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The label talks about terroir, quality, and calories
The Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre
You probably think nutrition facts and nutrition labels on are your favorite foods are there to help you make the best choices about food. After all, where better to look in order to figure out what a serving size of cream cheese is or if the peanut butter you’re holding contains sugar? While food labels seem to help us, there are a growing number of people who are discontent with the amount and quality of information they give the consumer. Enter the narrative food label, a new concept Slow Foods recently unveiled for 51 small companies in Italy at Salone dek Gusto and Terre Madre in Turin, Italy. An international campaign to introduce the labels to the world is scheduled for 2013.
These new narrative labels focus on a variety of different attributes of food production. The labels will cover the food’s characteristics, territory in which it’s grown, how it’s cultivated, when it’s cultivated, how it’s treated, irrigation of the land, how’s it’s harvested, and recommendations for use. After the consumer reads the label they won’t just know how many grams of sugar are in the product, they’ll have an image in their mind of the land in which it’s grown and the farmers working that land. With so much information emphasizing terroir and the food's journey from farm to table, the new food labels notably exclude whether or not the product is organically grown, though Slow Foods is confident that the difference will come through from the extensive information on the labels; plus, none of these foods are being made in large factories, a hint that they are invariably committed to the most stringent food production standards.
Slow Foods was prompted to introduce new food labels because of what it deemed were empty claims of quality on products currently lining grocery store shelves. Whether or not Slow Foods’ new idea of product labelling takes off, its desire to change the way in which consumers conceptualize quality presents an interesting challenge to the current way of buying and consuming all types of food.
Emilia Morano-Williams is a Special Contributor at The Daily Meal who is covering this fall's Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy.
A Year Aboard the Ark of Taste
In every culture around the world, the passing of time is marked with rituals related to food and agriculture, from spring plantings and fall harvests to foraging during the rainy season foraging and preserving during the dry season. We celebrate special days and important occasions with favorite dishes, prepared from recipes passed down for generations, and whole communities come together for festivals that feature treasured foods. We are reminded that “good” food is seasonal food, sometimes worth waiting for all year long.
2014 has been a huge year for the Ark of Taste, Slow Food‘s campaign to bring attention to endangered foods around the world. Thanks to nominations throughout the year, and especially during Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, this year we have added over 500 forgotten foods to save to the Ark catalogue! Here’s a look back at 12 of this year’s additions, one for each month of the year…
In southern central Afghanistan, Shah Wali Kot dried yellow figs are popular for their sweet aroma and flavor, and are often served for celebrations such as the New Year and Muslim holidays. Today, though, the local fig variety and associated sun-drying method are at risk of being lost, because many of the fig orchards in the limited growing area were destroyed during Afghanistan’s civil war.
In the southern province of Yunnan, China, the Lunar New Year celebration wouldn’t be complete without Heqing ham, made by curing the hind legs of the Diannan small-eared pig in barley wine and salt. This product has a long history the traditional production method dates back to the Ming Dynasty! Today, however, it is at risk of being lost due to the rise of modern convenience foods and fewer younger people learning the ham production methods.
India is famous for its tea, but few people know about hatey chia, or Darjeeling handmade tea. February and March in India brings harvest time for the tea buds and leaves, which are grown in unique, community managed agro-forestry systems or in agro-ecosystems along with a host of other crops, differing greatly from the commercially produced Darjeeling tea grown in monoculture plantations. It is fermented and dried, and has a typical smoky flavor. Handmade tea faces problems in its promotion. For example, it cannot be labeled with a Geographical Indication label, despite being a product of the Darjeeling Hills.
In the Sonoran Desert along the United States-Mexico border, cholla cactus flower buds are a food source for the local people, particularly the Tohono O’odham tribe. The buds are traditionally picked in the early spring, during su’am masad (“yellow month”). The cholla buds can be eaten roasted or boiled, or dried for later use. Although they are strongly connected to the culinary culture of the native people of the area, cholla buds are a very underappreciated and little known food, due to the erosion of traditional knowledge and the increase of modern Western diets and lifestyles in the region and the clearing of cholla cacti for land developments.
Shea tree caterpillars, or shitumu as they are called locally, begin to appear on Burkina Faso’s shea trees in late spring. They are harvested by women of the Bobo tribe in northwestern Burkina Faso and served boiled, fried, in soups or in salads. They can also be dried for later use. Shea tree caterpillars are an important local food source, but overharvesting threatens their future. Initiatives are in place to emphasize the importance of leaving some larvae to continue the reproductive cycle to maintain their presence in the area for future generations to use and enjoy.
There are hundreds of banana varieties in Indonesia, but in a limited area of Yogyakarta grows the raja bagus banana, used in celebrations and as an offering during marriage ceremonies. Because the bananas are well adapted to the area, they also symbolize for the couple the ability to adapt to different environments and roles. These tropical fruits can be stored for up to eight days, and although their peel will turn black, the fruit inside will still be fresh.
Galicica Mountain tea is a plant native to the Balkans that grows in dry areas at altitudes of over 1500 meters above sea level. Harvest takes place in summer, when the plant is in full bloom, and has been historically associated with the feast day of St. Naum (July 3). This aromatic tea also has a place in traditional medicine, and was even served in local hospitals. Today, Galicica Mountain tea is threatened by overharvesting in the wild and a decreased number of cultivators, with just three or four family farms in southwest Macedonia still growing the plant today.
The bussu (Neritina punctulata) is a small, snail-like, freshwater shellfish found in the rivers of Portland, in northeastern Jamaica. Many different preparations are part of the traditional diet of the Maroons, the local indigenous people. In August, local festivals take place that celebrate both Jamaican culture and this shellfish, with typical bussu dishes served and traditional drumming, dancing and chanting featured. Irresponsible overharvesting and chemical residues are two issues negatively affecting the bussu population today. It is also being displaced in its natural habitat by introduced invasive species.
In much of Italy, fall marks the start of the grape harvesting and winemaking season. The Scimiscià
or Çimixâ vine has been widely grown in the area of Genoa, along Italy’s northwestern coastline, since ancient times. Its sugar content and acidity are normally higher than other locally cultivated vines like Vermentino and Bianchetta Genovese. Production of Scimiscià, however, is very limited, and this variety has been displaced by international grape varieties with higher yields that have more name recognition among consumers.
Throughout October, oasis rice is harvested from the oases of Egypt’s Western Desert area. This rice was traditionally used for big events, like weddings, when animals would be slaughtered and the rice would be cooked in the fat. Bedouin families harvest the rice and each take a share to mill manually, while the rest of the rice is processed in a facility in the Delta region of Egypt. Once more widespread in the Western Desert, today issues of water scarcity are affecting its cultivation.
South of the equator in Argentina, tortora, a perennial swamp grass, flowers in the spring and summer. Totora pollen is collected by harvesting and drying male flowers. Dry totora pollen is very rich in nutrients, especially protein and vitamin C, and should be consumed raw (often mixed with other foods) to best preserve its nutritional properties. Totora pollen has been used locally for over 5000 years by the Toba, Mocoví and Wichí populations, but it is not a commercially sold product, and its use is decreasing among younger generations.
The Soester yellow butter turnip from the central Netherlands has a very specific growing season. According to a Dutch rhyme (“Wie knollen wil eten, moet Sint Laurens niet vergeten / En als het kindje Jezus is geboren, hebben de knollen hun smaak verloren”), for their best flavor they should be planted before August 10th (St. Lawrence’s Day) and harvested before December 25th (Christmas). They do not store well, and so should be eaten soon after harvesting. This variety was eventually abandoned in the mid- to late-1800s, replaced by larger, higher yielding varieties. Around 2000, a local farmer found a bag of seeds in the attic of his father’s farm, which turned out to be the butter turnips from the old days. Today the turnips are being grown again in Soest.
Slow Food’s Ark of Taste Welcomes 5,000th Passenger
Honey made by the Gourmantché people in the eastern Tapoa region of Burkina Faso is the product Slow Food has chosen as the 5,000th passenger to board its Ark of Taste, the online catalogue of forgotten and endangered foods that belong to the local culture, history and tradition of places all over the planet. The Ark of Taste groups them into various categories—animal breeds, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheeses and so on—and serves as a unique resource for anyone interested in rediscovering and promoting the immense heritage of food biodiversity that humans have accumulated over the centuries.
Take a look at the photo galley here >>
Slow Food has selected this honey, of particular importance to the identity of the indigenous Gourmantché people, as a sign of support for the country’s local communities. Terra Madre Burkina Faso was held here for the second time on February 2 and 3, organized by Slow Food in the capital of Ouagadougou. Despite serious challenges due to the threat of possible terrorist attacks, local activists decided to go ahead with the event to show that good, clean and fair food can be a force for peace. Slow Food delegates came from across Burkina Faso but also from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Togo and Ghana to participate in the gathering, which through exchanges of culture and experiences is making the Slow Food network in West Africa stronger than ever before.
Choosing Tapoa honey as the 5,000th Ark product sends a strong message of solidarity with all the farmers and food producers who are defending their food traditions, and therefore food biodiversity, despite the growing difficulties they face due to the terrorism and political instability affecting a number of African countries. It is also significant that the product is made by bees, whose declining populations are one of the clearest indicators of the risks we face as human activity continues to throw natural equilibriums off-balance.
Work is currently being done on the honey with the Gourmantché people thanks to contributions from the Fondazioni For Africa Burkina Faso and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS). The local beekeepers have joined together into the Tapoa Honey Producers’ Association. The association runs a honey-processing facility in Diapaga, the provincial capital, and ensures that the honey is of good quality and is being sold at a price that is fair for the producers. However, the growing dangers caused by the country’s political situation are slowing the projects run in Tapoa by the NGO ACRA, which has been collaborating with Slow Food for many years and had started a marketing project for the Tapoa honey.
Honey is of great importance within the Gourmantché tradition, used in the time-honored celebrations that mark the life of the community, in religious and animist rituals and in traditional medicine. In the kitchen, it is an ingredient in classic preparations like boulli, a kind of porridge made from a mix of grains eau blanche, a typical non-alcoholic drink offered to guests on their arrival and dolo-miel, a fermented beverage made from millet and baobab flour. In the arid savannah, the bees (Apis mellifera adansonii) can gather nectar from many different plants, producing an excellent multifloral honey as well as highly fragrant single varietals from trees like shea, tamarind and the rare Daniella oliveri.
The Ark of Taste
Launched in 1996 at the first Salone del Gusto in Turin, the Ark now includes many foods that are a key element of the identity of indigenous peoples, like the Australian Davidson’s plum, and rare products, like Racemosa wild coffee from South Africa.
Inclusion in the online catalog on the website of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity is the first step to ensuring these products are not lost forever. This is then supported by the actions and creativity of Slow Food’s network around the world. At a local level, Slow Food members and supporters, chefs, artisans and local markets effectively adopt the Ark of Taste product, organizing events with its producers, using it in recipes and highlighting it on menus, activating a promotional circuit often based on gastronomic word of mouth and tips on cooking techniques.
Entering the Ark catalog is often a stepping stone to the establishment of concrete projects like the Slow Food Presidia. The Presidia get the producers actively involved, making them key players in a process of revival and promotion that to date has given a new future to 575 products around the world.
Over its 22 years of life the Ark of Taste has welcomed passengers from 150 different countries: the Makah Ozette potato from the United States, Guatemala’s Ixcán cardamom, ræstur fiskur(fermented and dried fish) from the Faroe Islands and maqaw, a mountain spice gathered by the indigenous Atayal people of Taiwan, and many others.
Thanks to a collaboration with the students of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo and its network of members, Slow Food is producing a series of publications dedicated to the Ark of Taste in individual countries. This important task of research and dissemination of information in the local language has already been carried out in Brazil, Kenya, Mexico and Peru.
Taste of Indigenous food delights mammoth food festival in Italy
“I imagine that for lots of people it’ll be the first time they’ll eat kangaroo,” says Dale Tilbrook, who just ran a packed workshop over the weekend on Australian native foods at the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto event in Turin, Italy. The biennial festival organised by the Slow Food movement – which is headquartered nearby, in the northern region of Piedmont – brings together thousands of farmers and foodsmiths from around the world, showcasing their goods at markets, tastings and panel discussions focused on the organisation’s ethos of promoting "good, clean and fair" food.
“I’m Wardandi Bibbulmun, that’s my language group area from the southwest of Western Australia,” Tilbrook explains. The owner of Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery in the Swan Valley, she has long been sharing knowledge of her own Indigenous food culture and local native ingredients through the gallery’s gift shop, selling a number of products she collects locally and transforms into dried herbs and spices, jams and sauces.
The workshop in Italy highlighted products from Tilbrook’s local area as well as Australian native foods from further afield. “It’s introducing the modern aspect of using bush foods, because of course we now have this new gastronomic model in Australia, incorporating native Australian flavours with mainstream flavours,” says Tilbrook. “There’s a big local content in [the dishes], these are fruits that we’ve gathered ourselves and dried ourselves.”
Dale Tilbrook (second from right) addresses the workshop at Terra Madre Salon del Gusto.
To begin, guests sampled three olive oils all from Western Australia, each infused with a different crushed native lime – the desert wild, sunrise and red centre limes – paired with a dukkah featuring sandalwood and macadamia nuts.
“Traditionally, we would’ve cooked the kangaroo in the ashes of an open fire,” says Tilbrook. For the workshop, she opted to prepare kangaroo two ways: a cooked terrine using lemon, anise and cinnamon myrtles, emu plum, quandong, lillipilli and native lime, and a roasted cut of kangaroo crusted with lemon myrtle, saltbush and pepperberry, sliced very finely and served three ways – plain with a drizzle of lemon myrtle-infused macadamia oil and finally, with a desert raisin relish. “The desert raisin is actually a bush tomato, but when it’s dried it takes on complex, caramelised raisiny flavours,” Tilbrook says.
To finish, guests were given two sweet treats. Red quandong jam atop a slice of bread, and a spoonful of white quandong poached in peach schnapps. “White quandongs are very rare, most people don’t even know they exist,” says Tilbrook.
The sweet finish: workshop attendees were given tastes of quandong jam and poached quandong.
Tilbrook is one of 45 official Slow Food movement representatives from around Australia who are attending the festival, which will wrap up on Monday. For her, forming the Swan Valley & Eastern Regions chapter of the organisation was an opportunity to galvanise locals around the food issues that they already cared about. Her group has hosted a number of events, including one celebrating dishes from the local Croatian community, as well as a modern Italian evening that incorporated native ingredients, serving the likes of emu ravioli with saltbush butter. “I joined Slow Food because of the compatibility between [the] Aboriginal [way of] living in harmony with the land and the Slow Food ethos of protecting biodiversity and conserving traditional methods,” Tilbrook says. “The two go hand in glove with each other.”
Photographs by Alecia Wood.
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SLOW FOOD: POSTCARDS FROM TERRA MADRE
What was it like for a self-described “prairie girl” from North Dakota (via Texas) to be on her first European trip as an International Congress delegate to the Slow Food gathering known as Terra Madre in Turin, Italy? “I was like a deer in the headlights all the time,” says Wendy Taggart who, along with husband Jon, owns Burgundy Pasture Beef in Grandview, one of North Texas’ earliest grass-fed beef producers.
That’s how it may have felt, but not how it sounds. Check this observation from her October 2012 journey: “My biggest impression was how they (Italians) celebrate the primal nature of their food,” something she noticed at the multi-level food emporium Eataly. “I call it Central Market on steroids,” she says of the multistory Turin marketplace (which has a branch in New York City).
She was amazed to see that the beef case in the butcher section displayed the variety and organ meats up front. What we recognize as the traditional cuts were pushed to the back. She saw whole rabbit, freshly skinned. A cured hog leg with the hoof still attached. “You can tell what the animals originally were,” she says, as opposed to the sanitized, packaged cuts most Americans see at the supermarket. She appreciated this connection to the animal providing the protein. “I like that primal-ness,” she says. “I could appreciate that.” Eatalty wasn’t part of Terra Madre, but it was part of her experience because it was located near the former Olympic venue where the Slow Food event was held.
So what, exactly, is Terra Madre? It might be easier to start with what Slow Food is.
Founded in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, Slow Food is a movement that’s grown into an amalgam of small and large groups, networks and projects united under one umbrella and “dedicated to preserving and promoting integrity in our food systems—by promoting taste education and helping preserve agricultural biodiversity.” As I see it, Slow Food was never meant to be a rigid organization. It was created to deliberately flow where people’s interests flowed. So the Ark of Taste project, for example, evolved to preserve small-scale seeds and animal breeds in danger of becoming lost. The Ark of Taste website lists 1,200 items, and 139 are in the United States.
The sweet Pixie tangerines you see at Central Market and Whole Foods Market are on the Ark of Taste roster. So are Red Wattle hogs, yellow-meated watermelon, Pacific Northwest geoduck and the New Mexico native tomatillo. Slow Fish and Slow Cheese were Slow Food campaigns that blossomed into international networks. The Terra Madre Relief Fund was established after Hurricane Katrina to help restore Louisiana’s food communities. The Thousand Gardens in Africa project was launched in 2010.
Terra Madre is Slow Food International’s grand, biennial gathering of like-minded mortals from around the world. The International Congress is a two-day forum held in conjunction with Terra Madre. Another component is the Salone del Gusto, a huge pavilion showcasing world foodways. “Terra Madre is an overwhelming display of food cultures,” says Taggart. “This showing featured displays, goods and foods from approximately 95 countries.” She was one of nearly 700 delegates who also attended the International Congress, where “people from different countries get up and talk about food culture and issues….how food economies work….how politics and economics affect food cultures…. You wore headphones and tuned to your language for the translation…. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were a big part of the discussion…. It is actually illegal to even bring GMO seeds into many countries, much less plant them.” Taggart was representing the Dallas Slow Food convivium (the name given to local chapters).
Rancher Wendy Taggart (top right) celebrates local foods
with fellow Terra Madre delegates
Claudine Martyn, Slow Food USA governor for the Texoma region (Texas and Oklahoma), is a Terra Madre veteran who also attended in 2012. “I help new chapters become established,” she says. As a charter Dallas member, she links today’s group with its beginnings in 2003, when Slow Food Dallas was one of the few voices advocating for local, artisanal agriculture and the idea of getting to know the farmers and ranchers who produce your food. This was the same year the vaunted Coppell Farmers Market was founded. Texas Meats, an East Texas consortium made up of Rehoboth Ranch, Windy Meadows Family Farm and Truth Hill Farm, introduced the grass-fed concept to the Dallas Farmers Market only a year earlier in 2002. That’s also when Central Market opened in Dallas. (Of course Whole Foods Market was way ahead of this curve, opening in North Texas in 1986.)
“Now, there are many food-focused groups of all types,” says Martyn. “I think Slow Food was a big influence (on those).” The Dallas convivium was hatched in the Plano home of Timothy Mullner, who has since moved to Seattle, where he’s still a Slow Food member. “I simply started holding meetings around the kitchen table,” he says. “We asked, ‘What can Slow Food be in Dallas- Fort Worth?’ When Michael Cox [then manager of Dallas Central Market] and I started to organize, you started to get the word out.” By “you,” he means Dallas Morning News Food Editor Cathy Barber and me we let people know Slow Food was organizing a local chapter.
Recently, Slow Food Dallas has again been pondering the question: What can the local chapter be? Leader Liz Goulding is energizing the effort. “Right now, I want to raise awareness of what Slow Food is, with informal events,” she says, such as a Craft and Growler gathering earlier this year. Her vision includes activities “focused on eating and enjoying while learning, doing for others, volunteering and working.” Stints at Urban Acres, the Oak Cliff cooperative and budding farmstead, and Holistic Management International, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit devoted to sustainable ranching and farming, stoked Goulding’s interest in the Slow Food experience. She joined the local group two years ago.
Slow Food “really is a three-pronged mission,” says Martyn. “The first one is to teach people where their food comes from and the importance of relating to the people who grow your food. The second is to support farmers (and other producers). The third is to encourage people to spend more time at the table with their family and friends.” Slow Food offers a way to influence change, she says, whether it’s working on the U.S. farm bill or meeting a farmer in your neighborhood. It all depends on your passion. The best way to connect with the Dallas group is on its Facebook page: Slow Food Dallas. That’s where fall events and classes will be listed. And if you’ve got an idea, pipe up. This is the place to run with it.
Martyn offers one more snapshot illustrating Slow Food connectivity. “About four or five years ago,” she says, “one of the people I met at Terra Madre was an [Italian] cattle rancher, who eventually came to Dallas. His daughter was with him and spoke English. Jon Taggart got us in his pickup truck and took us around the ranch (Burgundy Pasture Beef). At the time, I thought, ‘This is what it’s all about—connecting people from one country to the next and sharing the best practices.’ It was a blast. Jon and Wendy are supportive of Slow Food and really, really care.” Which is how a North Dakota prairie girl ended up going to Terra Madre last year.
“If food is really interesting to you, politically and in all ways, it’s a significant event to attend,” says Wendy. “I want to go back.” She’s already making plans for Terra Madre 2014.
5 Costs to society
Out of all the fresh water used by humans:
A third goes to livestock
A thirtieth is used in homes
Moderating our habits means constructing a fairer world
In 2010 the prices of food products reached their highest levels since the 1990s. The growing demand for agricultural products is not just due to demographic growth, but also the use of these resources for purposes other than human food, like animal feed and biofuels, as well as financial speculation.
In the global south, meat is a luxury and hunger is the leading cause of death. Currently 900 million people do not have access to sufficient food or are malnourished, while 1.9 billion people are overweight.
By moderating our food habits, we can construct a fairer world. Many countries that have suffered decades of scarcity can increase their meat consumption, but we who abuse it must absolutely cut down. Now.
#GoSlow 5: How?
Don’t trust overly low prices, often an indicator of the poor quality of the diet fed to the animals, over-exploitation, hidden costs that impact on the environment and terrible conditions for workers in industrial farms and slaughterhouses.
The name of the Meat the Change campaign invites us to reflect on our food habits, which have so much impact on the climate crisis, and to consequently change the level of meat consumption in our diet. At the same time, it also asks us to make more conscious choices when buying meat, “meeting the change” and becoming active protagonists.
Protecting and Promoting Traditional Foods
Traditional foods and flavors have received a lot of attention of late. In the past few months, I&rsquove attended three gatherings on the subject&mdashthe Southern Foodways Conference in Oxford, Miss., the Slow Food Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy, and a luncheon in New York City sponsored by the 3 European Originals (Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, the Consorzio del Parmigiano-Reggiano and the Comte Cheese Association). There is some serious momentum behind the cause of traditional foods. On a personal level, I&rsquom just finishing the last of the heritage turkey (a Narragansett) we cooked for Thanksgiving dinner. Although traditional may now be &ldquoon-trend, it is not a recent phenomenon for me. We&rsquove been actively involved in learning about and promoting traditional foods since Zingerman&rsquos opened in 1982. That said, our commitment to helping promote and protect traditional foods is not intended to put an end to large-scale mass production nor should it. There&rsquos plenty of room for all sorts of food&mdashtraditional, non-traditional and about a thousand shades of gray in-between&mdashin the world.
Everybody should have the opportunity to make informed choices about the food they buy and sell. One of my foremost goals is to preserve the option to offer foods made using traditional techniques, true to the areas in which they originated. We should not lose the diversity of our food heritage through overemphasis on lower cost, longer shelf-life industrial products. In nature, hundreds, even thousands, of species have been lost during the past 100 years. On the specialty food side, it&rsquos important to defend rather than diminish diversity, so that consumers can choose from a wide range of options, from old-world traditional to out-of-this-world modern.
Secondly, when consumers purchase a product, they should be clear on what they&rsquore deciding to buy they must not be deceived by misleading labels or the casual use of names or words that aren&rsquot accurate. For instance, when purchasing Piquillo peppers from Spain that carry a denomination of origin seal to certify authenticity, consumers should know what that seal is and why it&rsquos there. And while the absence of that seal on a different jar of similar-looking peppers doesn&rsquot preclude that they could be very tasty, it&rsquos not the traditional pepper of the Spanish Basque Country.
Defining Traditional Foods
Here&rsquos what the term &ldquotraditional foods means to me. At Zingerman&rsquos, there are four things that we look at in this context. (Conveniently they all start with &ldquot so they&rsquore easy to remember.) Tradition
= The taste of traditional food
Start with tradition. The late Lionel Poilane, whose unexpected death last fall has deprived the world of a successful devotee of traditional foods, said, &ldquoThe man with the best future is the one with the longest memory. The better we understand the roots of the food, the more effectively we can make&mdashand then market&mdashthose foods. To appreciate a traditional product, we need to know as much as possible about the context it comes from. What are the socio-economic, religious, political, historical or geographic factors that have influenced the product and the region in which it was produced? For instance, the influence of the Spaniards in Sicily and the role of wild rice in the Upper Midwest come to mind. Then, take technique. While innovation can be of great value in building on existing methods of production, I prefer to find out what the traditional technique was in the first place. In fact, I&rsquom always inclined to go to the older technique until someone can prove to me that a new approach actually enhances the flavor, not just reduces cost and extends shelf-life. If polenta was once stone-ground, that&rsquos what I start out looking for. For instance, when we began to produce handmade cream cheese at the Creamery this year, we simply returned to the old methods from a century ago, techniques that have fallen out of favor because the product they yield is shorter on shelf-life and far more labor intensive. But the flavor is far, far greater.
Third, there&rsquos the terroir, the term the French use to refer to the flavor that comes from the soil in which the food got its start. Pierre Androuet, the late French affineur, wrote, &ldquoEvery region has its mysteries, over which no technology, no chemistry have yet prevailed . . . vegetation, climate, rainfall, nature of the subsoil, breed of animal, all contribute towards making a cheese into a unique, inimitable product.
The same is true for any food. Because the flavor of all traditional products starts in the soil, it&rsquos important to know where the food originated. Personally, I want it to come from the spot it originally came from. Wild rice from one lake in Minnesota will taste totally different than wild rice from another 25 miles away. Cheddar from Somerset tastes different from cheddar from the South Island of New Zealand. That olive oil produced from Tuscan varietals in California may be great oil, but it is not Tuscan. On the reverse, great olive oil from Napa cannot be reproduced anywhere else. Any traditional product will taste different from one made with similar techniques in a non-traditional place. Any of the three&mdashtradition, technique and terroir&mdashcan stand on its own and contribute to the finished flavor of the food. But when you have all three elements operating in conjunction, the result will be the full flavor and traditional taste that I&rsquom after. Well-made traditional foods will be noticeably more flavorful than similarly named but industrially produced counterparts. Real vanilla, quite simply, is more complexly flavored than vanillin. Pork from free-ranging pigs is far more flavorful than from pigs raised in industrial confinement.
Taking Personal Responsibility
What is your responsibility to protect, enhance and make viable these foods? Ultimately, the res-ponsibility for protecting the integrity of traditional foods lies with each of us. Please note, these are the commitments I have made they are not appropriate for everybody. Everyone has the choice to pursue their own passions and the products that relate to them.
My responsibility starts with an organizational obligation. Zingerman&rsquos guiding principles explicitly state that we work with traditional foods, and that we will work with businesses that share our values. As a retailer, I feel that I have a responsibility to support traditional producers, to dig deeper to find the old ways, to track down those who craft hard-to-find traditional foods and not just settle for what&rsquos readily available through the easier-to-use distribution chains. I am willing to pay more to get those foods because labor-intensive traditional techniques mean that they will cost more. In turn, to be financially viable as a business, I must be willing to charge more for these traditional foods than for comparable, but less flavorful, industrial alternatives.
I have a responsibility to keep traditional products true to their roots. The more special those foods, the more likely they will remain the province of specialty food retailers, not mainstream mass marketers. Authentic, traditional Balsamic vinegar will never be on the shelves of discount retailers factory-made &ldquobalsamic can show up anywhere for a couple of bucks a bottle. Outside of its home territory, year-old cured Virginia country ham will always be a specialty food water-added, cooked &ldquoVirginia ham&mdashwhich has nothing to do with the traditional product other than the name&mdashcan show up at incredibly low prices in every deli counter in the country. From a financial standpoint, preserving authentic traditional foods help us define our well-differentiated niche in the marketplace and keep customers coming back when competitors are opening all around us.
Restaurateurs have a similar responsibility. In addition, they should make a commitment not to misuse names on menus. What percentage of the Roquefort dressing listed on American menus is made with Appellation d&rsquoOrigine Controlee Roquefort? What percentage of wild rice is wild? It&rsquos far less than 100% 50% would surprise me.
As a cheesemaker, we live this responsibility by naming our cheeses after the place where we make them. (This issue has been an ongoing struggle for artisan cheesemakers and I respect those who&rsquove chosen to use better-known French, Italian or Spanish names). Since we&rsquore striving to make American originals, we name them after the area in which we&rsquore producing the cheese, not after other towns or regions where comparable cheeses might have been made. (Speaking of names, my research into traditional cream cheese production revealed that the name &ldquoPhiladelphia was tied to cream cheese not because of terroir&mdashit wasn&rsquot originally made in the city&mdashbut because of the uppercrust cachet that the name &ldquoPhiladelphia carried in colonial circles.) When writing, even for a store newsletter or shelf-talkers, we must be committed to take the time to inform people with accurate and in-depth information. And in writing recipes, don&rsquot take the easy way out by listing substitutes that aren&rsquot comparable and not authentic.
Lastly, as a consumer, I must constructively ask about where my food comes from, how it was made and who made it. And, ultimately, I have to be willing to pay more to get authentic, traditional, full-flavored foods. Each of us must make informed choices as retailers, restaurateurs, communicators and consumers. Then, the term &ldquotraditional itself, and the thousands of terrific old-style foods that are tied to it, will be able to retain meaning and value. When the traditional food names get used, they should imply content, not just cachet. I&rsquom always inclined to go to the older technique until someone can prove to me that a new approach actually enhances the product. It&rsquos important to defend rather than diminish diversity.
Ari Weinzweig is the co-owner of Zingerman&rsquos Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Mich., and author of Zingerman&rsquos Guide to Good Olive Oil and other books.
More items to explore
Most excitingly, perhaps, Kummer has included 40 recipes from chefs and everyday cooks whose approach to food and cooking also represents the Slow Food ideal, and in this Kummer has excelled. Not meant for weekday cooking, but easily doable if, in line with the Slow Food ideal, people will put aside time to produce truly gratifying food, the recipes are hits that just keep on coming. Whether it's a simple Chicken Cacciatore with Baked Potatoes from the Piedmontese farm of Elena Rovera Fried Plantains with Chipotle Ketchup, courtesy of Steve Johnson at the Blue Room restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts an extraordinary lamb stew from master chef Daniel Boulud or Alice Waters's caramelized Apricot Tart, the recipes are universally superb. With an introduction by Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation , and marvelous color photos by Susie Cushner, the oversize book offers a thoughtful introduction to the movement, as well as culinary thrills to those willing to take it slow. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
The organization Slow Food - meant to stand as the antithesis to "fast food" - dedicates itself to artisanal and traditional foods. Italian journalist Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, contribute a brief preface and foreword, respectively. Kummer s history of the organization ably chronicles its growth from a protest against installation of a McDonald's in Rome in 1985 to its current focus on the Ark, "a directory of endangered foods around the world that members rescue by enjoying them." There is a section on 10 of the artisanal products included in the Ark, some coupled together for comparison (for example, there is a short essay on cheese made in the Basilicata region of Italy and another on cheese made in Vermont): these stories provide glimpses into the psyches of people like Jim Gerritsen, who has dedicated his life to growing heirloom potatoes in Maine. Kummer then offers simple, homespun recipes, and proposes that through each one, the homecook can learn "how to imprint that taste on your own dishes." Recipes are arranged from "Old World to New," so there are a few selections from Italy, such as Pesto alla Genovese from the Garibaldi family, who run a farmhouse restaurant in Liguria, and from Ireland - Baked Cheese with Winter Herbs from Tom and Giana Ferguson of County Cork. The vast majority of these 44 recipes, however, come from American restaurateurs such as Ana Sortun (Lamb Steak with Turkish Spices and Fava Bean Moussaka) from Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., as well as from Alice Waters and Daniel Boulud And while the recipes from America don't always focus on local ingredients, they do embrace the spirit of Slow Food. This is a noble and handsome effort. -Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Corby Kummer s work for the Atlantic Monthly and Gourmet has established him as "a dean among food writers" (San Francisco Examiner). A media commentator on food topics, he lives in Boston.
Susie Cushner is a Boston-based photographer whose work can be found in Viva la Vida (0-8118-3184-1), as well as Gourmet and Saveur magazines.
Eric Schlosser , author of the best-selling Fast Food Nation , lives in New York City.
Carlo Petrini , a food writer, is the founder and president of Slow Food. He lives in Italy.
Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Harborside, a regular participant in the public dialogue on locally grown, seasonal produce, faced a room overflowing with individuals in blue jeans, silk saris, turbans, African batiks-and earphones. The subject was Mass Communication about Agriculture in the United States, the setting was Terra Madre (Mother Earth) in Turin, Italy, and the earphones allowed simultaneous translation in English, Spanish, Italian, French and Russian.
This first congress of some 5,000 delegates representing 130 countries, including 13 Maine delegates, was organized by Slow Food International and held from October 20-23, 2004, to celebrate the contributions of small producers. Slow Food, founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, and counting some 83,000 members worldwide, exists to protect the pleasures of the table from fast food and the homogenization of modern life. The delegates were small-scale farmers, wild food gatherers, artisan food producers, fisherman, herders, restaurateurs and food writers.
Telling Our Story of Taste
Coleman talked about carrots as the essential element of communicating. “We communicate about food through the taste buds of children more than through TV, radio or newspapers. Children in the communities around our farm respond to food with taste.”
Maine Delegates at Terra Madre and their “Food Communities”
- Jim Amaral, Alna, Borealis Breads, Community of Bakers
- Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, Harborside, Four Season Farm, Farmers’ Market Community, New England
- Belinda Doliber, Swans Island, Lobster Council of Maine, Community of Maine Lobster Harvesters
- Janika Eckert and Rob Johnston Jr., Albion, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Community of North American Seed Savers
- Jim and Megan Gerritsen, and Angie Wotton, Bridgewater, WoodPrairie Farm, Farmers’ Market Community, New England
- Linda and Matt Williams, Linneus, Aurora Mills and Farm, Community of Grain and Field Crop Producers
- John and Shelley Jemison, Orono, Farmers’ Market Community, New England
The network of Slow Food members is organized into local groups – Condotte in Italy and Convivia elsewhere – which, coordinated by leaders, periodically organize courses, tastings, dinners and food and wine tourism, and promote campaigns launched by Slow Food. Organized Maine Convivia are Slow Food Maine-Rockland and the new Slow Food Aroostook County. New covivia are forming in Portland and Bethel. Information is available at www.slowfoodusa.org.
Many Mainers were in the room, and not just to hear their colleague. They, like delegates from India, England and Brazil, are growers challenged by the need to increase the market for their sustainably grown products. They looked to panelists for tips to attract media attention.
Mas Masumoto, a peach grower and writer from the Central Valley of California, proffered his media strategy. “Make the story magical we need an authentic story that separates what we do as farmers from promotion and marketing. We have to elevate the ordinary and everyday experience of the farmer to a higher level.”
Michael Pollan, a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Gourmet, stressed the importance of changing the story from the price of food to the narrative about how it is produced. “When we can get information to travel down the food chain, behavior changes and price becomes only one part of the decision on what to buy.” He set a goal to motivate vast numbers of people to increase what they spend on food to 15% of income and to increase their purchase of organically raised and local foods from growers, retailers and restaurants that support the movement.
Jim Amaral of Borealis Breads picked this session and others on getting the story out, because “we need to connect the farming community with the food producing community.” He launched his “baseball cards” in 2001, putting a face on producers by including cards with pictures and stories of such Maine farmers as wheat grower Matt Williams, another delegate, with his loaves of bread. Amaral shared this idea at a Terra Madre gathering of some 25 members of the Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Worldwide Connections: Power in Numbers
Terra Madre was organized to counter the way that decisions on agriculture at the international level seem to take place-exclusive of small farmers and the grassroots production base. For many participants, this was their first venture out of a home country for most it was the first time to meet people from other countries, particularly third-world countries, who were producing or growing the same food.
Most Maine delegates funded their own way, excited at the unique potential of Terra Madre. For Megan Gerritsen of WoodPrairie Farm, it was “a golden opportunity to meet with 5,000 other food producers. A community of farmers shares the same struggle to make a living selling food. Food is undervalued and under-priced. We all struggle with the economy, with the weather, and have a common bond, especially those of us who are organic and small farmers.”
Terra Madre had a clear goal: to create a forum to connect those who grow, raise, catch, create, distribute and promote food in ways that respect the environment, are economically and environmentally sustainable, defend agricultural biodiversity, support human dignity and protect the health of consumers.
Delegate Angie Wooton worked for Slow Food USA in New York in 2003 when the concept of Terra Madre was first floated. Now back in her childhood home of Littleton, Maine, and working at WoodPrairie, she approached the gathering with excitement but measured skepticism. “I thought it would be more for show and could not for the life of me fathom how it would work out. I hoped it would be sincere. It far surpassed any expectations that I had. Carlos Petrini, the instigator of Terra Madre, is one of those visionaries who inspire people to get it done.
“How can a little farmer take on Monsanto? Yet there I was with 5,000 others like me, and I realized that it does matter, we do make a difference, we have to keep fighting the industrialized agriculture world and [the] whole GMO.”
Terra Madre organized its delegates by “food communities”-the long chain of people involved in getting food to the consumer. Invited delegates are part of a chain of production, linked by a common product, ethnic identity, region, history or approach.
The selection process and fundraising by Slow Food convivia, with the major support from Slow Food International, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Piedmont Regional Authority and the City of Turin, gathered 1185 food communities from around the world: 164 from Africa 188 from Latin America 109 from North America 140 from Asia and Oceania 136 from Eastern Europe 178 from Western Europe and 270 from Italy. Maine’s growing organic and artisan food movement and predominance of small farms generated a delegation disproportionate to its population-one larger than those from Massachusetts, Michigan or Texas. It included representation from the “food communities” of farmers’ markets, bakers, lobster harvesters, seed savers and grain and field crop producers.
Terra Madre was held at Turin’s Palazzo del Lavoro, a mile from the fifth biennial Salone del Gusto, Slow Food’s major fair and a paradise of artisan foods. Salone had aisles of the finest cheeses, chocolates, smoked meats, preserves and wines made by small-scale producers in a sustainable manner in communities around the world, there for the tasting and often sufficient for a free meal. Terra Madre’s delegates created their own spontaneous market at the center of the Palazzo where, at any moment, displays and tastings of yerba mate from Argentina, yak milk from Ladakh in the Himalayas, dried mangoes from Africa and cheeses from Italy appeared.
The proximity was deliberate. Petrini in his opening remarks encouraged the delegates to “take a walk through the pavilions to see the products but also to meet the producers and consumers: all of them committed to fueling the creative force between every human identity: exchange.”
Terra Madre opened and closed United Nations-style as thousands of people, many in native dress, assembled in front of a stage filled with a flag and delegate from each represented country to hear the luminaries of the movement. They included Vandana Shiva, author of Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, a passionate advocate for involving school children in gardens and Prince Charles, an organic farmer and ardent supporter of traditional agriculture.
Over 60 “Earth Workshops” addressed water, seed and energy resources destruction of rural economies the role of women in agriculture and sustainable fishing and organic cultivation. Smaller, fringe meetings organized around projects, themes, food communities, books and regions. Angie Wooton resonated to Swedish-born Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, who, in a session with Vandana Shiva on the Food Manifesto, questioned a system “that exports products such as milk that it then needs to import at higher cost.”
Informal Contacts Prove Invaluable
Many Maine delegates’ best experiences came from conversations in lunch lines, on bus rides and over communal, traditional meals in Piedmont’s villages, where they were housed in monasteries, agritourism facilities, homes and farms. Janika Eckert and husband Rob Johnston Jr. of Johnny’s Selected Seeds had signed on to farm hospitality, wondering how Terra Madre could possibly “make housing assignments for the thousands of delegates, get them fed and get them transported.” They were hesitant about staying in a family’s household, but found “it was the best part.”
They were placed on the Zappino family’s multi-generation dairy farm in Pralormo, an hour from Marizza Zappino’s family vegetable farm dedicated to a heritage variety of corn sold to a local mill for polenta. “It was perfect. We come from Albion, heart of dairy farms,” noted Eckert, “and we are interested in grains. We were also intrigued by the value-added products, the jams, jellies and nuts, they produced.”
An equestrian school in Mattie housed Matt and Linda Williams of Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus Amaral and four other Americans, including a baker from Vermont. One of Williams’ best memories is of Giovanno, a beekeeper and rare sheep breeder, who made the communal dinner the first night for their group and for neighbors hosting other groups.
Williams attended sessions on grains, but it took a lunch break for him to meet Marc Liselle of Saskatchewan. Liselle grows ‘Red Fife’ wheat, a variety of interest to Williams, and offered to sell him seeds. Williams, who has insufficient land for extensive experimentation, will wait to learn from his new colleague how this year’s production goes before committing to his own crop.
Megan Gerritsen made friends on long bus rides with the First Nations people from Minnesota who gather wild rice, one of the foods from Terra Madre delegates featured at Salone.
Italy gave Maine’s contingent perspective, energy and motivation to think more broadly about how to connect their work with additional groups and people. Coleman tagged this the “think globally, eat locally” phenomenon. For him Terra Madre was the “Woodstock of Agriculture, a validation for the small farmers who are out their producing a superior product, typically without appreciation or recognition.”
Eckert was inspired by how African women described their agriculture. Food for them was “so basic, so important, the mainstay of community, what they build their lives around, sometimes like gold.”
Williams observed that “representatives from the U.S. were the most disadvantaged” in relation to a culture of food. “We live inside a culture and an economy that is the antithesis of Slow Food, a highly industrialized system of growing and distributing. We have more to overcome culturally, since we have no culture of food. We have to fight to change the paradigm of how people eat, and get away from the American trend to use food just to fill stomachs.”
Delegate John Jemison, a water quality specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, stumbled on the iconic Slow Food snail on an Italian restaurant in 2000, and returned for a 2003 sabbatical to immerse himself in the Slow Food movement. He used those experiences to develop a 25-hour Environmental Sustainability Course for the public, offered regularly through University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Presentations by Shiva, Waters and Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who took on Monsanto after his fields were contaminated with Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready canola, made Jemison feel that “the core lessons of the course are the right ones. Now I have to get people to re-evaluate their food and culture and take the time to prepare and eat locally based food with its personal, community and environmental benefits” and, a la Alice Waters, “get more involved with children and school gardens.”
Delegates Appreciate Maine Organizations
Italy made Maine’s delegates recognize and appreciate the strength of their own infrastructure. “Maine stood out from other states and countries at Terra Madre,” according to Wooten, “by having MOFGA and its huge Common Ground Fair.” Maine also has a GE Free Maine movement in which she wants to get more involved. Amaral finds Farm Fresh Connections, which builds business relationships among Maine farmers, students, institutional food buyers and local communities, and the Eat Local Foods Coalition, which promotes more in-state consumption of Maine farm products, valuable parts of Maine’s infrastructure to promote sustainable agriculture.
Williams, inspired by sessions on linking restaurateurs and growers, took home “the need to liberate the consumer to experience the enjoyment of food,” with restaurants as a vehicle and, in Carlo Petrini’s words, “co-producers.” Restaurateurs Melissa Kelly and Price Kushner of Primo in Rockland, who attended Salone, and who grow most of their own produce and showcase seasonal Maine foods, mixed with colleagues and shopped for new artisan products, ideas and connections.
Buying Local Brings the Rest in Line
Eckert realized as she listened to people from Third World countries that “it should not just be people with money who have good food. We confuse fast food with the cost of food in general. Somehow, we must change our American attitude toward what we spend for food. If I had to focus on one thing, it would be to buy local. If we do that, the rest will come into line.”
Slow Food at its essence is about families and friends sitting down together to enjoy local food, in season, produced using sustainable methods and prepared following traditional recipes. Amaral sees Slow Food as a natural fit for Maine, with its “strength of community-based efforts, coastal farmers’ markets, northern Maine rural connectedness, small town meetings where people know each other and have social bonds, and the seasonal products like fiddleheads.”
As a potato grower, Megan Gerritsen’s goal is to help people regain lost knowledge of cooking, gardening and enjoying food. She remembers the comment that the flavorful tomatoes served at a communal Slow Food gathering “are best when they are grown on the slopes of Vesuvius.” Returning to Aroostook County, she convened an informal Slow Food group that meets monthly over potluck meals. The organic network and MOFGA connect her family to farmers, she says, and Slow Food builds new connections to consumers in their community.
Mainers understand the meaning of a flavorful, local tomato, a time-limited happening. This is, after all, a state where the Department of Agriculture and Eat Local Foods Coalition collaborate for an August Tomato Tasting Week, when freshly picked tomatoes are at their tasty peak. This symbolic and pragmatic effort connects farmers and consumers with seasonal produce and the place where it is grown. What else would one expect from a state that is on the Slow Food fast track?
A request for expert knowledge from the students of Cannon Hill State School:
We realise that many of the slow food Brisbane community have a passion for and a depth of agricultural and gardening knowledge. It would be wonderful if you had 30 minutes to spare to assist the project based learning that is happening at Cannon Hill State School. One of our Slow Food Brisbane committee, Christine Ling is the principal of this school and has asked if we could seek out some members willing to share their knowledge with the year 5 and 6 students in an informal way.
In sum: Canon Hill State School is teaching their students using project-based learning. That means the students must choose a project and they learn by developing it and getting expert advice to enhance their learning experience.
The theme that they have been given is “How can we eat well and look after the environment” and they must think of projects to develop this theme.
Some of the examples they have come up with so far are.
- Seed Saving
- Watering Systems
- Fruit growing
- Seasonal growing
- Recipes for garden produce
- Preventing chickens wrecking gardens
- Chicken care
- A bee project
- A worm farm
If any of our members have expertise in any of the above areas and would like to contribute their time to help these very enthusiastic students could you please let us know ([email protected]). It could involve a Skype interview or a visit to the Canon Hill State School.
Slow Food Brisbane is a not-for-profit organisation. It is our goal to donate profits from functions to groups that we support, such as Foodbank, Cannon Hill State School Kitchen Garden Project, Millen Farm etc and when possible, to selected community gardens. Thank you in advance for your continued active support.