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Wrongheaded Assault on Slow Food

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
The March, 2008 issue of Metropolis focuses on the overarching idea of localism and its relationship to sustainability. It is, as always, a beautiful and well-written issue, but in it one particular columnist, Bruce Sterling, has taken Slow Food to task accusing us once again of that old canard, elitism.

Now while it is true that the movement is often accused of such things, it is not an accurate accusation, nor is it always such a bad thing anyway. Bear in mind that most of the great social movements throughout history were begun by the so-called “elite,” (witness abolition and suffrage - not to mention that Ghandi was a well-to-do attorney). But the places Mr. Sterling gets it wrong are so manifold it’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s try here:

Actually you haven’t seen these foods at McDonald’s because McDonald’s sells hamburgers. Here Mr. Sterling has blundered by believing that who/what Slow Food is is somehow stagnant and monolithic. If such things were true then the US would still be a few puritan slave owners dotted up and down the east coast. Or the Chicago Cubs would have been the National League power for the last century. He goes on…More...

I’ve often wondered what it is about food and wine that makes those who appreciate it automatically labeled “snobs.” Wine is just fermented grape juice actually one of the simplest foods known to man. Appreciating quality is not snobbery. Pretending to know something one doesn’t actually understand - that’s snobbery. For some reason someone who appreciates the inner workings of a fine internal combustion engine is not a snob, but someone who likes a well made buerre blanc is.

My, we are sinister, aren’t we? We are “suave,” and we are “infiltrating” a host of consortia and other institutions (notably journalism, after all, here I am) with our “myrmidons.” (Curious? Yeah, I had to look it up too - despite my apparent position in my ivory tower as an intellectual elite - it means “a follower who carries out orders without question.” Evidently now we’re a cult)

I’m not sure why Mr. Sterling considers these ideas to be so threatening, but the fact is Slow Food couldn’t care less what the McDonalds and Monsantos of the world do, until they start to crap where we live. In the meantime, we promote these ideas because we believe them to be good ideas worthy of proliferation and preservation. Food defines who we are as individuals and as cultures. We are truly what we eat, and too many people are fast, cheap and easy. The right of ADM or Monsanto, Applebees or Burger King to swing its arms ends at the tip of the eater’s nose. Who owns your food owns you, and it is unwise to let that power rest in the hands of a very few wealthy corportations.

Sir, due respect and setting aside your constant condescension for a moment, but there’s been nothing “quiet” about it. Logos for those government bodies and organizations are emblazoned on, for example, ALL the literature regarding the Salone Del Gusto, (need proof? click that link) the largest food show of its kind, atracting 200,000 people each year. Oh, and yes, it’s in Italy. The organization was founded there, that’s why. Our last International Leaders’ Congress was held in Puebla, Mexico because preserving the foods and traditions of the so-called “developing” world is at the top of Slow Food’s mission list. We are not as exclusionary as you seem to think.

In regard to Slow Food’s Presidia project, he had this to say:

Sterling seems to think this is being done for our organization’s own aggrandizement, or perhaps even profit. Simply not so. it s being done because, as the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity do clearly states:

5% of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900

93% of American food product diversity has been lost in the same time period

33% of livestock varieties have disappeared or are near disappearing

30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century, and one more is lost every six hours

The mission of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity is to organize and fund projects that defend our world’s heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions.

We envision a new agricultural system that respects local cultural identities, the earth’s resources, sustainable animal husbandry, and the health of individual consumers.

And yes, Mr. Sterling, biodiversity MUST be served. Nature does not function without it and the industrialization and standardization of food and flavors is a direct threat to that diversity. For those who would like to know the true mission (and criteria) of the Foundation for Biodiversity and the Presidia Projects, please click here.

There he goes again, thinking that there is some profit motive behind what we do, like our 501(c)3 status and clear and concise billing as an educational organization is just some sort of front for gluttonous Nobles Oblige rather that an honest attempt to help preserve flavors, traditions, and ways of life. Does he really believe that mankind’s only choices are get on board with the agribusiness oligarchs or get run over by them? We think not. We think it’s a good idea to try to preserve great food. We think there should be more than one kind of hamburger in the world. More than one flavor of beer. We believe foundations and traditions are important because they make us who we are.

He concludes:

Yes, McDonald’s does do that, as the overwhelming rates of obesity and diabetes among “the poor” (especially children) so clearly demonstrates. But far from reserving these “cherished” foods of the world for some elite class, Slow Food is working to proliferate them, and to return them to the artisans and yes, often peasants, from which they originated. we seek to make people aware of the connections between food and pleasure on the one hand, and awareness and responsibility on the other.

Mr. Sterling’s dismissal of Slow Food’s successful efforts as snobbery or elitism rings quite hollow on closer examination of what Slow Food is truly trying to do. I suggest, Mr. Sterling, that you read more, learn more, and perhaps visit Slow Food Nation this coming summer. There you may open your eyes to a food system we call “Good, clean, and fair.”

“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food,” Thoreau once wrote, “cannot be a glutton. He who does not, cannot be otherwise.”



Read Mr. Sterling’s entire article here
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
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Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
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post #2 of 19
While not the same argument, it's about the same conclusion I came to when you and I discussed this a few years back. I see the crux of the issue this way.

While the principles of Slow Food are not themselves elitist, many of the people in the movement are. In most people's minds, its very easy to see the movement as a concept as the same thing as the people. For example, we see something similar right now in the news in regards to Obama and TUCC. TUCC's principles are one thing, and the people (Wright and Obama) are really another. But it's easy to see TUCC, Wright and Obama as all the same thing. They're not really, but they are related and influence each other.

While the movement and the people ARE different, it can be difficult for people to want to associate with the "evangelist" membership of new movements. However, movements require evangelists to grow and succeed.

A catch 22.

If slow food grows, at some point the moderates will overwhelm the evangelists and the movement will become more palatable to a broader spectrum of members.

Phil
post #3 of 19
I espouse many of the principles of Slow Food. But the movement will not get a dime out of me. I’ve been periodically reading the Slow Food manifesto since 1990, and I continue to be struck by its tone and shortsightedness. To declare evil both speed and machinery and to suggest its eradication is so intensely disrespectful to our forefathers who have worked so hard to give us freedom and prosperity and all of their offshoots like better health (yes, we are healthier than 100 years ago) and choice. To talk about the defense of “quiet material pleasures” is by definition elitist: why can’t enjoying a Big Mac fall under this category? Who is SF to tell me I’m wrong about enjoying what I enjoy? I continue to question SF’s position on environmental policy which seems to ride on the topic du jour rather than acknowledging and using scientific data which may contradict them. SF claims to “guarantee a better future” in keeping with the umpteen unfounded claims in its manifesto. Guarantee you say?

I’ve attended a few SF meetings. Most groups I’ve seen (and I don’t mean to generalize) were composed of chefs hungry for ideas or trying to get behind the latest trends, and their wealthy patrons, bored and gluttonous. I have not been impressed with any revolutionary thinking as of yet.

I am happy that SF has garnered such momentum; don’t get me wrong, it was necessary. We have indeed become a society where the way we meet our primary needs is increasingly dictated by necessity than culture. But I happen to be extremely grateful for the world we live in, where choices abound and you have the freedom to ruin your health if you so choose. I support freedom and democratic food choices by giving people information, not by depriving and accusing them. Cheap food is a necessity that Slow Food has yet to satisfactorily address. Make slow food viable for everybody, not just some, and I might give it a second look. I find manifestos important. To deliberately make them inflammatory to achieve a positive impact is simply too reminiscent of the demands of a 10 year old…

Thank you Devotay for sharing this with us. I do not seek to offend with my post as I find your work invaluable and have the utmost respect for your opinions. I just get a little nervous at SF’s approach and this article was a good reminder of why that is…

My 2 cents.
post #4 of 19
So, what's the point?

So many faeries dancing on the point of a needle.

Over 40 years ago, as a graduate student, I picked a spot to study next to an outreach worker for a Hassidic sect. My then curly red hair and freckles cued him in that I wasn't really a prospective candidate for whatever his task was, but for the lack of a candidate, he began a conversation with me. He was a very interesting chap, whom I thought appeared to be in his 40s, but, as it turned out was a year younger than me. When I asked him what separated his belief system from others, he answered with the word, "pillpool." I have no idea what language pillpool stems from; probably Hebrew or Yiddish. When I asked what it meant, he simply said, "We don't get caught up in discussing the minutiae of irrelevance."

Whenever I see a discussion of slowfood I am reminded of the word, pillpool.
post #5 of 19
You're either thinking of pilpul or sleaux phude. FWIW, pilpul is Hebrew and means "trenchant analysis" or near enough. It's the dialectic of Talmud study.

BDL
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post #6 of 19
post #7 of 19
Thread Starter 
Phatch -

You're right that it's the same issue. And I understand that since some ballplayers used steroids people assume all ballplayers do. We discussed back then that yes of course there are snobs that are members. And yes, Slow Food often throws big, elaborate dinners. We also have barbecues and do taste education workshops with jam or honey in elementary schools. We do a huge variety of activities, from the very small and local to the very large and global, to connect food and pleasure with awareness and responsibility. And while we battle the misperception of snobbery, it is extremely unhelpful of folks like Mr. Sterling to go around perpetuating the idea. That's why I fight back so hard when I see it.

Slow Food will grow tremendously after Slow Food Nation this summer, so I hope you are correct about the implications of that.

Anneke -

I fear you are making one of the same mistakes Mr. Sterling has: confusing Slow Food's origins with it's mission. The manifesto is quaint, it's cute, and it's quite arcane. No longeer does it even come close to defining Slow Food's mission. Slow Food has long since realized that gastronomy and environmentalism are inextricably linked. The gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. The environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is just sad.

There is pleasure to be had in food and that should be celebrated. The importance of gathering around the table with those we love is paramount. No one is "evil" because they enjoy Big Macs. But at te same time it is foolish to enjoy them without also being aware of the implications - the chain of events that cascade from pulling up to the drive thru and getting that #4 Value Meal. We need to be a little more aware of the hidden costs of cheap food. They are manifestly obvious in the impacts on our health care system and our environment, on immigration, on foreign policy, on war.

Steve -

The point is that organizations that are doing good an important work do not need inaccurate and sometimes insulting press from underinformed journalists. When it happens, it should be called out and shown to be false. That is what I believe I've done here.
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
post #8 of 19
"sleaux phude" You are clever!! :smiles:

Hey, cut me some slack...I was spelling phonetically.:lol:

But, I do think pilpul or pillpool, the issue of "slow food" really isn't one that many of us get caught up in.
post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 
100,000+ dues-paying members worldwide. Countless more who are sympatico but don't bother to formally join. 200K at Salone every other year. 100K+ expected at Slow Food Nation.

Maybe you don't "get caught up in" protecting the great food and food traditions of the world, but "many of us" do. And it is a valuable and worthwhile effort that is being conducted not just by Slow Food, but by Chef's Collaborative, Edible Communities, the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, LocalHarvest.org, Sustainable Table, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, The Southern Foodways Alliance, The Ethicurean, Seed Savers Exchange, and many more. It has led to bestsellers such as Fast Food Nation, Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of food, and Animal, Vegetable Miracle.

If you're not into it, that's just fine. I ask only that you not misunderstand it the way Mr. Sterling has here.
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
post #10 of 19
Hey my mom used to be known as the egg lady in Coromandel, NZ. She had these wonderful spotted blue duck eggs. :) Or were they chicken? I don't remember, but people used to come from allover for just her eggs.

I don't know this Bruce Sterling guy, but seems he's yet to meet my mom. She's the least snobbish person I know.
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 
I didn't know about your NZ connections, Kuan. Check you PMs for a question.

Sounds as if your mom is exactly the type of folks Slow Food is working for. And at Slow Food Nation, we'll be rolling out a whole new membership structure that will make it far more accessible for everyone.

Then again, folks don't need to actually join to participate. Order a CSA or shop at your farmers' market and you're already helping. Tell the produce manager at your store that you want to see local produce in the store.

Or buy your eggs from Kuan's mom;)
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
post #12 of 19
Devotay, to help me understand your passion here, what is your association, or involvement with Slow Food?
It is evident that you have taken umbrage with Mr. Stirling's article, but what explains your agitation?
post #13 of 19
Thread Starter 
9 years of hard volunteer work for an organization that is trying to improve the food system.
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
Reply
post #14 of 19
Thanks for the clarification. It always helps my understanding of a person's position, if I know whether or not he has a dog in the fight. :chef:
post #15 of 19
just chill... i mean, honestly... ive never heard of either of you before... either slow-food (maybe i have... but i can guess at what that is from a one liner) or the out-to-make-a-buck journalist who thinks that ousting something as a cult will get him international acclaim

anyone with any sense, like me and i assume (and hope) the rest of us here would read that post and see that your motives are altruistic.

however i do not, can not, and will not trust people i have never met, no matter how altruistic they may seem... nor will i judge people by societies rules...

for one, i can and often do credit adolf hitler with being a man who could have easily been one of the "greats" in world history... to drag a festering country as post WWI germany was out of that sorry state and reform is so efficiently took real guts... and (minus the racism and elitism and evilness) would do most countries now a world of good.

so i shall ignore the entire post... why? because i dont need to be informed of this argument... either sue for slander (or in this case libel if in print) or ignore it.

i believe that your motives are true and just... but i believe the outline of your group would be a very attractive proposition for the elitest snobs i have come to know so well as societies "upper class" i wish you well... i hope you succeed to rid the world of mcdonalds and subway and KFC (especially KFC but thats another story) but i wouldnt put much stock in your chances of being left alone to do it.....
post #16 of 19
It seems to me you have gone to great lengths to try to offend as many people as possible to reach the conclusion that you will "ignore the entire post".

I do urge all the thread's participants to maintain the polite stance that has so far prevailed, and to please keep Hitler out of it. (and yes, kuddos regarding the hyperinflation thing - NOTHING to do with slow food)
post #17 of 19

Many Issues

The increasing use of corn for biodiesel and the effect that is having on food prices is but one of the examples of problems facing us as food professionals. The cost of flour is at all time highs. Grain is used as feed for cattle, etc. leading to increased costs there.

Local farmers are facing serious problems in food production as well. The squeeze on the independent farmer by huge corporate farms is considerable when one realizes they use powerful lobbyists and have the budgets to afford political action committees.

There are a good many issues facing us. The population of the world has grown to such a extent that feeding ourselves affordably and in a nutritionally beneficial manner is a serious problem. Many people in the U.S. alone simply cannot afford fresh fish and must revert to less expensive, hence, less healthy foods to feed their families.

Politics and corporate profit-taking on a scale never seen before are also factors influencing our food outlook.

There is no single solution but we MUST look in all directions to find answers.

It is my belief that the axiom " if you're not part of the solution - you're part of the problem " applies. Be involved, even if only in a small way.
post #18 of 19
"Biodiesel." Interesting. You're sort of right, but missed it by that much. You mean, "biofuel." Which, despite the wonderful Bushism of switchgrass, really means ethanol.

As a part of U.S. energy policy, corn is being used to manufacture ethanol. Because of the types of corn used, the locations of U.S. corn production, the amount of fertilizer and type of agriculture (intensive) required, the processes used to convert corn to ethanol, and the nature of ethanol itself ... Domestic ethanol production doesn't displace much, if any, petroleum use. Whether or not it's a net loss is a matter of some dispute, but no one claims it's much of a positive.

The reasons the US is so strongly attached to ethanol production are entirely political. The big players are agri-business like ADM, and political pandering to states with disproportionate political influence like Iowa, the Big Skies, and the Mid-West swings.

As yet, there isn't much demand for biodiesel. Actually, there isn't much real demand for corn ethanol either. The demand is entirely artificial, created by those ol' deregulators in the Bush Administration.

You're right about the effect on food prices. All too right.

Grain costs are up for a few reasons. Global demand as increased tremendously. Climate change is making grain (especially rice) production less efficient. Arable land is taken out of agriculture and used for other purposes. Here, in the U.S., the biggest hit though is that land that was growing food grains -- especially wheat -- has been shifted to corn for ethanol.

Beef is not an efficient form of protein. As global demand for food increases, it becomes an increasingly difficult economic choice to spend so much grain on growing hamburger. However, competition from cattle is not driving wheat prices in the U.S.

As long as they're growing the right crops, corporate farmers are as efficient as "local" farmers in terms of getting low priced crops to the market. The squeeze on the "independent farmer" is only indirectly related to food costs, in fact, independents make the same money by switching to corn and selling contracts to ethanol manufacturers as corporates. Which is why they're doing it. Don't cry too much for Mr. Greenjeans. He's doing fine, thank you. Which is why we're hosed.

The real "squeeze" on independent farms over the last decade was the cost of land which made it more profitable to sell to real estate developers than to continue farming. FWIW, that's been the true story behind the drive to limit inheritance taxes, too. Grampa dies and the kids can't afford to keep farming -- not because of taxes but because the land that produces a net 35K is worth 10M, and they want to sell and not get taxed for it. "Death Tax" indeed!.

As you say, corporate farmers have enough clout to change government policies -- which do have an effect. But, you can't really blame a corporation for trying. The problem is "the politicians." As "Big Daddy" Jess Unruh, a famous California pol used to say, "If you can't drink their liquor, eat their food, **** their [hookers], take their money, and still vote against them -- you don't belong in this game. I guess most of them don't.

Agricultural policy and the intersection of ag and energy policies haven't been handled well in this country for a long time. However, things became got a lot worse in a hurry when the Bush administration came in. It and its toadies in congress bear most of the responsibility for the horrendous screw-up that is ethanol. If you don't like it, don't vote Republican. Not that the Democrats are necessarily going to fix it, they're just in less of a hurry to make it worse.

At the present time the policies that make the problem aren't getting a lot of attention. No one wants to anger the corn states right before an election. We'll see who grows a big enough pair afterwards. With divided government it's too hard to change policies already in existence. But no matter who controls the White House and the Capitol, I'm not getting my hopes up.

However, I digress. I mentioned arable land moving into developed real estate. That's a supply problem. But the two biggest factors are the effect of shifting land from food to fuel production and the high cost of petroleum itself -- which as fuel, fertilizer and other crop treatments is a big part of getting grain to the consumer. This is all the more painful when you consider that the crown jewel of Bush energy policy is increasing production of "biofuel" in the form of ethanol -- which, as shown, makes it worse. Combine this with the energy effect of the Iraq war -- which has been (a) to keep a huge amount of oil out of the market ; and (b) to postpone the promise/threat of a huge amount of oil coming on to the market. Thus, OPEC, the non-aligned producers and big oil (Exxon, Shell, etc.) have been able to operate in a non-competitive environment and keep prices up on the "spot," and at the pump.

True dat.

The solution/problem thing was coined by Eldridge Cleaver, he of the black leather jacket who, as part of his leap from the closet, moved on to cod pieces (?!) Oh yes he did!. Didn't expect to see many Brother Eldridge fans 'round here. You know I lived through that, wore the buttons, and even barbecued with Brother Bobby Seale. It's my observation that humans, and Americans particularly, have a talent for being part of both at the same time.

At any rate, think before you vote.

BDL
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post #19 of 19

the Small Farmer

Small farmers face other problems that, while a bit obscure, are no less stifling. In my blog - Fried Coffee - I have a link to a very interesting article titled "My Forbidden Fruits". Look it up. I would add a link but I haven't enough posts I guess.



I spent a bit of time down in "peace park" in "Hashbury" as it was called back then. The Grateful Dead were only doing FREE concerts then as they wished not to exploit the common person. He He He
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