‘Good, clean and fair’: the Slow Food movement from Italy makes inroads in New Mexico

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Benina Burroughs of Merced, Calif., looks over a display of cherry tomatoes by Farmers with ALBA from Salinas, Calif., at a farmer's market during Slow Food Nation in San Francisco, Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. The four day celebration of food goes through Sunday. Slow Food has grown into a cause advocating fair trade, sustainable farming practices and celebrating traditional foods. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Somehow in 1986 in the small city of Bra in northwest Italy, some bright men, responding to the fast food craze, decided to found a non-profit association to defend quality foods and develop excellence in food production across Italy and in the world. Today that association is called Slow Food and has spread to more than 150 countries. And it’s here in New Mexico.

Twenty years ago Californian Ellen Lampert was a professor in Cologne, Germany. On occasion she went to meet a friend who ran a restaurant in Bourbon-Lancy, a medieval French town on the river Loire. “That restaurant followed Slow Food rules, and was a very inspiring undertaking at that time,” Miss Lampert says. Years later she settled in Santa Fe and, with a group of other foodie people, soon founded the local Slow Food chapter. Now she’s one of the organizers of the group that runs several activities in the City Different. “We have a wide variety of people in our chapter: farmers, food activists, the son of the former deputy prime minister of Afghanistan, somebody from Cameroon. We’re pretty diverse,” she explains in an interview during a recent chapter event in Santa Fe. “We are not typical of a U.S. Slow Food chapter, because people involved in this kind of activity in Santa Fe tend to be older.”

The chapter members meet once a month at Lampert’s house for “Dinner and a Book.” Everyone brings home-cooked food or drinks to share. After dinner the member discuss a book they were assigned to read in the previous thirty days. October’s book was ‘Yes, chef!’ by the renown Swedish-Ethiopian-American chef, Marcus Samuelsson. In past years they’ve discussed dozens of books, reflecting on the world of food and the role of food as an identity factor and element of culture. “The book for the following month is chosen by majority from a handful of titles,” Lampert says.

Slow Food, now a worldwide network of more than 2,000 communities, stands against the ‘fast food culture’ and the side effects of globalization – among which the most significant are standardization, artificial foods, fast life, wrong way of living and eating, and the exploitation of natural resources. Restoring awareness of the need for eating well and preserving the environment, educating people to think about food as an element of identity and culture, and fostering respect for farmers and food-producers are some of the main purposes of the Italian organization.

In Italy food has always had a strong cultural and social meaning. The table is the place where families and communities move around. Increasingly during 80s and 90s, the renown healthy Mediterranean diet and the rituals and complex meanings connected with food were endangered by the mass-made, saving-time idea of fast food. The area where Slow Food was born and firstly developed has a strong cultural perspective and a long tradition of international ties and excellence products export (above all wines from Langhe and chocolate-and-nuts-based produces) and was more sensitive to the threat of ‘junk food’.

Slow Food has for years organized and run local market networks, founded new chapters and established ‘presidia’ to save quality food production in danger of extinction. And, it has founded a University for Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. Every two years in Torino, Italy, Slow Food coordinates ‘Terra Madre,’ a worldwide meeting of food producers who come together to discuss food-related issues.

The United States has the second largest Slow Food network after Italy. Yet, it seems there’s still a lot to do to educate Americans. “When I was in Europe in early 90s, Europeans were rejecting the adoration of American fast food, not using these outlets as a substitute for meals at home. I do think that the American fast food outlets have disrupted not only the intake of real food, but the fabric of the family social structure as well,” Lampert points out. “I began to read all of the labels on ‘food products’ and realized that if I was going to shop in a supermarket I would have to ‘shop the walls’ if we were going to remain healthy. And I began to look for local farms. The Slow Food message is “good, clean and fair,” and that’s what I looked for.”

During the last Southwest regional meeting in June, in Prescott, Arizona, it turned out that one of the major worries in this area concern genetically modified foods. There are very few suppliers of non-GMO food. According to Lampert, the Santa Fe chapter is trying to stimulate the discussion and awareness of how vigilance in one’s food supply leads to increased health, appreciation of cultural diversity and a stronger social structure.

In the past few years the Santa Fe chapter has been working to open itself to the community, teaching classes in horno cooking at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, in micaceous clay pot cooking taught by local potters, and in fermentation. They’ve also run a tour and tasting at Santa Fe Spirits, and sponsored author and book events.

“Being part of a global community that not only emphasizes the enjoyment of food, but also thinks about sustainability and fairness in the production of food” is the most important Slow Food issue according to Ardis Burst, senior member of Santa Fe chapter. According to Burst, “the international, national and regional barriers are breaking down. Now the big question is how to do this without losing the wonderful uniqueness of the different food cultures that make up each part of the world.”

A senior member as well, Patricia Brewer joined the chapter in its very first days. “I had read about the international organization and liked the purpose so I researched and discovered there was a local chapter, so I joined immediately.” She believes that something is changing in the American food culture. “There is a new awareness in the U.S. regarding food and nutrition,” she explained during an interview by e-mail. “Families are beginning to cook at home again, but it’s never going to return to the 1950s. I think many parents are trying to combine convenience with semi-homemade to produce nutritionally sound but economical meals.”

On Nov 7 the Santa Fe Slow Food chapter had its annual fund-raising dinner at 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar. The funds gathered will be used to enable some local food producers to join the Terra Madre 2014 meeting in Torino.

Something is happening in Albuquerque too, as some citizens are forming a local Slow Food chapter. One of the first events promoted by the new group will be a food related short film documentary, followed by a discussion. It’s going to take place on Nov. 13, at 6.30 pm at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center.

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Santa Fe Slow Food chapter members during one of the last "Dinner & a Book"

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