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Point Reyes Light (California)

Slow Food Nation Celebrates The Good, clean and Fair

Molly Birnbaum

Slow Food is a tomato, plucked from the garden. It is a wedge of Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and beef short ribs from Marin Sun Farms. It is Peter Worsley and Warren Weber. It is a discussion and a debate, a concept and a crowd. Slow Food, exalted by some and disparaged by others, is a movement that has seen a worldwide explosion in the last two decades. Its mission: to create a food system that is "good, clean, and fair."That mission is gaining momentum in the national media: Slow Food Nation, a gargantuan festival in San Francisco set for Labor Day Weekend, will be the first-ever American gathering to unify the sustainable food movement. It is no surprise that West Marin is playing an active role in the event-the mission fits comfortably in the county's vibrant community of organic farmers and conscientious local eaters.

On Saturday afternoon of this week, a lunch hosted by celebrity chef and Slow Food champion Alice Waters was held on Peter Worsley's farm in Point Reyes Station. Organized by Marin Organic, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and Point Reyes Books, the event raised $4,000 for Slow Food Nation and the Point Reyes Farmers' Market.

It was an "opportunity for Alice, jut being there on Peter's farm, to reinforce West Marin as an epicenter of slow food," said Steve Costa, owner of Point Reyes Books, which will be the festival's official bookseller.

Slow Food Nation has been advertised as the Woodstock for gastronomes. Fifteen pavilions designed by volunteer architects in the Bay Area will be filled with things like cheese, beer, and pickles; there will be discussions and panels on subjects ranging from climate change to education. There will be rock concerts, hikes, and art exhibits. A large "Victory Garden" has already been planted in front of San Francisco's City Hall. The festival aims to promote a way of life filled with food that is delicious, environmentally friendly, and socially just.

Its organizer, Slow Food USA, was founded in 1998, 12 years after the movement began in Italy. Its goal is to incite radical change in the way America eats-"away from the destructive effects of an industrial food system and fast life," reads their website manifesto. The international organization boasts 122 countries and more than 83,000 members, and has 16,000 members in America.

In 1986, Italian writer and editor Carlo Petrini started Slow Food in the Piedmont region's town of Bra in protest of a McDonald's set to open in Rome. He wanted to preserve a way of life: agricultural biodiversity and a tradition of local foods. "I always say a gastronome who isn't an environmentalist is just stupid, and I say an environmentalist who isn't a gastronome is just sad," he told the New York Times last year.

West Marin, with its long history of organic and local agricultural growth and production, epitomizes much of what Slow Food hopes to accomplish. Slow Food Marin, Marin Organic, Marin Agricultural Land Trust and Marin Agricultural Institute are all involved in the planning and operation of events for the festival. They will be hosting a few "Slow Journeys," which involve trips to farms in Bolinas, as well as creameries, ranches, and vineyards across Marin.

Warren Weber operates Star Route Farms, the oldest continuously certified organic farm in California, and will be giving a tour of his farm for the "Mysterious Bolinas" Journey.

"We're definitely pleased they're having it out here," he said. "They are recognizing the value of local sustainable food, organic farming, and it highlights what our region is doing."

A bevy of farmers, chefs, and producers from West Marin will be bringing their products-from raspberry jam to Mint Confetti Ice cream-to the taste pavilions at Slow Food Nation. Point Reyes Preserves, Cowgirl Creamery, Ancient Organic Ghee, Three Twins Ice Cream, and Straus Family Creamery will be there on Saturday and Sunday of the weekend festival.

"We love the whole idea of local food and making local product," said Peter Malakoff, co-owner of Ancient Organics Ghee. He and his partner, Gilda Zucolella, make ghee, a clarified butter from India, using Straus butter on waxing and full moons in a commercial kitchen in Richmond.


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The festival's buzz is contagious. Postcards and posters hang near Toby's Feed Barn, in Point Reyes Books, and on tables at the farmer's market. Articles have been written in many major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times, and blogs are vibrating with news and hype. Many hope that the national attention will bring change towards an organic, environmentally friendly way of life.

"We're definitely going to see changes," said Weber. "Marin, of course, is one of the counties that will exemplify that."

Slow Food USA has been criticized in the past as having an elitist image-touting fancy wines and cheeses unattainable and unaffordable to the majority of America. The festival has received criticism as well.

"For me, Slow Food Nation represents a bit of a breaking point for me with Slow Food. I either walk away invigorated that people are trying to do the right thing, or pissed off that while the cloud-high intentions of Slow Food are sound, but the way in which they are chased makes them unobtainable to all but the wealthy," wrote Bill Burge, a UNIX administrator from St. Louis, in a comment on, a blog exploring food in the Bay Area. "I do okay in life, but even I think that the pricing on the events, with each one costing money, means that most people are unable to attend."

But for many, Slow Food Nation is a chance for Slow Food USA to revamp its image. Though tickets to the taste pavilions at Slow Food Nation are between $45 and $65 and lectures are $20, the group is making a vast and concerted effort to include a wide range of people and politics in the festival.

"I think that this occasion will be a marked change," said Malakoff. "Its like the first day of spring, which is not always sunny, but even then holds a sense that spring is coming."

The festival will feature panels on hunger, race, and diversity; Slow Food USA is adding college chapters, and trying to bring more people into the fold.

Constance Washburn, education director at Marin Agricultural Land Trust, who is curating a panel for the festival called "No Farms No Food! Preserving the Land Base," thinks that the energy exploding from people who attend the festival will make its mark. "The philosophy will radiate out from there," she said.

On Saturday afternoon in Point Reyes Station, Alice Waters sat at a long table festooned with flowers and radishes. Sixty other diners filled the chairs around the celebrity chef, who glowed in a yellow-gold blouse. They had spent the afternoon walking among the corn stalks and tomato plants, sipping wine and tiny cups of cucumber soup.

Just before dessert, Waters stood to talk, shielding her eyes from the sun. She spoke of the need to support local farmers and her desire to implement agriculture in the school systems, to unify and to empower, to cultivate good food and gardens. Though the most important thing, she said, is to be present.

"If we make the right choices, we can save the world," she said.

© 2008 Point Reyes Light

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