I'll admit that I was a little skeptical of what seemed to be the new rage among a small, self-selected group of food snobs and granola-munching vegans. As much as I love taking the time to prepare and eat great food, becoming involved in the Slow Food movement has always seemed like a daunting task; something reserved for extremely pretentious, Cabernet-clutching gourmands-- not 15-year-olds. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't at all sucked into the Slow Food cult last weekend. I was-- dare-I-say-- inspired by the people I met and the food I ate at the weekend of events in San Francisco on Labor Day.
The Slow Food movement began in Italy in 1989, when Carlo Petrini joined the protest against the opening of a McDonalds near the Spanish Steps in Rome. According to SlowFood.org,"Slow Food works to defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives." The movement soon grew into an organization, expanding to include 83,000 members with chapters in more than 122 countries. The San Francisco Slow Food Nation event was the largest celebration of American food in history, with over 60,000 people attending. According to the New York Times,twenty percent of attendees were from outside California.
My Slow Food experience began when I interviewed Sam Levin, a 15-year-old from Western Massachusetts who started a community vegetable garden with the help of local students. Eleven months later, he already has plans to expand the garden to 27,000 square feet and provide produce to the local school cafeterias. Sam showed me that with a lot of devotion and a little patience, someone my age can really make a difference and be taken seriously. You can listen to our interview below in the previous post. The adult-dominated food world doesn't seem quite so intimidating anymore, and I now hope to get more involved in local food events. I would also like to start a rooftop garden here at Youth Radio.
On Saturday, I went to the Taste Pavilion at Fort Mason Center. For $45 to $65, foodies could sample a cross section of regional specialty foods prepared by artisans from both the Bay Area and the rest of the country. The "tastes" included beer, bread, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, fish, honey & preserves, ice cream, native foods, olive oil, pickles & chutney, spirits, tea and wine. Although I don't feel the amount of food I tried was worth the $45 and long lines, the proceeds were, according to Slow Food Nation, used to cover the costs of all of the free events held over the weekend. While some of the food was just good, the piping hot naan prepared fresh in a tandoor oven outside the pavilion was some of the best I've ever tasted; made by the chefs from Berkeley's Breads of India, I was served three types of the Indian flatbread. One was filled with a spicy mixture of potatoes- creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, and two others were equally delicious, topped with a mint puree and tamarind sauce. Another one of my favorite tastes were the pickles and chutneys. I sampled intense pickled beets, sour Salvadorian-style cabbage, bitter preserved lemon, and syrupy sweet black figs. The combination of these flavors was a truly unique experience. I also sampled $300-a pound-tea from Southern China, a trio of tasty fish dishes, and olive oils from across California. Noting the lack of ID checking and short lines at the Beer Pavilion, I thought I'd give a go at getting some beer. I casually walked up to the counter, trying to hide the fact that I'm only 15 years old and covering up the Youth Radio written on my press pass. Without even opening my mouth, a young bearded man enthusiastically offered me a glass of his homemade pale ale. YES, I thought to myself... free beer! When the man asked if I was familiar with mate', I proudly confirmed my love of the South American tea consumed in great quantities and by the people of Argentina and neighboring countries. I decided this man was my soul mate when he told me that his pale ale was infused with the tea. When I asked the proud beer maker how he came up with the deliciously bitter creation, he told me that one day he had some mate' for breakfast and then later had a glass of pale ale, and just like that... inspiration! I now think back to that beermaker as the epitome of Slow Food USA. He is passionate, yet not pretentious, willing to experiment with the new while conforming with traditional techniques, and, most importantly, absolutely loves what he does.
On Labor Day, I attended an "Eat In," or glorified potluck, at Dolores park in the Mission. It was a beautiful day and the lawn was filled with hoards of tanning, barely-clothed men, picnicking hipsters, and giggling children. Long tables, elegantly set with white table cloths, were set up for the event to overlook the rest of the city. I caught the tail end of the speakers who ranged from the future president of Slow Food USA to young farmers like Sam Levin, the teen I had interviewed earlier that weekend. After the speakers were finished, everyone sat down to a fantastic, free meal of locally grown food prepared mostly by attendees who had volunteered. Some of the produce was seriously local-- grown just a few miles away in front of San Francisco City Hall. Because I was "press," I didn't help prepare the food, but most everyone else there had helped in one way or another. I did, however, bring my own plate as asked to do. This proved very useful when digging into the delicious heirloom tomato salad, chickpea stew, and heritage pork roast. The long weekend ended wonderfully when I got a chance to have an engaging conversation with Alice Waters. All in all, I'd say my weekend both reinforced and broke some of my stereotypes of the Slow Food movement. But one thing became clear to me. I absolutely LOVE food! Ella / Healthy Food Intern / Youth Radio