Over the past four days, thousands of passionate people—chefs, growers, fishermen, academics, activists, policy makers, and regular food-loving citizens—communed in Denver for the second annual Slow Food Nations festival. “Food for Change” was the theme, leading attendees into conversations about everything from food waste to the 2018 Farm Bill to what ‘local’ truly means. Throughout, Colorado chefs and producers collaborated to bring exceptional flavor and locally-made foodstuffs to everyone’s plate. 5280 relished it all; here are some of the highlights and thoughts on what we can all do to make our world a more equitable, delicious place.

On food activism and social justice…

“Your purchase [at a farmers’ market] isn’t enough. You have to be engaged in policy because without legislation, all those choices mean nothing. It’s a Farm Bill year and we all need to be involved.” Reana Kovalcik, Associate Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“We need to ask ourselves why a big box of cereal is so cheap and organic broccoli is so expensive? There’s a policy behind that. A dozen eggs for $.99? That’s policy.” Reana Kovalcik

“The crux of ‘good, clean, and fair’ is access and affordability. How do we get the idea of paying our producers a fair wage out there? SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and FINI (Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive) help, but they’re just a drop in the bucket.” Jennifer Casey, Executive Director for the Fondy Food Center

“We have to trust that small, direct actions will make a difference.” Woody Tasch, Slow Money and SOIL (Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally)

Slow Food Nations
Chef Daniel Asher (River and Woods, Acreage) grilling local, grass-fed beef from Flying B Bar Ranch

On being a carnivore in 2018…

“Is there anywhere other than meat that we expect total perfection the entire time? It’s a little crazy where we’ve gotten as a culture; the fluidity of choices we make as human beings gets lost. We have to do the best we can, but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything for every meal every day.” Kate Cox, editor of the New Food Economy

“It takes 425 gallons of water to make a ¼-pound beef burger. You could look at that as 10 bathtubs full of water.” Dana Smith, Meatless Monday

For Sunday’s Zero Waste Family Meal, chefs banded together to turn food scraps from the festival into a celebratory community dinner. This kale pasta proves that ‘food waste’ is delicious. Photo by Callie Sumlin

On the global problem of food waste…

“First of all, you don’t have to call it ‘waste’ anymore—it’s just an ingredient. You just have to know how to use it. [For example], if a tomato is overripe, you’re going to use it in a sauce.” Massimo Bottura, chef, restaurateur, and activist

“There is food rotting in fields right now throughout this country because there is no one to pick it. We know that immigrants make up between 60% to 80% of our skilled field labor and because of recent immigration policies, as well as ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] being prevalent throughout farm communities, food is not being harvested. If we value the folks that are all along our food chain and ensure that there is a just immigration policy that [allows for] an actual path to citizenship, we will have a more sustainable food landscape and a lot less food rotting.” —Michael Hurwitz, GrowNYC

“When most of us think about food waste we tend to blame another entity, when really we need to be looking at our own actions. When you add up the little amounts of food that we are each wasting it creates 40% of the problem. Each of us are part of that solution. Are you shopping with a list? Are you understanding date labels on your food? Are you only buying the amount your family can consume?” Andrea Spacht, NRDC

“We like to label all waste in the restaurant as “trim” because it sounds more utilizing than “scraps.” The hardest part for chefs is getting the customer to pay for trim. When we put things on the menu like kale stem or chard stem, people are slow to jump on it.” Paul C. Reilly, chef and co-owner of Beast & Bottle and Coperta

On what ‘local’ truly means…

“My allies are people that understand that economics are a means to end, not the end itself. Our greater reliance on the economy to meet our needs has destroyed our sense of connectedness. Local food allows us to see that connectedness with each other and our sense of connectedness with the earth.”John Ikerd, scholar and author

“Part of the danger of ‘local’ is that it’s amnesiac of the past. One immediately erases what was local with what currently is local—vertical farms, etc. What’s important about ‘local’ is that one needs to be able to have a robust sense of history. That’s a challenge that the food movement is going to have to wrestle with to be inclusive. You fix the past with a reckoning. And that reckoning is something the food movement has not yet had.” Raj Patel, academic, activist, author

“I view ‘local’ as a form of resistance. It’s a beautiful and radical thing.” Woody Tasch

“Local should mean relationships, not mileage.” Kevin Scribner, Forever Wild Seafood

The festival’s Family Pavilion offered plenty of interactive fun for young eaters. Photo by Madeleine Hughes

On feeding our children…

“Approximately 31 million kids in this country are fed school lunch consisting of mostly processed foods. We have to go back to food literacy….we don’t teach [children] about the thing we do three times a day until the day we die—that’s food.” Ann Cooper, Boulder Valley School District and the Chef Ann Foundation

The collaborative nature of the Colorado dining scene was illustrated on the plate (and in the kitchen) at the Slow Grown dinner at Departure Denver Restaurant & Lounge on Sunday evening. (left to right: Alex Seidel of Mercantile Dining & Provision and Fruition; host chef Gregory Gourdet; Caroline Glover of Annette; and Ryan Poli of the Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tennessee)

On community….

“Small steps are the most important steps. I’d tell my 20-year-old self to put my head down and not look beyond the community right in front of me. Create the best community I can have knowing that I can infuse that community with energy and thoughtfulness, then let that be a beacon that others can look at and say, I can do that because he did that.” Rick Bayless, celebrity chef, restaurateur, and author

“Our ranch is less than 35 miles from where we are right now. It’s a different country. There’s a different language. Urbanites—city folks—have got to learn about the rural folks in a real way.”Brad Buchanan, Flying B Bar Ranch and Denver’s planning director

“I think we all should temper ourselves in these times because that is the best way to move forward. You can feel passionately about something and also hear other people. I think what we are missing is communal sharing at the table.” —Sienna Trapp-BowieFortuna Chocolat

Slow Food Nations
Mitchell Davis, Beth Gruitch, and Maddie Oatman at the ‘Table for #MeToo’ talk

On working conditions in restaurants in the era of #metoo….

“As an operator and an owner, my job is to have open forums. We owners have to enable an open-door policy where [workers] feel safe and their job is secure and there aren’t going to be repercussions and retaliation.” Beth Gruitch, Crafted Concepts

“Power is really what we are talking about. There were people when slavery was culturally acceptable who knew it was wrong. The excuse is always ‘well, this is how it is in kitchens,’ [but] I feel like you can’t excuse the mindlessness of everyone else just because of a historic context.” Mitchell Davis, James Beard Foundation

Colorado grains from Pfz Farms

On what comes next in Colorado…

There are ongoing efforts, both large and small, across the state of Colorado in support of local agriculture, addressing issues of food waste and insecurity, and much more. What can consumers do to help? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen is 5280’s former food editor. She oversaw all of 5280’s food-related coverage from October 2016 to March 2021.