Slow Food Columbus

Slow Food on a Budget

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Establishing a frugal heritage

One of the more controversial aspects of the Slow Food movement is that of cost. When Leslie Stahl interviewed Alice Waters for 60 Minutes, Waters’ comments on the affordability of good, clean and fair food (“We can’t not afford it”) prompted renewed criticism of a chef and a movement that some see as catering only to the top tier of society. The movement’s founder, Carlo Petrini, while admitting that better food will have to cost more, argues that it shouldn’t have to cost much more—that moderation, and increased demand for quality local products, will bring costs down. Still, as Petrini points out in Slow Food: Collected Thoughts on Taste, Tradition, and the Honest Pleasures of Food, it’s absurd to think that all food is equally good, or that one should be able to purchase better food without paying more for it: the “demagogy of price” is “little more than an alibi for those who produce low-quality goods in large quantities.”

Unfortunately, these realities can leave one with the impression that a diet of good, clean, and fair food is beyond the reach of middle-class Americans, and certainly beyond the reach of, say, those in dire enough economic straits to be eligible to receive food aid from the government.

But is it?

Consider the following story from Salon about a couple that decided to see whether they could adopt a lean, spare, ethical diet on exactly such a budget:

My husband and I would eat conscientiously for a month, not just on our regular grocery allotment but on the government-defined, food-stamp minimum: $248 for two people in our hometown of New Haven, Conn. We would choose the SOLE-est products available — that is, the sustainable, organic, local or ethical alternative. We would start from a bare pantry, shop only at places that took food stamps and could be reached on foot, and use only basic appliances.

The details are in the article itself, which is well worth a read. The upshot is that the experiment was a success:

[O]ur four-week hypothetical did provide a feasible way for my husband and me to eat sustainably long-term: When the month finished — with a magisterial $1.20 left in the cache — we decided to stick with most of our experimental changes. We now eat slightly larger quantities of meat, fruit and cheese, and pepperoni pizza is back in the menu rotation. But apart from that pepperoni (and I’m still looking for an ethical source), I’ve yet to purchase any recurring items that aren’t SOLE-justified, and our grocery bills have stayed lean. … These sorts of practices no longer seem like a statement or an effort. In fact, they seem natural enough that the one question I’m left with is: Why didn’t I start cooking and eating this way sooner?



4 responses to “Slow Food on a Budget”

  1. kareng says:

    I saw a video of Alice making that comment comparing the worth of shoes to good food in the hood. I thought it was very callous and thoughtless. I’ve heard so many good things about her and was disappointed by this. I hope it was a sound bite that just flew out because it just didn’t address the realities and possibilities of what could happen in the hood with the right resources coming together.

  2. kareng says:

    I saw a video of Alice making that comment comparing the worth of shoes to good food in the hood. I thought it was very callous and thoughtless. I’ve heard so many good things about her and was disappointed by this. I hope it was a sound bite that just flew out because it just didn’t address the realities and possibilities of what could happen in the hood with the right resources coming together.

  3. Bear says:

    For those who didn’t see the interview, the transcript from the CBS page is as follows:

    She brought Stahl over to one of her favorite local farmers, John Lagier, who uses only eco-friendly, or as Waters would say, “sustainable” methods. That day he was showing off his specialty grapes, Bronx seedless, which he was selling at $4 a pound.

    There’s the rub. A common complaint about organic food is that it’s expensive.

    “We make decisions everyday about what we’re going to eat,” Waters said. “And some people want to buy Nike shoes – two pairs, and other people want to eat Bronx grapes, and nourish themselves. I pay a little extra, but this is what I want to do.”

    It’s kind of funny… this is one of those sentiments that could really come off in very different ways. As stated it’s got a sort of Marie Antoinette quality to it — when told that people don’t want to afford organic food, her response, instead of “Let them eat cake,” is “Let them wear Nikes.”

    But Ms. Waters is, I think, more of a visionary than a diplomat. She inspires people wonderfully, but there are occasional hard nuances that don’t come through quite correctly, and this may be one. One reasonable interpretation of that remark would be that, as a society, we should be placing a higher (spending) priority on good, clean, fair, local food and a lower priority on material things like sneakers. I’d guess that’s a sentiment with which few farmers or Slow Food advocates would disagree… but by using $4/lb. Bronx grapes in the comparison, she made it seem as though only the highest-end produce qualifies.

  4. Bear says:

    For those who didn’t see the interview, the transcript from the CBS page is as follows:

    She brought Stahl over to one of her favorite local farmers, John Lagier, who uses only eco-friendly, or as Waters would say, “sustainable” methods. That day he was showing off his specialty grapes, Bronx seedless, which he was selling at $4 a pound.

    There’s the rub. A common complaint about organic food is that it’s expensive.

    “We make decisions everyday about what we’re going to eat,” Waters said. “And some people want to buy Nike shoes – two pairs, and other people want to eat Bronx grapes, and nourish themselves. I pay a little extra, but this is what I want to do.”

    It’s kind of funny… this is one of those sentiments that could really come off in very different ways. As stated it’s got a sort of Marie Antoinette quality to it — when told that people don’t want to afford organic food, her response, instead of “Let them eat cake,” is “Let them wear Nikes.”

    But Ms. Waters is, I think, more of a visionary than a diplomat. She inspires people wonderfully, but there are occasional hard nuances that don’t come through quite correctly, and this may be one. One reasonable interpretation of that remark would be that, as a society, we should be placing a higher (spending) priority on good, clean, fair, local food and a lower priority on material things like sneakers. I’d guess that’s a sentiment with which few farmers or Slow Food advocates would disagree… but by using $4/lb. Bronx grapes in the comparison, she made it seem as though only the highest-end produce qualifies.

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