Slow Food USA isn’t about consuming your meals in slo-mo. It’s about reconnecting us with the people, plants, animals, soils and waters that produce our food, in order to create equity, sustainability and pleasure in consumption.
I recently talked to Slow Food USA’s president, Josh Viertel—a former shepherd, fisherman and baker.
You co-founded the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which brought local food into the school’s dining halls. Did students really flock to the food, or were they still stuck at the Fruit Loops?
The college students loved it. There was a line out the door, all the way out to the waiting area. It began at just one dining hall, so people started counterfeiting their IDs to get in and tried to bribe the woman who swiped IDs. At Yale, our starting point was that it has to taste better. We served grass-fed beef hamburgers, pizza made with all local sustainable ingredients, awesome brownies made with free-trade chocolate. It wasn’t like we were just serving brown rice and Swiss chard. The key was seducing them with really good-tasting food.
Why is the slow food movement so important?
The everyday act of eating is a great way to interact with your community and a great entry point for changing the world. It reflects your values; the story behind it reflects your values; you can show your values through how you eat.
Isn’t it hard to slow down the act of eating and thinking about your food when everything else in the world is moving so quickly?
It doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down. I move really quickly. I’m doing a lot of things to try to change the world. Slow is the opposite of fast as a value. If you look at what fast food has meant, it’s treating people poorly, making people sick. Slow food brings people together, allows them to enjoy each other’s company over a meal. In part because everything is moving so quickly, people are drawn to that. There’s a really deep hunger for sitting around a table, sharing a meal and talking.
What is it about eating meals together that’s so important?
It’s a great thing to do in and of itself, and it’s something that can lead to an organized community and sense of connection to people. If you’re trying to do something like change the food in your local public school, or trying to get someone elected who supports the issues you care about, sitting around a dining room table and talking about it is a great way to start a movement.
You’ve talked about it not being enough to shop at farmer’s markets. Why?
There’s been this idea in the food movement that we need to reflect our values in the food we eat. It’s a good starting point, but a lot of people can’t, because of access issues, because of poverty. And the cards are stacked against us—the default behavior in our society is not a healthy one. The idea that everyone should shop at a farmer’s market is a good idea but it’s not realistic. So that means those who can should, but everyone has a role to play in these bigger structural changes.
I’ve seen one mom who is a slow food leader in Southern California who has set up gardens in 23 schools in her community because she wanted all the kids there to grow up knowing where food came from. You can also band together with other like-minded people to fight for save school lunch, like our Time for Lunch campaign—an example of a network of people who are trying to make changes to federal policy. You can support policy that means people can use their EBT—food stamps—at farmer markets. There are programs in place that do that, and we need to expand those programs really quickly. It’s a fantastic way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in underserved areas. We also need a lot more farmers markets.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com