Slow Food Columbus

Introducing The Snail of Approval

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snail_of_approvalSlow Food Columbus is proud to present our inaugural class of Snail of Approval restaurants for central Ohio.

The Snail of Approval is a program initiated a few years ago by Slow Food New York City in an attempt to recognize businesses that exemplify Slow Food’s values. Its goal was to highlight the best, cleanest, and fairest restaurants in the city so that residents and visitors could find them easily.

We discussed this program with the owners of some of central Ohio’s most sustainable restaurants. We agreed that the standards had to be high, so that those restaurants that don’t really “walk the walk” wouldn’t qualify. At the same time, our standards had to be somewhat flexible in order to recognize that different restaurants exemplify different facets of the Slow Food ideal. Finally, we wanted the certification to be meaningful—rather than being satisfied with an occasional special or a stated commitment, we wanted these restaurants to supply evidence that could satisfy the harshest critic. In the end, the Board voted on a challenging application procedure: we laid out our standards in a detailed rubric, and the burden of proof was on the restaurants to convince us that they met those standards, using whatever evidence they deemed appropriate.

They rose to the challenge, often in ways that exceeded our expectation. One restaurant submitted over thirty pages of receipts from some of the most sustainable farms in the area. Others detailed minute aspects of their practices that speak volumes about their commitment to sustainability. Despite the fact that most of us frequent most of these restaurants, without exception they told us things we hadn’t known—things that made us proud to have businesses like these in our community.

At this point, our list is a short one. Some applications were rejected. In other cases, chefs whose restaurants we thought would be ideal candidates never completed the dauntingly open-ended application process. We set a high bar, both in terms of our criteria and our application process itself, knowing full well that the result might be a very selective group. And that’s what we got.

At the same time, we hope that articulating clear standards for what constitutes a Slow Food-friendly restaurant will give green-leaning businesses a clear target to shoot for. We already have some indications that this strategy is bearing fruit: one restaurant owner who didn’t apply this year told us that he planned to improve his restaurant’s sourcing practices and apply for 2015.

We do anticipate a fair number of questions along the lines of, “Why isn’t (restaurant X) on the list?” The short answer is this: We can’t tell you. Application materials are strictly confidential. We don’t even release information about which restaurants have applied and which have not, because we don’t want the possibility of rejection to deter applicants. If you think we’ve overlooked someone, by all means drop us a line and let us know, or tell the owner to reach out to us. By the same token, if you do visit a restaurant with a Snail of Approval certification, don’t hesitate to let them know that the commitment it symbolizes really matters to you.

Most of all, we hope that this certification will be a valuable resource for our community. We want to recognize the most sustainable restaurants in the area and publicize their practices so that consumers can know what their dollars support—and so other restaurateurs can have a clear idea of what makes a Snail of Approval restaurant.