Entries Tagged as 'Slow Food'

An Instruction Manual for Fixing the Food System

For years people and organizations from Frances Moore Lappé to Slow Food have sought to repair and restore our broken food system, making noticeable but still negligible progress.  Surely more people today are aware that there’s a problem, and admitting that is the first step, as they say.

Thus far, all of these wise, talented and dedicated people have been navigating by the stars in an endless sea of industrialization and fake food.  Despite hundreds, perhaps thousands of books and essays and dissertations and lectures on the subject, there has been no guidebook, no specific “set of instructions” on how to fix our broken system.  To the rescue comes Phillip Ackerman-Leist, a professor at Green Mountain College in Vermont, with Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable Food Systems, a part of a series sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute called “The Community Resilience Guide Series.”  Other books include one on locally-targeted financial investing and another on creating local energy projects. [Read more →]

Why America Needs a Public Hearth

I was raised in the fast food test-marketing capitol of the United States.  Nearly every major fast food chain and prepared grocery product company tests its new ideas in Columbus, Ohio.  Twenty major fast food companies (they prefer the term “quick service”) are headquartered in the Columbus metropolitan area, including White Castle, Bob Evans, and Wendy’s.

When I was five years old my father took me to the very first Wendy’s on its very first day, after which we crossed Broad Street to visit the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), where I first learned of the importance of science in the production of food.  We wandered the artificial streets of “Yesteryear,” only to turn the corner and see what progress had wrought – from woodstoves and grain mills and hand-baked bread to microwaves, TV dinners and Wonder® Bread, all in the blink of an eye, both figuratively and literally.

At the Agriculture exhibitions both at COSI and the enormous Ohio State Fair (where I would get lost that same year), I began my indoctrination into the world of consumerism.  It was made clear to me that “Better Living Through Chemistry” was not only possible, it was preferable.  Chemical inputs made food grow faster, last longer and taste better.  Companies like DuPont, Dow, and Battelle would promise to solve every problem a farmer or a consumer could face.

One year later Wendy’s would revolutionize fast food.  It was Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, who took Henry Ford’s assembly line to the next level when he began using it to turn out burgers at a furious pace.  But it was Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas who took it full circle, not only using assembly-line precepts in the construction of his “Hot & Juicy” hamburgers, but reconfiguring the old “drive-in” of bobby-sox and poodle skirt days into the drive-thru, which took us the next step closer to feeding our children the same way we fueled our cars.

Fast food was not the only industry that was evolving.  In a curious sociological coincidence of the time, we no longer had to leave our beloved cars to feed ourselves, but the service station gave way to the self-serve pump.  We needn’t expend any more effort than to press on the accelerator to feed our families, but to fuel our cars we then had to leave their confines and do the work we once paid others to do.

Three decades later, we would fuel both our families and our cars with the same ingredient – corn – which grows plentifully in my boyhood home of Ohio, and even more so in my adult home of Iowa, the heart of the agribusiness beast.

Over my half-century of life in America I have witnessed what might one day be referred to as the most rapid and uncontrolled period of social evolution in human history, in which a mind-boggling array of influences conspired in a perfect storm of high technology and rampant, vapid consumerism.  Cause and effect were conflated to a point where it was impossible to tell, most of the time, which was which.  And somewhere in that rigmarole, America made the decision, as a culture, that it was preferable to leave not just food production, but also the actual act of feeding our families up to large, distant corporations.  Our lives were moving so fast that anything that appeared to be a time-saver was immediately adapted as a saving grace.  This so that we could have more time for work, to make more money, so we could buy more of these timesaving products.  Or it was so that we could have more time to spend with our families, which we very rarely actually did, except when in our cars or in front of the television, made feasible with all our perceived extra time

It is at about this point, when I discuss such things with people, that someone will begin to formulate the accusation that I am a Luddite.  The first time it was alleged, I admit, I had to look it up.  It turns out that the original Luddites were early-19th century English garment workers, incensed that their jobs were being taken by machinery and low-skilled labor.  They responded my smashing the new automated looms and often resorted to full-scale battle with the Royal Army.  Today the term is used to label anyone who, according to Wikipedia, is “opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general.”

I would like to think that the fact that I just referred to Wikipedia, or the fact that I wrote this blogpost on an iMac, might allay any such fears.  But then I find myself going on about the absurd fact that very soon after H. Cecil Booth invented the modern, motorized vacuum cleaner, wall-to-wall carpeting became the home flooring of choice, thus creating the need for more vacuuming.

The same sort of thing has happened to one degree or another, with almost every technological advancement of the last 50 years.  We have luxuriant cars and now must commute further than ever.  Our computers and mobile phones and hi-def televisions have made office work, communications and entertainment nominally faster, cheaper and easier, but we now spend hours upon hours glued to one or the other of them, often even all three, in lieu of real time spent with real people.  We have, in the words of the old original Slow Food Manifesto, fallen victim to “the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.”

In the meantime America was sold a bill of goods.  We were tricked. Hoodwinked. Hornswoggled. We were deceived, cheated and misled into believing that that most sacred of acts – that of preparing food to sustain our families – was a chore on par with washing windows: something to be avoided if possible, or better yet simply left to others, and then done only very grudgingly and quickly and only if there is no other option at hand.  The simple result is that if we are what we eat (and we are), then most of us are fast, cheap, and easy.  What’s more, if you are what you eat, then who owns your food owns you.

The worst of many bad results of this cultural regression which we were assured was progress was this: we reared an entire generation who never learned how to cook, and today that generation is rearing yet another.

“But no!” I am often reassured. “Look at the size of our grocery stores!  Witness the popularity of the cooking shows on television!”  These are intended as examples of America’s love of cooking.  In reality, they are examples of America’s love of consumption (which you may recall was once a name of a disease).  Those grocery stores of 50 years ago gave way to the supermarkets of 40 years ago, which gave way to the hypermarkets and “big box” stores of today.  The stores get bigger and bigger, but the amount of actual, fresh, wholesome food shrinks in nearly exact inverse proportion.  Variety and quality are sacrificed to the gods of expedient mediocrity.

Meanwhile on our televisions most (though admittedly not all) of the food programming is insipid, gossipy, self-flagellating melodrama of supposed cooking competitors stabbing each other in the backstage with name-brand cutlery.  The rest of it is pure pornography: people who are prettier than the rest of us doing things we’ll likely never do, in places we’ll never visit, and doing it better than any of us could hope to.  But this is America!  We love to consume that too.

Where once the great Julia Child ruled with a soft hand, admonishing us that “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients,” we now have Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, which are far more about judgmental insults and manufactured suspense than cooking.

Real cooking is about none of those things.  It is a very simple craft, yet it can inspire deep passions.  Like architecture it is built on a few basic fundamentals – a foundation if you will – and like architecture, if you have a strong foundation the possibilities are nearly limitless.  After all, the source of the word “foundation” is the Latin fundatio, which is also the root of the French word for soup stock: Fond, which in turn is the very basis of modern Western cuisine.

Cooking is a simple act of love.  It is, in fact, the single most tangible demonstration of our love for our families and our friends.  It deserves appropriate reverence.

How, then, can we recover from our industrialized computerized malaise?  We must rejuvenate the kitchen and table as vital centers of our everyday lives, and we must reconnect food and pleasure with awareness and responsibility.  Here I do not mean merely the upper-middle class McMansion types with their kitchens that cost more than most people’s homes (although in my experience those kitchens usually do not receive anywhere near the actual cooking activity necessary to justify their costs).  No, I mean everyone, and most especially the overworked single moms, the two-parent gotta-get-to-soccer-practice mini-van families, the recent immigrants who feel bewildered in a Walmart Super Center, the college kid with a dorm room hotpot, and the young couples with new babies, who never learned how to cook at their parents’ or grandparents’ apron strings

To do this, we must create legions of cooks, and then inspire them to create still more legions, and so on.  In order to be effective, it must be based on the precepts of what Slow Food calls “Good, Clean, & Fair” food.  “Good” means that it is good tasting, good for you, and good for the environment where it’s grown.  “Clean” means there is nothing in the food that isn’t food (and if it wasn’t food 100 years ago, it still isn’t food now).  And “Fair” means that the people who produce the food should be justly compensated for their efforts – from farm to table.

The Public Hearth is an effort to create legions of cooks, starting in farmers markets and church basements, youth clubs and social halls.  It starts with a neighbor sharing grandma’s tamale recipe, sure, but more important than the recipe is the technique, the skills involved.  We must marshal the resources necessary to make everyone know the difference between roast and braise, to be able to choose the best potato for a salad as opposed to a French fry, to make a stock from scratch and feed two people three meals from one chicken.

Also more important is that simple act of sharing, of being with family and friends and passing along knowledge and skills.  That is what builds community.  In Colonial America, and many parts of the world before then, villages would often have a central community oven, where townspeople would bring their dough to be baked, thus saving time and money by sharing the labor and fuel.  They would trade ideas and community news and baking techniques even as they traded loaves of bread.  The Public Hearth was a gathering place where communities grew closer together though the simple act of breaking bread.  And at the risk of too much Latin etymology, it is useful to know that the word “Companion” come from con panis, literally “with bread.”

Let’s get cooking.

~kmf, February, 2013

You Say Tomato, I Say Slavery

You would never participate in slavery, right?

I know, it seems like a bizarre question in this day and age–of course no sane, civilized member of a modern society would take part in the indentured servitude of others. Lincoln ended all that 150 years ago, didn’t he? And of course you and I would never have anything to do with slavery in 2010.

The dirty little secret though is that millions of Americans are contributing to it each week and they don’t even know it. When you buy tomatoes at the local Publix, Ahold, Kroger, or Walmart, you become the last link in a chain that is attached to shackles in south Florida. We all know Walmart especially is well known for their tireless efforts to force suppliers to keep costs down for everything they buy. One of the results of this kind of business practice is that the wage that pickers are paid for those tomatoes has not gone up for more than 30 years. That wage is $0.45 per bucket of picked green tomatoes, or $0.0145 per pound. And that’s for the ones who actually do get paid.
[Read more →]

Book Review: Empires of Food

Food history is our true history

I spend a great deal of my time on extremely small-scale food production.  Growing, procuring, cooking, eating, and writing about locally produced food is my bread and butter.  Thus picking up a copy of Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations was in some ways a departure for me.  Authors Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas are examining a world that looks to me much the same as the Grand Canyon must look to a mouse.

Culinary history is a truer history though than almost any taught in schools.  Most of what we were taught in high school or even college was little more than the chronology of war.  You may remember that the Norman Conquest occurred in 1066, you probably don’t know about the advances in agriculture that resulted from it, like the invention of the moldboard plow.  The authors suggest that this one innovation might well rank alongside the wheel or steam locomotion in terms of its importance to human development.

Across 12,000 years of history, Empires of Food lays out in clear and compelling terms the ways our world has been shaped by the repeated, head-on collision between politics and the production, transportation and consumption of food.  We learn how the Romans knew of the effects certain vitamins had on health and strength even if they didn’t know what the vitamins themselves actually were; how the ancient Chinese were ahead of even today’s methods of seed selection; of the inescapable importance and value of clean, fresh water. [Read more →]

Still another critic of real food – this time in the NYT

In Sunday’s New York Times, Damon Darlin has now weighed into a debate which I am suddenly making a career of noticing, that of publicly lambasting locavores. Normally a tech writer (and perhaps better suited to it), Darlin has wheeled out some of the same tired points that others have recently, making them officially clichéd.

It takes only 12 words before he drops Michael Pollan’s name, whose best-selling books argue eloquently for a better food system, and in the next paragraph he mentions Michelle Obama’s organic garden at the White House, though he makes no mention of her new “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity, for which this garden is a tool.

I was going to dismiss Mr. Darlin’s piece as not worthy of notice despite its prominent placement in the Paper of Record and thus avoid writing my third column lamenting this misplaced disrespect for eaters who care what they eat (I swear I do have better, more enjoyable things to write about), but then he said this:

Some of these so-called locavores may think they are part of a national movement that will replace corporate food factories with small family farms. But as much of the East Coast lies blanketed beneath a foot or more of snow, it’s as good a time as any to raise a few questions about the trend’s viability.

via Read the whole story in the Huffington Post.

Another Assault on the SOLE Food Movement

Causing no end of difficulties in our national discourse is the steadfast belief held by both the right and the left that everything is either right or left: bad or good, strong or weak, despotic or patriotic.  You’re either with us or you’re against us.  President Obama addressed this very effectively before both House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent days.  It is media driven to a large extent because the media need controversy to sell papers, or bytes or views or whatever it is they’re selling these days.

The most common form this takes is the old build’em-up-then-tear’em-down routine.  Perhaps the only thing many Americans enjoy more than the uplifting emotion of a success story is the schadenfreude of watching that success come tumbling down.  So when an idea comes to the fore, the critics ooze from the woodwork and their primary tactic is divide and conquer.  Label it, frame the debate, and the fight is won or lost before the story is even told.

For a long time in the circles I travel in this was not a problem because the ideas embodied in what some have come to call SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local, & Ethical) were not perceived as a threat to the established paradigm.  Recent successes such as Michael Pollan’s work have, however, shined a very bright spotlight on advocates of real food.  As a result, people who have been toiling at these ideas for decades are becoming targets of powerful interests in the Big Food lobby.  Such is the case this week at WeeklyStandard.com, where Missouri Farm Bureau vice president Blake Hurst has found his most recent audience.

Mr. Hurst was among the earliest vocal detractors of Mr. Pollan’s work, as well as that of anyone who might find flaw in agroindustrial model.  His essay last summer, titled The Omnivore’s Delusion, did an excellent job of exploiting Pollan’s success to rally the big corporate agriculture interests against the perceived threat of critics both in the media and in the field.  It’s natural: he felt attacked and he responded, and has now done so again.  Unfortunately Mr. Hurst’s vitriol, then as now, only serves to fan the flames of a fire that needn’t be burning.  Individuals on neither side of the debate are inherently evil, in fact both want the same thing: healthy food for all.  Since our ideas for how to accomplish this differ, we are immediately cast into the right and left corners and told to come out fighting when the bell rings.

Read the whole essay @ Civil Eats

Let’s (re)do school lunch | Grist

There has been a cultural revolution in this country over the last 50 to 75 years, a sort of intellectual cleansing that has removed from most people’s minds any understanding of food, of cooking, of the pleasures of the kitchen and table, and replaced it with the language of the drive-thru, the shopping mall, and the convenience store. Michael Pollan recently addressed this problem well.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our schools, where our kids are not taught about food and cooking, not even the “Home Economics” of my high school years. No, instead the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) teaches something called “Family and Consumer Science.” There you have it—we are not raising citizens, we are raising consumers. Our children are being taught one way of surviving in this modern, fast-paced world: the way of conspicuous consumption.

via Let’s (re)do school lunch | Grist.

Civil Eats » Blog Archive » Feeding Our Kids Better School Lunch

In 1946, when President Truman signed the School Lunch Act, he said, “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.” If that was a statement of purpose rather than merely a rhetorical flourish, then the School Lunch Act has failed.

Today in America we have steadily rising rates of childhood obesity, and if you were born after 2000, you have a startling one-in-three chance of developing early-onset diabetes. Meanwhile America now has more prisoners than farmers, and among those few remaining farmers the average age is 57.1 and rising. The equation becomes quite simple to understand: No farmers equals no food.

In an effort to raise awareness and rally support behind changes to the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Slow Food USA has created the Time for Lunch campaign. This campaign is calling on Congress to provide the resources schools need to serve real food for lunch. Those involved in making the day-to-day dietary decisions for our children do not have the adequate resources to provide healthy, nutritious, and yes, tasty food for our kids. This must change. It’s time to invest in children’s health, protect against food that puts children at risk and teach children healthy habits that will last through life.

Read the whole post at Civil Eats

The Bloomsbury Review

A Cook's Journey in the March/April issue of the Bloomsbury Review

A Cook's Journey in the March/April issue of the Bloomsbury Review

Alice Elia wrote a glowing (if I do say so myself) review of A Cook’s Journey in the latest issue of the Bloomsbury review. Pick up a copy and turn to page 12, or simply read the transcript below. For a first book, this is a pretty big thing I think.

“Slow Food,” simply put means thinking about where your food comes from, how it is raised and cared for (and by whom), and how it got to your table. It is, by definition, the opposite of fast food. Slow Food is thoughtful food. In this book, chef Kurt Michael Friese introduces us to people who love and nurture the land and foods that provide for their own families and others who are living a lifestyle supportive of the Slow Food Movement. These are people who appreciate biodiversity in fruits, vegetables, and animals; who are trying to educate others about the joys of a simple life, and ways in which to acquire and enjoy good, local food; and who take great joy in making food better for all of us.

In addition to wonderful stories from farmers, artisans, and chefs regarding food and their love of it, the book contains recipes for 34 inspired dishes. The Soupe au Potiron (pumpkin soup) is certain to be a seasonal favorite, and the Sweet Rosemary-Pear Pizza blends unexpected flavors to create a delightful meal. All the recipes were provided either by the author or the people he talks to here, and they all center on fresh, local ingredients and the joy of food preparation. Readers who are tired of eating simply to be fed will find Friese’s A Cook’s Journey, Slow Food in the Heartland refreshing and thought-provoking, and it will inspire them to learn more about the origins of the food on their own tables.