Slow Food Nations: Going Beyond the Fork

The concept of identity is a complex one that brings up some deep questions when we consider its meaning. What is the identity of the Slow Food movement, for example? What is my identity as a food and farm advocate, and how do other “slow foodies” identify themselves? These questions have been on my mind over the last month, since I attended Slow Food Nations in Denver, CO July 14-16.

Carlo Petrini, the founder of the slow food movement, opened Slow Food Nations with this proclamation: “We don’t want food that doesn’t have an identity.” When we think about food and identity we often think about having an understanding of where our food comes from, who produces it, and under what circumstances it came to be on our plates. One way we could also consider this concept, however, is through our own identities as eaters, growers, and advocates of good, clean, fair food.

I was fortunate to be invited to speak to Slow Food Nations Delegates as part of a panel discussion on Federal Food and Farm Policy, which covered an array of issues including the Farm Bill, SNAP, Child Nutrition, and fisheries. The goal of the workshop was not only to discuss public policy’s role in food and agriculture, but also to give attendees strategies on how they could have a positive impact. My fellow panelists inspired me – and no doubt many others in the room – with their stories, their advice, and their passion for a good, clean, and fair food and farm system.

One thing I found surprising, however, was that our panel was one of the few Delegate workshops that dealt directly with public policy. Slow Food today is perhaps most closely associated with the act of eating, but it started as an act of advocacy. Carlo Petrini didn’t just fight against the expansion of the fast food empire in Italy by patronizing and celebrating chefs and restaurants who were doing things right; he launched a grassroots campaign to protect good food and farms that eventually went global. Petrini has been politically active his entire life, and I have no doubt he understands the role that governments and policy have to play in shaping our food and farm system – but do we as Slow Food members?

In some sense, I worry that we have lost track of the original identity of Slow Food as an advocacy movement. Our own identities as Slow Food members are often firmly rooted on the farm or in the kitchen, but rarely in the halls of Congress or even our local city councils. Whether or not we want to admit or acknowledge it, the fact remains that policy dictates much of the shape of our food and farm system – everything from the price of the foods we eat, to the rights of food and farm workers, to agricultural conservation requirements that protect the water we drink and air we breathe.

Voting with our forks is not enough. If we truly wish to keep the Slow Food movement alive, we cannot shrink from engagement with policy. We all have a role to play; together we can reclaim our identity as advocates for good, clean, fair food and become a force that drives local, regional, and federal policies.

Slow Food Nations was in many ways a love letter to good food. It was also a time to commune with one another, and to get inspired. In all, 25,000 people attended Slow Food Nations’ 155 events featuring 305 speakers and 70 exhibitors. For many, the amazing food is what they’ll remember most. Personally, however, I came away with much more than just a full belly – I came away energized to amplify the policy conversations within this community of foodies, and to help build back up the historic identity of Slow Food as a food and farm advocacy powerhouse.

Our thanks to Reana Kovalcik, Slow Food DC Board Member, for this outtake from Slow Food Nations and her inspiration for us all to be advocates for good, clean, and fair food for everyone.

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