Slow Food: A solution for small producers?

It’s a fast-paced world we live in, and over the past two decades America has grown accustomed to getting their food fast as well. But as a result, the speed in which America has gained weight has swelled to epidemic proportions

It’s a fast-paced world we live in, and over the past two decades America has grown accustomed to getting their food fast as well. But as a result, the speed in which America has gained weight has swelled to epidemic proportions.

In an effort to take aim at the fast – and cheap – food craze, which many argue has taken its toll on consumer’s health, a proposal to ban (or limit) fast food restaurants in California garnered much attention last fall. But is it truly a solution? Won’t consumers just find their fat, salt and super-sized meals – with a diet soda – someplace else?

Instead, an organization called Slow Food USA proposes that food industries take a different approach with consumers – a slow one – where the “taste, tradition and honest pleasures of food” take center plate. Founded in Italy over two decades ago by an Italian who was outraged that a McDonald’s was opening in his village, the slow food movement is about celebrating food and the people who devote their lives to producing it.

It’s a concept that just might offer some lessons for the beef industry – especially small niche producers who can deliver the taste and heritage slow food consumers crave.

What is “slow food?”
In essence the slow food movement is about telling food’s story and connecting the consumer to that person, place and process of how their food was produced.

Slow Food is about coming together as a food community—connecting on the farm, in the market, and at the table—to create and enjoy food that is good, clean and fair, explains Erika Lesser, executive director of slow food USA.

She adds that when we shorten the distance—both literal and figurative—that our food travels to get to us, we are participating in the slow food movement.

What does slow food hope to accomplish?
“We represent the consumer. Not just any consumer, but those who are fed up with the industrial diet. They don’t want to eat meat whose origin is dubious – and hard to trace its country of origin. They don’t want tomatoes as hard as baseballs,” says Lesser.

“Instead, we want to help consumers reclaim a source of pleasure from their food,” she says, and provides some comparisons:

Fast food is standardized. Slow food is about traditions and being culturally and biologically diverse

Fast food is global. Slow food is regional and local; authentic to an area.

Fast food is bland, cheap and in excess. Slow food is flavorful, healthy and only needs to be eaten in moderation to provide satisfaction.

We want slow food to be sustainably produced, and organically grown where possible.

Lesser concludes, “Slow food is what gets consumers excited to eat corn and tomatoes in the summer – knowing something comes into season.”

How is Slow Food USA reaching consumers?
Education is a huge effort by the slow food organization. Lesser reports that they now have over 14,000 members nationwide in 160 chapters. Slow Food USA is also reaching out to elementary schools and college campuses, and Lesser says, “We need many of those young people to become the next generation of farmers.”

Of the group’s educational efforts, she adds, “We need to engage the public and get them excited about eating good food again.

What does Slow Food offer producers?
The organization is devoted to helping small-scale, local producers find markets for their specialty products. As an example, Lesser tells about the Heritage Turkey – a naturally raised, farm turkey that could fly (and was nearly extinct), as opposed to today’s commercial turkey’s bred with such a focus on breast meat that they can no longer fly. The Slow Food organization was able to guarantee a market for the Heritage Turkey, so farmers began to raise them again – and receive a premium because demand outpaces supply.

Lesser says another hurdle that her organization is tackling is the lack of small-scale slaughterhouses available to producers at the local level. “This is a brick wall to bringing back sustainable meats and something that we hope to address,” she says.

What are other benefits of slow food?
Lesser believes that the simple step of enjoying slow food can also help the moral fabric of our country – such as more appreciation of family, friends and community.

She says, “Slow Food” is simply about taking the time to slow down and to enjoy life with family and friends.

Lesser suggests every day can be enriched by doing something slow - making pasta from scratch one night, squeezing your own orange juice from the fresh fruit, lingering over a glass of wine and a slice of cheese – even deciding to eat lunch sitting down instead of standing up – and that doesn’t count sitting in your car at a fast food drive-thru.

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