Slow Food Columbus

Remarks to the International Congress

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Remarks to the Slow Food International Congress
Bear Braumoeller, Board Chair, Slow Food Columbus
October 28, 2012
Turin, Italy 

Thank you, and hello. I am from the city of Columbus in the state of Ohio in the United States. I moved there and helped start the Columbus chapter four years ago, with our Chapter Leader, Colleen Yuhn, who is also a Delegate to this Congress.

Columbus is, demographically speaking, a microcosm of the USA. For this reason, it has become a test market for fast food companies. I’ve discovered that, for the same reason, it is a test market for slow food as well. And today, I’d like to offer you the results of my own “market research.”

First of all, it will surprise few of you to hear that the good/clean/fair message encounters opposition in our community. In particular, despite being in the richest country in the history of the world, 16.6% of our community is classified as food insecure. Under those circumstances, people view cheap food as a legitimate good in its own right. To serve those members of our community, we must be good, clean, fair—and flexible enough to accommodate very limited means.

Second, we have opposition that is powerful and organized. After an animal-abuse video was publicized in 2009, Ohio voted to create a Livestock Care Standards Board. But the Ohio Farm Bureau had already worked to ensure that the resulting Board would serve the needs of Big Agriculture.

At the same time, we have strong allies, and other actors in society can be convinced to help us. (Even, I’m sorry to say, Carlo, capitalists.)

So. What have I learned from this market research?

  1. We need organization. Our Chapter, like most, has little 501(c)3 experience. Our colleagues in Denver and San Diego applied for and received grants for leadership training to learn how to organize and run a nonprofit. I will advise our Board that we should do this too—and I would urge our leadership to make training a priority.
  2. We need stronger connections to our allies. We have strong, respected allies in our community. We can mention them on our website… but we cannot do much more to ally with them.
    Warren Taylor, a Terra Madre delegate in 2010 whom many of you surely remember—I heard laughter and see some smiles, so clearly you do—makes milk according to Slow Food principles. Minimal pasteurization, grass-fed cows, recycled wastewater. He would love to promote Slow Food on the thousands of cartons of milk he produces each month. According to the draft Code of Use that we received before this Conference, however, he cannot. He can’t even call Snowville Creamery a friend of Slow Food, despite its many generous donations. But he can use the Farm Bureau’s Ohio Proud logo for free.
  3. We need numbers and expertise to gain more allies. When I speak to a politician or a publisher, they want to know, “How many members does your chapter have?” Here, I should pause to say “thank you” to Slow Food USA for its big membership push and for modernizing the membership database! Please keep it up. Also, to have useful policy input, we need specific policy expertise. Other nonprofits have policy specialists, even lobbyists. We do not.
  4. We need resources. Revolutions may be born of ideas, but they are won with guns and money.
    For guns, we need the mouths of our public speakers. I’ve heard amazing, intelligent, passionate testimonials about Slow Food here. I hope you’re all saying the same thing in your communities—at Pecha Kucha, TED, rotary clubs, city clubs and so on. You are the best weapons of our revolution.
    For money, we need… money! A ten-year Slow Food member in our chapter said to me, “We have a wonderful, well-respected brand. It’s like Barolo. The difference is that Barolo producers make money from their brand.”

In short, as Carlo Petrini said earlier in this conference, Slow Food is like a child that will need new clothes as it grows. But it also needs different clothes.

It needs the overalls of the farmer—always, always, always.

It needs the beret of the revolutionary.

It needs the button-down shirt of the community organizer.

It needs a good suit—to speak to school administrators, media, and other key actors in society.

It needs a bad suit, to speak to politicians.

And most important, it needs pants with an elastic waistband—so we can sit down at the dinner table with all of them.

Thank you.

One response to “Remarks to the International Congress”

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