The past few years have brought some changes at Slow Food USA, changes that might leave members wondering about the principles behind the organization and behind their local chapter. It makes sense for us, in advance of our Annual Meeting, to lay out a statement of what those principles have been, and what we hope they will continue to be.
In past years, Slow Food developed a reputation as an elitist organization, largely because of its emphasis on being willing to pay the visible premium associated with good, clean, and fair food. To its credit, the organization took the criticism, in part because it took the long view: the invisible premium on conventional food, measured in terms of environmental degradation and health, would come closer to evening the price than most consumers realized. But elitism is an easy charge to make, a difficult one to evade, and a problematic one for a growing organization. More to the point, there was a growing sense that the emphasis on the best, cleanest, and fairest food excluded many Americans who could not afford it on a regular basis.
Accordingly, there has been a recent shift at Slow Food USA toward an emphasis on lower-cost solutions that nevertheless maintain the standards of food quality. The outcome has been divisive: a recent Chow article, while mentioning the substantial growth in the organization, nevertheless noted prominent defections from the Slow Food fold. According to the article, Slow Food’s shift toward $5 dinners and away from supporting the organic farmers who have been its core constituents is responsible for the disbanding of the New Orleans chapter and for making Alice Waters cry.
We regret that New Orleans is without a chapter, and we hope that Ms. Waters is well. But frankly, we don’t understand the reason for the uproar.
We have always believed that Slow Food should be a movement for everyone. The organization’s shift in emphasis toward younger and less well-off members is welcome, and we seek to continue it and to share it ourselves. But in our chapter, it is not, and should not be, exclusive. We hope that the mix of events that our chapter has sponsored over the past few years speaks to that orientation. We seek, as our homepage has always said,
to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
The quote never specified which people—and it shouldn’t. Slow Food should be a movement that is accessible to everyone on every rung of the socioeconomic ladder. Period. Some of those people have been, and will remain, the core supporters of organic and sustainable farmers around the country. Others may be soon. Still others desire to find the best, cleanest, and fairest options available to them.
It is incumbent upon our organization, and upon the chefs, farmers, and rank-and-file members who comprise it, to use our creativity and skill to realize that vision for everyone. That is our purpose.
If you share those goals, please consider joining Slow Food or keeping your membership current, and if you are a member, please consider proposing a new event.