Hello, friends of Slow Food, and happy holidays!
I haven’t written a year-in-review email before, but I thought it would make sense to update everyone on what’s been going on with Slow Food Columbus and Slow Food USA. It’s been a year of transitions—mostly, I think, for the better—but it’s also a time of some uncertainty, and we’d welcome your feedback on some of the new directions we’re choosing.
First of all, the new year brought transitions both at the national level and the chapter level. At National, Richard McCarthy took over as Executive Director of Slow Food USA, the office previously held by Josh Viertel. Richard is a professional organizer who founded the Crescent City Farmers’ Market in New Orleans, and he brings to Slow Food a blend of passion and pragmatism that, in my opinion, it very much needs. At about the same time, our own Chapter Leader, Colleen Yuhn, stepped down to focus on her work at the Greener Grocer, and I stepped in as Board Chair. Our Board also gained Mark Anthony Arceño, who brings energetic organizing experience from Denison College and (now) Ohio State, and Cynthia Buckingham Walters, whose tireless work in initiating and maintaining the Shanahan Middle School Greenhouse Project perfectly captures the values that Slow Food hopes to promote in schools.
Both sets of transitions, I think, reflect a subtle but important shift in Slow Food’s focus. We have always sought to be a focal point for consumers and producers who are interested in sustainable food. To a large extent, we’re achieving that goal. At the same time, it’s become clear that we need to do more. We need to take concrete steps to un-do the corrosive damage that industrial food had wrought on our environment, our health, our perspectives on food, and our overall wellbeing. What’s not clear, and hasn’t been clear for some time, is how exactly to achieve that goal.
Slow Food USA’s first impulse toward this end was to become involved in national politics. At one point, a transition to 501(c)4 status was even given serious consideration, though it was ultimately abandoned. The leadership of our newly-formed Chapter spoke out against both ideas in 2008, and I think we were right to do so. One of Slow Food’s great strengths is its ability to transcend partisan politics and bring people together to promote good, clean, and fair food. While ignoring politics entirely may be foolhardy, we cannot become a lobbying organization without losing a substantial segment of our membership—and with it, some of our most important ideals. Moreover, as the well-meaning 2009 “Time for Lunch” campaign demonstrated, we’re just not very good at directly influencing political outcomes.
What we are good at is providing information—more specifically, the information that consumers need in order to make informed choices at the supermarket and in restaurants. Like tobacco companies before them, Big Food has turned to hiding or obscuring information so that it can continue to make a profit. Ag-gag laws, whose only purpose is to keep consumers from knowing how their food is produced, are on the rise: such laws were proposed in 4 states in 2011, 6 states in 2012, and 12 states in 2013. There’s no mystery about why industrial food producers hide their practices: if consumers knew more, we’d buy less. When ABC reported in 2012 that up to 70% of conventional ground beef in the U.S. contained LFTB (a.k.a. “pink slime”), for example, the backlash was so strong that sales of conventional ground beef plummeted and industrial giant AFA filed for bankruptcy.
Increasingly, I think it’s becoming clear that our role as information providers will be central to furthering our mission. We already have strong foundations: the Ark of Taste, Slow Food’s catalog of “hyper-local” foods, continues to grow, and we continue to raise awareness of it with farmers and consumers. At the same time, the biennial Terra Madre conference in Italy has been essential to spreading ideas and fueling passion among key players in the world of sustainability. In highly selective national competitions, Central Ohio sent large and outstanding delegations to Terra Madre in 2010 and 2012—you’ll likely recognize some of them in this video—and we look forward to doing so again in 2014.
But we cannot stop there. We need to find simpler, more powerful, and more direct ways to support a sustainable food system by getting information to consumers. Toward that end:
- We have begun a Snail of Approval program in Columbus, similar to the one started in New York City a few years ago. Starting with restaurants, we will invite businesses to submit applications and provide us with the information we need to certify their practices as good, clean, and fair. We will maintain a list of Snail of Approval businesses on our website and use proceeds to advertise the program.
- We will continue to formulate and publicize positions on important issues such as Ohio’s prison beef program (which undercuts local beef producers), the slave labor that produces winter tomatoes in Florida (which prompted the Greener Grocer to discontinue sales of winter tomatoes from Florida), and Scientific American’s position on GMO labeling.
- We will continue to draw attention to Ark of Taste producers and feature them in our events. Toward that end, we have created a new map of Ark of Taste producers in Ohio for consumers and restaurateurs to use.
- Although many local producers follow Slow Food’s best practices, they are prohibited from using its symbols—the Ark of Taste logo, for example—to identify with the Slow Food movement. We will therefore continue to call on Slow Food International and Slow Food USA to work together to modify the Code of Use that governs the use of these symbols to make it more friendly for our producers.
We’ll have meet-ups throughout the year where we can discuss these programs directly with you. Our first will take place on January 19 at 1 p.m. at City Folk’s Farm Shop in Clintonville, where I’ll be present to talk more about the Ark of Taste.
If you support our goals, we don’t ask that you do much to help us, but we do hope that you’ll join or renew your tax-deductible membership in Slow Food USA so that we can continue to develop these programs. We hope you’ll ask the owner of your favorite sustainable restaurant whether they’ve heard of our Snail of Approval program and, if so, whether their restaurant will be on the list. Finally, we hope you’ll let Slow Food USA know that you’d like it to be easier for our sustainable producers to identify their products with Slow Food and affiliated programs like the Ark of Taste.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for coming out to our events and supporting our Terra Madre delegates and voting with your fork and doing what you can to help us repair our broken food system. And thank you for inspiring us.
Best wishes for a safe, happy, and sustainable New Year.
Chair, Chapter Board
Slow Food Columbus