Slow Food Nations touched down in Denver for the third year in a row this past weekend (July 19–21), when more than 30,000 passionate chefs, academics, activists, authors, farmers, fishermen, policy makers, and foodies gathered around Larimer Square to learn about and discuss the culinary—and societal—issues affecting us and our planet.

The festival also celebrated the cuisines and cultures that make the world such a delicious, diverse place. The theme was “Where Tradition Meets Innovation,” sparking workshops, panels, tasting events, and countless conversations around everything from the hidden narratives of indigenous peoples to the flavors of coastal Mexican cooking to trends in farming, fermentation, and craft beer. Through it all, Colorado chefs, mixologists, growers, and artisans represented the Centennial State with pride, sharing their skills and products. 5280 was there for it all, so read on for highlights from the weekend.

Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam demonstrated how to cook fonio fritters, based on the African whole grain. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

On fonio, an ancient African whole grain…

“This grain thrives where nothing grows. It’s drought-resistant, gluten-free, and also very nutritious. It’s great for the environment, and it matures in two months—it’s one of the fastest, if not the fastest maturing grain.” Pierre Thiam, Senegalese chef, social activist, and cookbook author

On food as connection…

“Food is the ultimate commonality. I always ask ‘what did you eat for breakfast?’ It’s an easy question but it’s also revealing. What do you think a homeless person had for breakfast? They might say ‘I didn’t,’ and that speaks volumes.” —Davia Nelson, co-producer of NPR’s the Kitchen Sisters podcast

On edible insects…

“Cattle actually produce more greenhouse gases than all of the cars and trucks and motorcycles on the planet. It’s driving climate change on a large scale. If farmers switched over to raising grasshoppers, they could cut these emissions dramatically.” David George Gordon, author of The Eat-A-Bug-Cookbook

“I became a bug farmer because we are facing a very uncertain future on how we are going to feed ourselves. It looks pretty likely that with an increasing population and shrinking national resources—particularly land and water—we are not going to be able to raise enough calories. And at the same time, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions….Bugs might not save the world, but I think they can be a significant part of how we feed ourselves as we face these challenges.” —Wendy Lu McGill, founder and CEO of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch

On sustainability…

“Sustainability is bullshit. We need regenerative practices that do something. Do you want a bank account that sustains itself or one that grows?” Ron Finley, “the Gangsta Gardener,” founder of the Ron Finley Project

“Sustainability [in seafood] is a journey, not a destination.” —Derek Figueroa, president of Seattle Fish Co.

“The important thing as consumers of seafood is to get curious. Ask questions. Where and how is it being caught?” Paul C. Reilly, chef-owner of Beast & Bottle, Coperta, and Pizzeria Coperta

“Eat all the fish. They’re like vegetables, all with different nutritional attributes.” —Patrick Dunaway, U.S. director of sustainability and chief scientist for Niceland Seafood

“We say we don’t like aquaculture but we’re thinking aquaculture 1.0, not aquaculture 5.0.” Sheila Bowman, manager of culinary and strategic initiatives for Seafood Watch 

On values…

“We need to change what we’ve been taught to value. We value money and diamonds, we don’t value air or the soil. The most important things in life are not your kids. It’s air!” —Ron Finley

“If you eat fast and cheap and easy, you’re eating those values.” —Alice Waters, food activist, author, and Chez Panisse founder

“Every craft brewery has, if not a mission, then a purpose.” —Dr. J. Jackson-Beckham, educator and diversity ambassador for the Brewers Association

“Twenty-six percent of young consumers are more likely to buy from a socially good company than not.” Ron Tanner, vice president of philanthropy, government, and industry relations for the Specialty Food Association

“It’s a myth that it’s too expensive to do the right thing.” —Katie Wallace, director of social and environmental impact for New Belgium Brewing

“Eat and drink what you like, but know what you are eating and drinking.” —Talia Haykin, founder and CMO/CFO/COO of Haykin Family Cider

On indigenous people in the United States…

“Invisibility is the modern form of bias against Native Americans. They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know that we are seeds.” —Denisa Livingston, food justice organizer of Diné Community Advocacy Alliance, Slow Food International Indigenous Councilor of the Global North, and social entrepreneur

Culinary Institute of Charleston chef instructor Kevin Mitchell (front) and Denver author Adrian Miller (rear) during a demonstration on the culinary stage at Slow Food Nations 2019. Photo courtesy of Woody Roseland / Slow Food USA

On African American foodways…

“Any culture can have its own soul food. It comes from that family connection, passed down to the next generation.” Kevin Mitchell, chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston

On inclusion…

“I’m interested in craft beer as a product but also as a tool. Four percent of craft beer drinkers are African American. —Dr. J. Jackson-Beckham

On cultural appropriation in restaurants…

“You have to honor the culture [that cuisine] came from. Intentionally credit those people on your menu. Pay for someone from that community to go to culinary school or pay back in some other way through authentic community involvement. Also, cook that food well and have a genuine love for it and for the culture it came from.” —Kevin Mitchell

A stellar panel on mental health issues in the hospitality industry was led by (from left to right): Alexandra Palmerton (CHOW); Patrick Mulvaney (Mulvaney’s the Building & Loan, I Got Your Back); Zander Tekus (Aspen 7908); John Hinman (Hinman’s Bakery); and Katherine Miller (James Beard Foundation). Photo by Lucy Beaugard

On mental health in the restaurant industry…

“We need to turn hospitality back onto ourselves. We need to have empathy on the line. If a cook’s not doing well, don’t yell… ask why?” —Patrick Mulvaney, chef-owner of Mulvaney’s the Building & Loan and co-founder of I Got Your Back, a peer support program with online resources to help those facing mental health challenges

On food policy…

“A lot happens at the state level. Civilians and constituents have a lot of power on a local level. There are levers of power to pull.” Caity Moseman Wadler, executive director of the Heritage Radio Network

On animal welfare…

“They are not factory farms. They are farmed animal factories.” —Carrie Balkcom, executive director for the American Grassfed Association

On farming…

“Farmers are making what they made in the 1970s on a bushel of corn. And the price of a tractor is not the same as it was in the 1970s.” —Stephanie Ohnmacht, co-owner of Whiskey Sisters

“This is the backbone of our country. This is the tradition that feeds us.” Pete Marczyk, co-owner Marczyk Fine Foods

“Nature has been doing this longer than any of us.” Meriwether Hardie, chief of staff for Bio-Logical Capital

“Create one true relationship with one farmer. Fall in love with them. Have them in for a drink on a hot day. Buy their great stuff, then buy their crappy stuff and get creative with it.” Eric Skokan, farmer and chef-owner of Black Cat Farm Table Bistro and Bramble & Hare

“We know what happens when whole generations are disenfranchised from the land.” Jack Algiere, farm director at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture

“For many generations, the farm was not the main source of income. It was about feeding the family and the community.” Lynda Prim, senior director of Glynwood’s Farm

“I don’t believe in crutches. Chemicals are crutches. Chemicals keep us from learning things and being innovative.” Bob Quinn, founder Kamut International and Quinn Farm & Ranch

“Big Ag wants us to be confused.” Marilyn Noble, food and agriculture writer for New Food Economy

On food labels…

“Companies can pretty much make any claim they want. Free-range, natural, no artificial colors, or flavors; these are idiotic claims that have no standards.” Urvashi Rangan, chief science advisor to the Grace Communications Foundation

“There are 16 employees who oversee food labels in his country.” —Carrie Balkcom

On climate change…

“Scientists are studying amaranth as an indicator of climate change. It’s a crop of our resilience; it’s been with us all along.” —Lynda Prim

“Climate disasters mean that disenfranchised people will be impacted first.”Raquel Lane-Arellano, policy manager for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

This rice pudding with Palisade peaches, strawberries, and crunchy pepitas—made with leftovers from festival events—was an exquisite way to cap off a weekend of camaraderie, collaboration, and calls for change. Photo by Denise Mickelsen

On taking action…

“It’s time to act. With simple daily choices, we can contribute. Choices can be sustainable: Don’t buy pre-washed salad. Don’t drink Coca-Cola. Every once in a while, cook something!” Paolo di Croce, international secretary of the Slow Food International Board of Directors

“I would like all of you chefs to think about what school lunch can be. What do children love? What would be culturally diverse and simple to make? Let’s make school lunch an academic subject.” —Alice Waters

“Land management and restorative techniques can lower the global temperature, so, as chefs, we have work to do.” —Anthony Myint, co-founder of Mission Chinese Food, Zero Foodprint, the Perennial Farming Initiative and Commonwealth

“I changed food by not changing food. I didn’t go for the new industrial model.” —Paul Willis, farmer and co-founder of Niman Ranch

“Cheap food is not cheap. You’re paying for environmental degradation.” —Carrie Balkcom

Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.
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.