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|August 21-27, 2008
• Don’t worry, eat happy
Within posh new digs, Laudisio maintains its culinary confidence
by Clay Fong
• Food Bites
Food happenings around town
A celebration of food
Slow Food Nation converges on San Francisco
by Joan Obra
They’re the kinds of products you’d expect to find at a festival of California artisan foods: organic heirloom rice developed for Merced County soils, a Firebaugh farmer’s cheese made with milk from backyard goats and organic olive oil pressed from hand-picked Tulare County olives.
Come Labor Day weekend, these items and others from the central San Joaquin Valley, Calif., will join Slow Food Nation, perhaps the largest celebration of American food ever attempted.
About 50,000 visitors are expected to converge on San Francisco between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1 to taste the wares of about 1,000 producers from around the country. They’ll head to Fort Mason for the Taste pavilions, collections of regional foods selected by experts. And they’ll buy sustainable food from the Market at Civic Center Plaza.
But Slow Food Nation isn’t just a giant feast. Its organizers intend the event to change how food is produced and distributed in the United States.
“By connecting visitors to the people who grow and make their food, we are demonstrating and celebrating the personal, social, economic and environmental benefits of a strong local food system,” says event spokeswoman Naomi Starkman.
The four-day event is America’s most extensive demonstration of Slow Food, an international movement that celebrates local and rare foods — and rebels against industrial food production. To this end, Slow Food Nation will feature panel discussions about a range of issues affecting food, including treatment of farmworkers, climate change and international distribution of food.
Fundraising dinners at San Francisco restaurants will raise money for organizations such as the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. They’ll also showcase as many local food products as possible.
This emphasis on small, family farms and locally produced food is at odds with large Valley agribusinesses that grow and ship food around the world. So it may seem unusual for the Valley to have what Starkman calls “strong representation” at Slow Food Nation.
Starkman credits Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms in Madera, Calif., for the Valley presence. Willey, a leader of Slow Food Madera, the local chapter of the Slow Food movement, helped assemble an extensive list of Valley farmers, cheese makers and others who fit the criteria of the Labor Day event.
“We tried to represent all of our signature crops, and then the crafted food of people who are doing something new or doing something traditional that’s generations old,” he says. “Obviously, we didn’t cover everything.”
Food from at least 13 of the Valley’s producers will be showcased at the Taste pavilions and workshops at Fort Mason, the Market at Civic Center Plaza, and fundraising dinners at San Francisco restaurants. And Mill Valley-based Sorelle Paradiso will bring oil made from hand-picked Tulare County olives.
At these venues, the stories of farmers will be just as important as the food itself. Robin Koda of Koda Farms in South Dos Palos, Calif., will describe Kokuho Rose, the organic heirloom rice developed by her family in the 1950s.
“It’s definitely not going to be a product I can retire off of tomorrow,” she says during a recent visit to the organic fields. The grains grow slowly and offer low yields. Plus, weeds vigorously compete with the rice plants. But her family nurtures the rice anyway: “We’re just kind of stubborn. Some people may say stupid; I don’t know.”
One taste, however, explains the Kodas’ dedication to their products. A plain, steamed bowl of Kokuho Rose has a complex aroma and flavor that slowly reveals itself as it’s eaten. At Slow Food Nation’s Market, visitors can taste this for themselves. They’ll also see Organic Nirvana, Koda’s blend of organic rice and grains.
In the Taste pavilion, John Teixeira of Lone Willow Farms will show off homemade goat cheese and jalapeño pepper jelly. Folks who talk to him may hear about his interest in growing as much of his own food as possible.
“I gotta eat something else with my heirloom tomatoes,” he says. “So, cheese!”
He bought goats, installed them in a clover field behind an old farmhouse, and read about five books on cheesemaking.
The results: a chevre so mild and soft, it’s reminiscent of ricotta. Young and aged bleu cheeses. And a cheddar wrapped in wax. Plus, lots of stories about interns who care for the goats, which spend their days in fields of clover, rye grass and other treats.
While these bucolic scenes are an important part of Slow Food Nation, they have also brought criticism from folks who see the Slow Food movement as a glorified supper club.
In the March issue of metropolismag.com, Bruce Sterling explains this viewpoint. “Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Italian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini,” he writes. After Petrini and his friends staged a 1986 protest against a McDonald’s in Rome, the Slow Food movement was born.
So far, Slow Food has had a distinctly European feel. “Slow Food acculturates the planet’s wealthy to the gourmand quality of life long cherished by the European bon vivant,” Sterling writes.
Willey hopes that Slow Food Nation will help change this notion. In addition to bringing Valley producers to San Francisco, he and Slow Food Madera are helping organize a tour to Central Valley farms that embrace this philosophy. One of the so-called “Slow Journeys” will bus visitors to California Cloverleaf Farms and Full Circle Dairy, two organic, seasonal grass-based dairies near Turlock, Calif. There also will be a lecture by Joel Salatin, the acclaimed farmer from Polyface Farm in Swope, Va., who champions rearing livestock and poultry on pasture.
There’s a “misperception that our organization is merely a self-absorbed, elitist supper club,” Willey says. But showcasing policy discussions and trips to farms might bring a different view.
As far as Slow Food Nation’s larger goal, however, it remains to be seen if the organizers’ vision will be fulfilled. Willey says: “We intend this event to catapult Slow Food into a major leadership role in the movement to transform the American food system.”
If you go
Slow Food Nation will be held Aug. 29-Sept. 1, mostly in San Francisco. For hours, admission and a schedule of events, go to slowfoodnation.org.
For more information on the Boulder chapter of Slow Food, visit www.slowfoodboulder.org.
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