the big four meatpackers (Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef Packing Corporation) controlling a majority of the beef slaughtered and processed in the U.S. for public consumption; not to mention general unclarity in COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) where meat can be raised, processed and finished in completely separate places, despite what the end label may indicate. 

Much of this consolidation is systemic to the issues that plague our broader economy, but the severe fragmentation of the country’s regulatory system also plays a role. Regardless of who is in office next, they will need to navigate this web of organizations responsible for conducting research and creating regulatory policy. From labeling to fertilizers (which currently can include sewage sludge) & pesticides to the acceptable allowance of feces allowed in animal feed, the organizations tasked with these types of regulation, from the more commonly known USDA (Department of Agriculture), FDA (Food & Drug Administration), and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) down to DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services), FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), don’t do a great job of communicating with one another. The sad truth as confirmed by panelist Jullian Semaan is that, “Federal agriculture doesn’t mean regulated for the betterment of our health.” Even deeper than the lack of communication between operations, Jillian spoke to the “slow” processing of information she witnessed while working for the USDA’s Civil Rights Office for the duration of President Obama’s term. “We were settling cases in 2009-2010 from 1981 to 1986. So that gives folks just a sense of what is really happening probably even today.” If this was happening roughly a decade ago, what leads us to believe things are any different today? Kate expands, reminding the audience that, “changes to census methodology have meant that some farmers, black farmers in particular weren’t counted. It cost them money, it cost them loans, it cost them land.” With all this political turmoil in the food and agriculture realm, this election cycle seems primed for the pendulum to swing back into the sphere of accuracy and equity. But first and foremost that means having uninhibited access to clear, uncorrupted, and unbiased information. Urvashi Rangan confirms, “When we don’t count things, we don’t correlate things properly. That’s the secondary consequence of that. So if you don’t count black farmers, it doesn’t seem like there are any. The analysis can then be very misleading because the data that is being captured is just not accurate.” 

However, amidst what may seem like a dismal forecast, there are some silver linings. First off, there is clear consumer interest. Urvashi relates that “More than 90% of people want to know where their food comes from.” When policy doesn’t support that demand, it means there is immense opportunity to make strides at more clarity in learning where our food comes from.

Martin Lemos, Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition said a bright spot in the most recent 2017 Agricultural Census was the notable rise in local food and organic sales. This means that consumer demand is influencing a food evolution, if you will, which hopefully will result in more incentives to produce and eat this way. Farming remains very difficult to break into with farm land being nearly impossible to purchase without exorbitant wealth along with net incomes not viable to support new, younger farmers creating a national agricultural crisis. But as long as we keep having these conversations, we can help bridge the gaps between misinformation and informed and joyful consumer action.

Lemos continues, “It’s really important that we think about food policy as broader then just what happens on farms. Thinking about healthcare, thinking about access to housing and immigration rights, these things are essential to food policy. We need to be connecting these dots.” What can Slow Food Chapters and advocates do to continue the conversation so a broader audience is connecting those dots? “Building coalitions is important. Connecting with farmers, lawmakers and other advocates. It can be really dire, but we’ve also seen that things happen when pressure with public engagement, voicing concerns, proposing new policy, bringing together large groups of people and engaging diverse coalitions. Look outside your organization and start building bridges with other like-minded groups and even groups that may not necessarily agree, but are willing to have that conversation.” Jillian leaves the audience with a call to action, reiterating that we can’t rely on the government to effect this change. As Slow Food Chapter leaders and community organizers, it’s up to us to keep moving that needle and advocating for changes large and small alike.

*As of 9/3/19 there are 427 days!

Slow Food Nations (Denver, CO) Recap

A little over a week ago, from July 14 through July 16, a handful of delegates from Chicago and the surrounding area flew to Denver, CO to participate in Slow Food Nations. Over 500 delegates from around the world participated - and that number is even higher if you count the locals who stopped by the taste marketplace or stuck around for a demo in Larimer Square. Modeled after Terra Madre, SFN is a festival bringing together leaders and eaters, farmers and chefs, educators and families for a weekend of tastings, tours, and discussions all with the goal of exploring a world of good, clean and fair food for all. Here's a quick recap of the festivities through the eyes of a few of the delegates from the Chicago crew who were in attendance.

Have you been to Denver, CO before?

RL / CC / KJ : No.

Why did you attend Slow Food Nations? What was your motivation?

RL : I have good relationships with some SF board members and Jennifer Breckner (from the Midwest Ark of Taste committee). I was encouraged to attend Slow Food Nations in an effort to represent Chicago an the good work we are doing.

CC : When I went to the Slow Food University in Italy (UNISG), I was completely immersed in Slow Food life. Moving back to the US, I felt somewhat disconnected from the Slow Food movement, until I joined the Slow Food Chicago board. The Slow Food community in Chicago is vibrant and inviting, and I knew that Slow Food Nations would be that times 100! I've attended Terra Madre in the past, and I know how inspiring and energizing it can be to have thousands of Slow Food advocates all in the same space to connect and share ideas. Slow Food Nations was exactly the same, and I came away feeling inspired and excited about building upon the good work we do, which was exactly my motivation!

KJ : As the communications chair on the Slow Food Chicago board, I relish any opportunity to get out from behind the computer screen and interact with other people sharing the same ideals and working towards similar goals - advocating for good, clean and fair food for all. Slow Food Nations seemed like the perfect excuse to do just that! (And having never been to Denver before, making a trip there for SFN wasn't a bad excuse to get to see the city either!)

Photo credit : Chelsea Callahan.

Photo credit : Chelsea Callahan.

What was your favorite part about this July's Slow Food Nations? Was the location of Denver, CO effective?

RL : I thought Denver was a great location for the event. It is a fantastic city that offered a lot to the conference. The talks and sessions were really great, but the interaction and connections, to me, made the trip really worth it. Getting to meet legends in my field like Bob Perry as well as producers of products I enjoy like Geechie Boy Mills, was a real thrill. Being in a common space with common interests with the likes of Cesare Casella, Ron Finley, Michel Nischan, Alice Waters, and on and on.... was inspiring!

CC : I loved every part of it! The energy was amazing, and it was so nice to be in a place where everyone believes in the Slow Food philosophy or was there to learn about it. I met so many interesting people and loved all the workshops I attended. I also thought Denver was a perfect location. I had never been before, but the city is amazing. I spent time outside of the festival exploring local restaurants, indoor markets, farmers markets, etc, and loved the food culture I experienced and people I met.

KJ : Any Slow Food event of this nature is always so affirming for me. There are tons of people in Chicago (and beyond) doing great work towards the Slow Food ideals. But sometimes, it takes an event like this for them to cross paths and really connect. It's a chance to look around and recognize, all our work is not for naught. We are making a difference, each of us, in our own small ways. And it is gaining a critical mass. Sometimes getting that dose of reaffirmation is all you need to go home motivated to dig in a little deeper. I also thought Denver was a great location for the event - it is clearly a foodie city to begin with, but it is also a climate that is very different from my own midwestern experience. So it was fascinating to talk to people about the challenges growers, bakers and producers may face in the dry, humid climate. (A cheesemaker commented that some of her goats were winding up with skin cancer from loving to lounge and bask in the sun udders-up. With the elevation and being closer to the sun, they are at an increased risk.) I'm sure I would have still learned a ton if the conference had been closer to home, but it was fun to get into a different climate/time zone/locale.

What's something you learned about while in Denver that was not on your radar previously?

RL : I learned a lot about different processes ranging from production and scaling to packaging and shipping.

CC : I learned about eating insects at the Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch tasting booth! Although it was on my radar, I had not explored the topic in depth and it was interesting to talk to an expert and try out different insect concoctions like Kentucky fried crickets!

KJ : I learned a lot about cheese! As a baker, I have focused primarily on allergy friendly alternatives to common treats - which lead me to exploring a (sometimes) dairy free diet in my personal life. As I delve more into bread making, the overlap and similarities to beer making and cheese making become really apparent (fermentation - yeah!). So I was really interested in getting outside of my comfort zone and familiarity. I took a natural cheesemaking workshop with David Asher. Coming from the food world, I was aware of some of the prohibitive policies surrounding food production. But, I was a little stunned to learn that the most natural processes (i.e. with less chemical implementation and using natural vs. processed ingredients) for making cheese are technically illegal. Good on David for continuing to do what he does and spread the word so that these techniques are not lost, regardless!

Was there a break-out session, block party, lecture or overall experience that regenerated your enthusiasm for the Slow Food Movement? If so, what was it and how was it effective?

RL : I really enjoyed my session, A Tasting of American Charcuterie for the discussion, but the surprisingly fun part was the prep leading up to the session. I got to work closely with like minded colleagues, but in the same kitchen, both John Currence and Benedicta Alejo Vargas were prepping their events. Also, the party at Hearth and Dram was a lot of fun. Such a diverse mix of people!

CC : The Root to Leaf cooking class with Steven Satterfield was so inspiring and fun! We spent the morning shopping around the market with Steven and talking to the farmers about the unique varieties they grow. Then we went down to the kitchen and Steven prepared several dishes using every single part of the produce we had picked up at the market, from root to leaf: radishes, kale, turnips, carrots, edible flowers and herbs. He prepared grilled carrots with a carrot top, cilantro and parsley chermoula; duck rillete with kale stem crackers and a kale and edible flower topping; carrot top and turnip top green pasta with a white wine, parmesan and turnip sauce; and a frittatta (using the egg whites leftover from the egg yolks used in the pasta) with radish greens, radishes and edible flower topping. All the food was delicious and it was amazing to hear him talk about all the ways you can reduce waste in the kitchen! Another fabulous session was the Deeply Rooted documentary with John Coykendall. John has preserved over 500 varieties of near-extinct heirlooms, and this documentary is all about his efforts to save seeds and stories in Louisiana and Tennessee. The filmmaker and John were there for a Q&A after the doc, and it was so inspiring to hear his story!

KJ : The first night there, I attended the Big Eat. It featured local producers from throughout Denver, CO offering samples and promoting their products. Not only was it a great way to kick off the festivities, but it was so encouraging to see so many producers showing their support and interest in standing behind the Slow Food ideals (and maybe even planning on implementing procedures in their kitchens that reflect these ideals more closely in the future) - to start, so much compostable cutlery - yay! Attendees even got a small logo glass to carry around with them for beverage samples (no waste!). While the event featured no shortage of meat-focused tastes, I was thrilled to come across a completely plant-based cauliflower ceviche topped with a divine avocado crema and even a salted cucumber cider made with apples grown in Colorado and Michigan (that tasted like pickle juice - but in the best possible way - so inventive!). Experiencing the tastes and food of a new place - especially the ones that take you by surprise and are a little off the beaten path - is a great way to get energized about good, clean and fair! It all starts with what goes on our plates!

Photo credit : Chelsea Callahan.

Photo credit : Chelsea Callahan.

What was the best thing you ate while at Slow Food Nations (at the marketplace, The Big Eat, a Block Party or at a local restaurant)?

RL : The pasta with clams and the foie dishes at Old Major were outstanding, the blood sausage at Euclid Hall were excellent, and the Talbott ham that Bob Perry brought was unreal!

CC : This is a tough question! Everything I ate was amazing. It might be a tie with the chocolate almond croissant from Izzio Bakery and Steven Satterfield's carrot top and turnip top pasta!

KJ : For local eats, I had a stone fruit salad and yucca fries (it's all about balance, my friends) at a brewery that was down the street from where I was staying that was divine (they had great beer too)! But I think the best was the open air three sisters delegate lunch curated by Alice Waters - it simply couldn't be beat. Everyone participated in getting the dishes we were to be eating to our tables, which encouraged discussion and enjoyment of the meal (good). The meal highlighted corn, beans and squash and a method of growing where the 3 plants have a symbiotic relationship - the corn provides something for the beans to climb and grow on, etc (clean). A local school provided students as volunteers to help with the preparation of the meal so it could be a hands-on learning experience for them as well (fair). We ate corn tamales, black beans, roasted squash, greens salad, fresh apricots and cherries, and dark chocolate for dessert. It was simple, but perfect!

Can you provide an example of something you experienced while at SFN that you are excited to bring back with you as you continue your work at home?

RL : I feel a closer connection to a lot of great producers and foodstuffs. While my business is based on locally sourced goods, I feel like, as a food community, we should be supporting great product regardless of where it is produced.

CC : I want to build on the idea of eliminating waste in our own kitchens and at events. As I mentioned before, it was great to see a chef like Steven Satterfield really advocating for zero waste and using the whole plant. I want to do more education around this topic. At the end of the event, there was a Zero Waste family meal where Steven and other chefs prepared a whole meal with food that was leftover from the festival so that nothing would go to waste. This is a great concept that should happen at more big festivals and events!

KJ : Do I have to pick just one experience?! From hearing Carlo Petrini speak, to having a "three sisters" lunch orchestrated by Alice Waters, to a panel of chefs influencing policy and change (zero waste kitchens, transitioning to no-tip, etc), and even a discussion surrounding the prevalent deception on food labels and sometimes even at farmers markets - it's hard to choose just one eye-opening experience. But if I have to choose, I guess I'd say the live sourdough starter workshop I attended is the one I knew I would most immediately continue at home. I brought home the sourdough starter sample we were given (aka - smuggled it in my carry-on, totally worth it - it's at least 20 years old!), and just made a fresh naturally-leavened sourdough boule at home the other day. A little while back, I purchased a small stone mill that attaches to your kitchen aid mixer. The next step (given that I continue to keep the starter healthy and alive) is to mill my own flour from whole wheat berry grains (I picked up some Ark of Taste turkey red while I was on a weekend trip in Minnesota) for the next loaf I bake! Now that I have what I learned from that quick workshop to encourage me (and one pretty solid loaf under my belt), I'm going to keep experimenting! 

Photo credit : Chelsea Callahan.

Photo credit : Chelsea Callahan.

If you could sum up the celebration in a sentence or two, how would you describe your experience?

RL : My experience at Slow Food Nations brought into focus the broader community of artisan producers and folks working hard making culturally significant products more broadly available. That food is important as a tool to build communities but also to preserve culture and history.

CC : A celebration of good, clean and fair food, and a place to learn, feel inspired, and connect!

KJ : A confluence of eaters seeking to taste and adjust to more closely align with the ideals of good, clean and fair.