Triumph of the Weeds

New Year’s Day Slow Food Event
January 21, 2009, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

On New Year’s Day, I went to a dinner at the Triangle Slow Food chapter. There was the traditional hoppin’ john and collard greens, as well as cornbread, regular bread, and piccalli (a kind of relish), and sweet potato pie and it was all very good. Oh, and the family sitting next to me brought a country ham and they gave me a sample. It was interesting; it kind of had the consistency of lox sort of.

I now know that I like collard greens, though I think that of the greens I’ve tasted so far, my favorite is kale.

The Slow Food movement is meant to be the antithesis of fast food. It was started in Italy in the 80s, by chef Carlo Petrini who protested the opening of the Mickey D’s by the Spanish Steps in Rome but then decided that rather than getting mad he should get even. The movement has since spread to many countries around the world, including the US. The movement is concerned with promoting organic, local, sustainable foods as well as the pleasures of meals and eating, etc.

I’ve been curious to know more about the movement, especially since, even after reading what I could find on the net, it wasn’t clear to me exactly what the Slow Food actually does, aside from the chapters periodically putting on dinners. The one interesting thing that I did glean was Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, which is a program that identifies and promotes traditional and heritage foods and dishes that are in danger of extinction, as it were.

Well, at the dinner I attended, I discovered that the reason it doesn’t seem like Slow Food does much, at least in the US, is because the US Slow Food movement doesn’t really have much direction at present. Whereas in other countries, there are long established food traditions, the US is much newer and has developed concurrently with the industrialization of food. In other countries, the American diet is what Slow Food members are trying to protect their own foods against. The American Slow Food has the challenge of trying to tease apart what is worthy of protecting and promoting and what is not. The speakers did say that American Slow Food is going to be more politically and socially active in the future, though, and work for food justice, so that sounds promising.

Though the speakers didn’t mention it, I hope and assume that this focus on food justice involves expanding the demographics of the movement. The one thing that struck me about this dinner was how nearly everyone in attendance was white and (I think) upper middle class. And the few who weren’t white appeared to have a white spouse. There were no black folk in attendance at all. In other words, the attendance at the event did not reflect the demographics of the Triangle area. And this is just one event at one chapter, but I found it really troubling, particularly since hoppin’ john was a dish that originally came from Africa and the speakers specifically mentioned that the version of the hoppin’ john that we had was closer to the original dish than the version that is commonly eaten today. It really made me wonder exactly whose food traditions we were trying to preserve and whether this was an example of cultural appropriation and whether anyone else there registered the cognitive dissonance. I also think I understand why these food movements come across as elitist, if people just like me are the only people involved. If the American Slow Food Movement gets serious, I think it’s going to have to actively reach out all walks of life and also address the darker parts of American history while exploring American food heritage. For instance, Native American food traditions are probably in most need of preserving and they are most in need because of the extensive damage that White Americans inflicted upon them, particularly by trying to break down Native American cultures and impose the dominant culture in their places. And yet, a lot of Native American food traditions have also been incorporated into the dominant culture and are considered quintessentially American today (much like with the hoppin’ john originally from Africa). I’d really like to see American Slow Food address the full scope of food traditions in the US and the histories behind them.


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