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Aug 28, 2006 05:46 AM

Slow Food Discussion Continued [Split from thread on California]

Personally, I find the whole "slow food" thing a little silly and pretentious. Great restaurants have been practicing the slow food ethos for years, long before this name/idea was cobbled together to promote something restaurants should already have been doing.

Just my $.02

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  1. Josh, I'm surprised to hear you say this, and I echo Dr. K's comments below (or above, where my post ends up in relation to his). If you haven't had a chance to investigate Slow Food much here's a link for the San Diego convivium and here's the main Slow Food link Do take a few mintues, or a few hours, to check them out and I think you'll discover it isn't about pretension and it isn't contrived.

    Slow Food is about so much more than what ends up on a restaurant plate. It's also pretty amazing - I think - that one guy, one restauranteur who was appaled by the opening of a McDonald's has been able, in less than 20 years, develop an entire organization and focus attention on a crisis in agriculture.

    It's certainly no secret that the American farmer is and has been progressively squeezed off the land by increasing changing tastes, increasing costs and shifting weather patterns. At the same time agribusiness as mushroomed in size and the detriment of the small farmer and we the consumer. Slow Food works to promote the small farmer, the artesan producer and to preserve foods that are on the brink of extinction through their ARK program.

    Tomatoes have never been a huge favorite of mine, though I eat them, a lot of them. I've eaten grocery store tomatoes, hot house tomatoes, home-grown tomatoes, fresh off the vine tomatoes and while some of them were really quite good, none of them really turned my crank as far as taste or texture. This past May I was in Florence for a conference and had tomatoes. What a revelation; I got it, what a tomato was really supposed to taste like. And I like them! Last week I was in Mexico and had lunch at an off-the-tourist-track fish place. There was a fresh salsa on the table with some sorry looking pale toms in it. Let's just say I wasn't expecting much. Wrong again. The tomatoes were bursting with flavor, proving that old axiom once again about assume ;-). I can hazard a very educated guess that the tomatoes I had in both Italy and Mexico were locally grown by small farmers, ripened on the vine to allow appropriate sugar development, not picked green, not trucked hundreds (or possibly thousands) of miles to market, not refrigerated to extend their shelf life, and were most likely a local variety well suited to being grown and produced in that soil and weather environment.

    This is Slow Food. Finding ways to maintain, strengthen and grow the connection between the earth and the plate. It's about maintaining traditions in both food products and methods so they don't fade into unnecessary oblivion. In the U.S. we now have 2 generations (and we're working on the 3rd) that have grown up not knowing how to cook. That's ashame but it's also where the disruption of the link between agriculture and the plate was disrupted. Cookbooks and the cooking magazines have been so dumbedown I sometimes wonder what's being lost in the translation (so to speak). The process of going to a store to shop, of selecting, touching and converting raw products into a meal transmits volumes, sort like culinary on-the-job training :-).

    Think of the great cuisines of the world - Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and okay, I'll throw in French - what do all of these have in common? Aside from the fact they are all agrianly based, they all still reflect the direct connection between the land, identity and the history of the country. It's all intimately intertwined. Slow Food Mexico has been trying to get their entire cuising declared a "patromonia" (by, I believe UNESCO) because (among other reasons) it is a direct link and connection to it's pre-columbian roots. They were recently turned down, but I suspect they've only gone back to the drawing board.

    Restaurants and what they do and what they serve are only a small part of the Slow Food equation. There's more to food and dining than the narrow segment we call a restaurant :-D

    2 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      I guess it just seems so obvious that it's a desireable way to approach cuisine that making a movement out of it seems really strange. Not to beat a dead horse, but Belgian Lion in Ocean Beach used to do all the things you describe as a matter of course.

      When I worked in restaurants back in the late '80s, vegetables from Chino farms was a given (at least when it came to the places that I worked).

      Perhaps I was a little harsh in the way I phrased what I was saying, but my fundamental point is that it just seems like the way restaurants should be. As someone who's done their produce shopping at People's for the past 16 years, I guess I take the farm-fresh aspect for granted.

      1. I see your point Josh, which is why I raised the question. Why do we have to make a big deal out of something we should already be doing as second nature? The problem is that somebody needs to make a big deal out of it, because too many other people don't care or don't see the difference.

        You and I might never think about setting foot in a TGI Fridays or cooking up jalapeno poppers or tater tots for our dinner (and nothing else) but a lot of people don't know anything else. The idea is to raise awareness and promote sustainable food production and preparation. The focus of the benefit last night was raising money for a garden for a school, to teach kids about raising food.

        I really wish more people would get involved instead of taking this attitude. The organization is made up of the people who populate it. Currently, that is wealthy, middle aged white people - but membership is not restricted. It costs about $50. to join as a solo, and $75 for a couple to join. If we really feel strongly about this stuff, then we should participate in the organization and make changes, instead of just pooh-poohing it from the sidelines.

        1. And just what is wrong with a jalapeno popper? Have you ever even had one?

          To me that is the biggest problem with food boards - the snobbery. On the wine board here someone commented to me "Maybe one red and one white is enough for your taste but not for mine" (For the record I have likely tasted over 5,000 wines in my time, not a lot compared to 'big' tasters but enugh to have picked up a thing or two)

          "A lot of people don't know anything else" I read this in the same discussion where an adult claims to have never eaten a decent tomato until this year - and he had to travel to Italy to get it!

          Much of what I read in DiningDiva's post is flatly untrue, yet nobody says anything about it, you just metaphorically nod your heads sagely, yes everyone else is so uneducated and unskilled, unconnected, uncultured, uncaring, un-us.

          3 Replies
          1. re: FrankJBN

            I just reread DiningDiva's post and I can't find a single statement that it "flatly untrue." The tone is a bit strong, but that's really just a product of her passion. Would you be so kind as to point out some of the factual errors?

            1. re: FrankJBN

              I think you're somewhat right Frank, though not 100%. I see a lot of extremes on Chowhound. On the one hand, I see uber-gourmets who seem to only concern themselves with high-end restaurants, and on the other I see people who delight in the inexpensive gems and view the high-end stuff with suspicion.

              Myself, I'm in the middle. I like both, and can see the value in each.

              For the record, I've had jalapeno poppers, and my favorite version of them are called Firecrackers at Zensei Sushi in North Park (San Diego). It's a fresh jalapeno-half, filled with cream cheese, tempura-battered, and fried. They rock. (But I've had some pretty terrible jalapeno poppers in my day, that's for sure)

              When I first found Chowhound, I was surprised to see a distinction made between 'hounds and "foodies", with foodie used as a disparaging term for people who follow trends. I don't really agree with this, but I have certainly encountered it. But I've also encountered the other extreme, where if a place is nice or isn't a hole in the wall, then it can't be good.

              There is truth in many of Dining Diva's comments, though she might be engaging in some hyperbole as well. There is a shortage of awareness among many people of the importance of good ingredients. You have whole generations of people raised on Lunchables, whose parents know nothing about cooking. You can't tell me that these people will magically obtain discerning palates.

              Like anything else, good judgment of food is based on experience and education. It's no different than art, music, etc. Sure, some people blow their money on paintings of antrhopomorphized olives diving into a martini glass. Sure they may even like it. Does that make it good art? Does the fact that people keep places like Olive Garden in business mean Olive Garden serves good Italian food?

              There's a huge disconnect between perception and reality when marketing is involved. People who aren't educated enough to know the difference are easily bamboozled.

              I'm not speaking in defense of snobbery at all - some of my favorite local places are cheap ethnic holes-in-the-wall serving kick-ass home-style cooking. But I do agree that most of the public is pretty uneducated when it comes to food, and that's not a good thing. Without sustained demand for quality, Sysco-supplied chains become the norm and the standard. I don't think quality cuisine should be a niche product. Unfortunately that's what it seems to be.

              1. re: FrankJBN

                I think you have misunderstood what I was trying to say Frank. I have had many jalapeno poppers, and in the right place at the right time they can be a good thing - but not as as a meal.

                Unfortunately, a lot of people don't eat fresh high quality food. It's cheaper to eat poorly in this country than it is to eat well - primarily because prepared foods are less perishable and provide more calories per dollar.

                The fact that kids do not grow up eating healthy is a big problem - in fact teachers have overwhelmingly told a charititable organization that I belong to that nutrition education is their number one need. It used to be malnutrition - now it's overnutrition. Ironic, isn't it?

                I don't care about the difference between "foodie" and "chowhound." I like what I like, whether it's high end or low, and I try very hard to patronize local businesses because I like to support the community that I live in. I also like the idea of minimizing environmental impact. I don't think that makes me a snob, but if you disagree then I guess that's your perogative. I stand by what I said earlier - and I don't think Slow Food is silly or pretentious, even if it is not a perfect solution.

              2. Folks, I think the problem here isn't who is right (or righteous as the case may be) or wrong; whether someone is a foodie or a chowhound; supports Slow Food or thinks it's pretentious.

                No, the problem is that the Board mods in their infinite wisdom split this thread into not 1, not 2 but 3 separate threads. I think any continuity or context that might have once been has been lost in the translation..........

                Frank, I suspect that had you seen the thread in it's entirety some of the posts upon which you commented might have made more sense.