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This past weekend, thousands of chefs, farmers, fishermen, visionaries, and activists—as well as plain ‘ole foodies—walked the streets of downtown Denver for the first Slow Food Nations festival. Attendees listened to seminars, talked to delegates from around the world, and tasted free samples galore. Common themes flowed throughout the event, and we did our best to digest it all. Here are some of the highlights and thoughts on where we go from here.
On Slow Food’s Mission…
The four values of Slow Food: The food you eat should nourish you; food should be produced in a way that doesn’t exploit agriculture; food should be available for everyone, not just the privileged classes; and food should be fair and just for all, from those who produce it to those who consume it.
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On Food as a Connector…
“[Slow Food Nations] is about a gathering…a collaborative spirit. My hope is you leave a little more inspired to change the world through food.” —Krista Roberts, executive director of Slow Food Denver
“Food offers a profound sense of joy. It’s an important bridge in an age that’s woefully filled with walls.” —Richard McCarthy, director of Slow Food USA
“I’ve always said Denver’s restaurant industry is more collaborative than competitive. I look at it as family meal—coming to the dinner table and sharing stories, political discussions, and celebrating culture and community through food.” —Adam Schlegel, co-owner of Snooze and board president of EatDenver
“There’s magic happening in the middle of the country. These are the communities demonstrating creative, imaginative ways to build solutions.” —Richard McCarthy
On Inequality in our Food System…
“Agriculture is exploitation. At all levels, it’s based on dividing people into classes. Laborers are the roadkill on the way to the modern food system. We dehumanize to make agriculture work, but the value of these laborers is incalculable: No labor, no food.” —Ricardo Salvador, activist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
“Black people eat food—do you see that? How do we bring these people into the conversation? Why are they not here reporting and on this panel right now?” —Ron Finley, “The Gangsta Gardener,” founder of the Ron Finley Project
On Food Waste…
“40 percent food waste [created in the United States annually] is not an accident.” —Ricardo Salvador
“By exploring vegetables’ intricacies and using every piece, I’m extending my purchase and it’s helping my bottom line. We’re always looking for ways to turn waste into flavor.” —Steven Satterfield, executive chef/owner of Miller Union in Atlanta
“To pay farmers more, we need to waste less. The largest hope we have is reducing waste.” —Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food
On Sustainable Seafood…
“The average distance between boat and plate: 5,000 miles.” —Colles Stowell, founder of the One Fish Foundation
“I feel like I’m making a f-ing political statement every time I buy a product. It took me reading Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate, and reading that he served Ruth Reichl (former Gourmet editor and New York Times restaurant critic) bluefin [tuna]. Made me feel better—if he can make a mistake, then it’s OK. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying.” —Renee Erickson, Seattle-based James Beard award-winning chef and author
On Feeding Children…
At a lunch event in Civic Center Park, food activist and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters encouraged attendees to experiment with a model of participatory service that would allow 500 diners to set the table and feed one another in minutes—and it worked! Every diner at each table had an assigned task—distribute silverware and plates, fetch and pour water, gather different dishes from the buffet, help serve others at the table, etc.—and within five minutes, the entire group sat down for a beautiful, family-style lunch, with a shared sense of community as garnish. She asked us, why not take this idea into schools to teach children and get them to the lunch table in mere minutes? Food for thought.
“Palatability, accountability, accessibility—all of those are code words for processed food [in schools].” —Brenda Ruiz, chef and educator with Sacramento School Garden Coalition
“There are no language or education barriers with a school garden…it’s a powerful way to get parents involved in the school.” —Kimbal Musk, co-founder of the Kitchen and the Kitchen Community
On the True Value of Food…
“We need to pay more for our food. If the only thing we care about is low prices, we cannot change the world.” —Carlo Petrini
“What a dramatic change could be made if we paid farmers directly for the real cost of food.” —Alice Waters, chef, author, activist, and founder of Chez Panisse
“Demand for cheap food keeps monoculture cemented in place.” —David Shields, scholar and chairman of Carolina Gold Rice Foundation
“Five percent of the national debt goes to treating food-related diseases [such as diabetes and obesity]. The cost of treating one person on dialysis would feed 250 people three servings of fruits and vegetables for a day.” —Michel Nischan, chef, author, and food equity advocate
“Land, labor, rent—if you don’t have one of these, you will be poor.” —Ricardo Salvador
“We’re hardwired to respond to flavor. Out of this flavor comes the chords of the world’s cuisine. But when we plant monoculture, we breed for pest resistance, drought resistance, transportability, and there goes the flavor.” —David Shields
“Without the farmers there’s nothing. And yet, farmers are invisible. Union Station Farmers Market makes farmers visible.” —Brian Coppom, Boulder County Farmers Market CEO
“I was a commodity wheat breeder for 20 years. I divorced it because there’s no room for beauty. There are flavors in wheat and there’s beauty in that. We put farmers first, we do things that work for farmers first [talking about yield]. Then we designed the Bread Lab to figure out how best to use those flours.” —Steve Jones, founder of the Bread Lab
“There’s a misconception about how we [ranchers] treat animals. I’m not going to abuse those animals, I’m not going to mistreat those animals. Their health is my number one priority. Sometimes I think they have better access to healthcare than I do. If they’re not healthy at the end of the year, I’m out of business.” —Nate Adam, president of Delta County Livestock Association
On Food Culture…
“Cultivate taste rather than impoverishing it.” —Ricardo Salvador
“We don’t want food that doesn’t have an identity. We must wage this campaign everywhere.” —Carlo Petrini
“In 10 years, [whole grain] micro-millers will be the new coffee bars.” —Chris Bianco, owner of Pizzeria Bianco
“We’ve taken time out of our food. We need to put time back in.” —Steve Jones
“Just because you can’t define it [American cuisine], doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” —Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation
“When it comes to food, authenticity is a very empty word. It just depends how far back you want to go in history.” —Alon Shaya, New Orleans chef and Restaurateur
“[American food] is a bunch of different cultures together. Whether you cook traditional food or change it.” —Dana Rodriguez, chef/owner of Work & Class
On Taking Action…
“This is why we haven’t convinced young people. We need to be more radical. If you really call for change, people will follow.” —Carlo Petrini
“Go to Denvergov.org/foodplan and read it. When the action plan goes out, you can find it there as well. [Get involved with] Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council. Those are all city-wide things. On the state side, reach out for the state agriculture plan.” —Blake Angelo, Denver’s manager of food systems development
“When you talk to lawmakers, take a civil, realistic, pragmatic approach. Know your facts. Most importantly, tell your elected officials about your concerns. When we hear from people, this [food policy] isn’t as much of a concern.” —James Thompson, Regional Director for the office of U.S. senator Michael Bennett
Where do we go from here?
As we continue to think about all that we heard, learned, and tasted, we’re left wondering how Denver and the state of Colorado are going to raise the bar on the mission of good, clean, and fair food for all. For starters, in a metropolitan area of 2.8 million people, the local turnout for Slow Food Nations felt underwhelming. What will the city do next year to increase the level of publicity and draw more Coloradans into the conversation? How will the city’s upcoming food plan shape policy and spending? Will Sen. Michael Bennet follow up on his glowing remarks at the Alice Waters’ lunch by working to bring school garden curriculums to more of the state’s public schools? We will keep you posted as we learn more.