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Wrongheaded Assault on Slow Food

The March, 2008 issue of [URL=http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/inde...] focuses on the overarching idea of localism and its relationship to sustainability. It is, as always, a beautiful and well-written issue, but in it one particular columnist, Bruce Sterling, has taken Slow Food to task accusing us once again of that old canard, elitism.

Now while it is true that the movement is often accused of such things, it is not an accurate accusation, nor is it always such a bad thing anyway. Bear in mind that most of the great social movements throughout history were begun by the so-called “elite,” (witness abolition and suffrage - not to mention that Ghandi was a well-to-do attorney). But the places Mr. Sterling gets it wrong are so manifold it’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s try here:

[QUOTE]The Cornish Pilchard. The Chilean Blue Egg Hen. The Cypriot Tsamarella and Bosnian Sack Cheese. You haven’t seen these foods at McDon­ald’s because they are strictly local rarities championed by Slow Food, the social movement founded to combat the proliferation of fast food. McDonald’s is a multinational corporation: it retails identical food products on the scale of billions, repeatedly, predictably, worldwide. Slow Food, the self-appointed anti-McDonald’s, is a “revolution” whose aim is a “new culture of food and life.”[/QUOTE

]

Actually you haven’t seen these foods at McDonald’s because McDonald’s sells hamburgers. Here Mr. Sterling has blundered by believing that who/what Slow Food is is somehow stagnant and monolithic. If such things were true then the US would still be a few puritan slave owners dotted up and down the east coast. Or the Chicago Cubs would have been the National League power for the last century. He goes on…More...

[QUOTE]Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Ital­ian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini.[/QUOTE]

I’ve often wondered what it is about food and wine that makes those who appreciate it automatically labeled “snobs.” Wine is just fermented grape juice actually one of the simplest foods known to man. Appreciating quality is not snobbery. Pretending to know something one doesn’t actually understand - that’s snobbery. For some reason someone who appreciates the inner workings of a fine internal combustion engine is not a snob, but someone who likes a well made buerre blanc is.

[QUOTE]The group is the suave host for massive international food events in Torino. Other Slow Food emanations include a hotel, various nonprofit foundations, and—in a particularly significant development—a private college. The [URL=http://www.unisg.it/eng/index.php]Uni... of Gastronomic Sciences[/URL], founded in 2004, is the training ground for 200-plus international Slow Food myrmidons per year, who are taught to infiltrate farms, groceries, heritage tourism, restaurants, commercial consortia, hotel chains, catering companies, product promotion, journalism, and government. These areas are, of course, where Slow Food already lives.[/QUOTE

]

My, we are sinister, aren’t we? We are “suave,” and we are “infiltrating” a host of consortia and other institutions (notably journalism, after all, here I am) with our “myrmidons.” (Curious? Yeah, I had to look it up too - despite my apparent position in my ivory tower as an intellectual elite - it means “a follower who carries out orders without question.” Evidently now we’re a cult)

I’m not sure why Mr. Sterling considers these ideas to be so threatening, but the fact is Slow Food couldn’t care less what the McDonalds and Monsantos of the world do, until they start to crap where we live. In the meantime, we promote these ideas because we believe them to be good ideas worthy of proliferation and preservation. Food defines who we are as individuals and as cultures. We are truly what we eat, and too many people are fast, cheap and easy. The right of ADM or Monsanto, Applebees or Burger King to swing its arms ends at the tip of the eater’s nose. Who owns your food owns you, and it is unwise to let that power rest in the hands of a very few wealthy corportations.

[QUOTE]As the spiritual, political, and ideological wellspring of all things “eco-gastronomic,” Slow Food has woven a set of quiet understandings with the city of Torino, the region of Piedmont, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.[/QUOTE]

Sir, due respect and setting aside your constant condescension for a moment, but there’s been nothing “quiet” about it. Logos for those government bodies and organizations are emblazoned on, for example, ALL the literature regarding the [URL=http://www.salonedelgusto.com/welcome... Del Gusto[/URL], (need proof? click that link) the largest food show of its kind, atracting 200,000 people each year. Oh, and yes, it’s in Italy. The organization was founded there, that’s why. Our last International Leaders’ Congress was held in Puebla, Mexico because preserving the foods and traditions of the so-called “developing” world is at the top of Slow Food’s mission list. We are not as exclusionary as you seem to think.

In regard to Slow Food’s Presidia project, he had this to say:

[QUOTE] The cleverest innovation to date is the network’s presidium system. The Slow Food “presidia” make up a grassroots bottom-up version of the European “Domain of Control” system, which requires, for instance, that true “champagnes” must come from the province of Champagne, while lesser fizzy brews are labeled mere “sparkling wines.” These presidia have made Slow Food the planetary paladin of local production. Slow Food deploys its convivia to serve as talent scouts for food rarities (such as Polish Mead, the Istrian Giant Ox, and the Tehuacan Amaranth). Candidate discoveries are passed to Slow Food’s International Ark Commission, which decides whether the foodstuff is worthy of inclusion. Its criteria are strict: (a) Is the product nonglobalized or, better yet, inherently nonglobalizable? (b) Is it artisanally made (so there’s no possibility of any industrial economies of scale)? (c) Is it high-quality (the consumer “wow” factor)? (d) Is it sustainably produced? (Not only is this politically pleasing, but it swiftly eliminates competition from most multinationals.) (e) Is this product likely to disappear from the planet otherwise? (Biodiversity must be served!)[/QUOTE

]

Sterling seems to think this is being done for our organization’s own aggrandizement, or perhaps even profit. Simply not so. it s being done because, as the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity do clearly states:

5% of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900

93% of American food product diversity has been lost in the same time period

33% of livestock varieties have disappeared or are near disappearing

30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century, and one more is lost every six hours

The mission of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity is to organize and fund projects that defend our world’s heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions.

We envision a new agricultural system that respects local cultural identities, the earth’s resources, sustainable animal husbandry, and the health of individual consumers.

And yes, Mr. Sterling, biodiversity MUST be served. Nature does not function without it and the industrialization and standardization of food and flavors is a direct threat to that diversity. For those who would like to know the true mission (and criteria) of the Foundation for Biodiversity and the Presidia Projects, please click [URL=http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/]he...].

[QUOTE]It is, among its many other roles, a potent promotion machine. Transforming local rarities into fodder for global gourmets is, of course, profitable. And although he’s no capitalist—the much honored Petrini is more justly described as a major cultural figure—he was among the first to realize that as an economic system globalization destroys certain valuable goods and services that rich people very much want to buy.[/QUOTE

]

There he goes again, thinking that there is some profit motive behind what we do, like our 501(c)3 status and clear and concise billing as an educational organization is just some sort of front for gluttonous Nobles Oblige rather that an honest attempt to help preserve flavors, traditions, and ways of life. Does he really believe that mankind’s only choices are get on board with the agribusiness oligarchs or get run over by them? We think not. We think it’s a good idea to try to preserve great food. We think there should be more than one kind of hamburger in the world. More than one flavor of beer. We believe foundations and traditions are important because they make us who we are.

He concludes:

[QUOTE] But while McDonald’s mechanically peddles burgers to the poor, Slow Food acculturates the planet’s wealthy to the gourmand quality of life long cherished by the European bon vivant. They have about as much in common as an aging shark and a networked swarm of piranhas.[/QUOTE]

Yes, McDonald’s does do that, as the overwhelming rates of obesity and diabetes among “the poor” (especially children) so clearly demonstrates. But far from reserving these “cherished” foods of the world for some elite class, Slow Food is working to proliferate them, and to return them to the artisans and yes, often peasants, from which they originated. we seek to make people aware of the connections between food and pleasure on the one hand, and awareness and responsibility on the other.

Mr. Sterling’s dismissal of Slow Food’s successful efforts as snobbery or elitism rings quite hollow on closer examination of what Slow Food is truly trying to do. I suggest, Mr. Sterling, that you read more, learn more, and perhaps visit Slow Food Nation this coming summer. There you may open your eyes to a food system we call “Good, clean, and fair.”

“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food,” Thoreau once wrote, “cannot be a glutton. He who does not, cannot be otherwise.”

Read Mr. Sterling’s entire article [URL=http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/stor...]

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  1. sterling is a misguided little twit. he seems to imply that if it can't be mass produced and sold for $1, it's elitism and shouldn't be championed. he uses mcdonald's as a main example, and accuses slow food of being money hungry. hello?? anyone home in there??

    1. [QUOTE] But while McDonald’s mechanically peddles burgers to the poor, Slow Food acculturates the planet’s wealthy to the gourmand quality of life long cherished by the European bon vivant. They have about as much in common as an aging shark and a networked swarm of piranhas.[/QUOTE]

      No one is home where this apcray was written. apparently he hasn't visited the web site, of he would see that membership costs a measly $60 per year, and NO most of the members of our Northern New Jersey Convivium are just average folks. No millionaires..... What an obnoxious bag of wind!

      1. Moving from industrial food to slow food transfers food dollars from international food conglomerates to hard working farmers, ranchers, and food artisans. When people shop at the supermarket, farmers receive less than 10% of the money spent on food purchases. When people shop at the local farmer's market, farmers receive over 90% of the money spent on food purchases. Mr. Sterling appears to believe that the CEO of Monsanto is a member of the proletariat, and agricultural laborers are elitist fat-cats. What a misguided fool.

        1. yeah-- all those snobby. . . gardeners, with their, backyard gardens, they think they're so smart just because they know where their food is coming from!

          support local farmers, keep local canneries and dairies open? dine at restaurants that source food locally? why would we want to do that, when we can just ship everything to china for processing, and ship it back? why distribute our food dollars more evenly among people in our own locality (state, county, school district), when we can just stop at mcdonald's and give it to a couple of rich dudes who will invest it overseas? heck, what do we even need grocery stores for, between food stamps and mcdonald's, all of our country's nutritional needs seem to be provided for. . .

          2 Replies
          1. re: soupkitten

            Just scrolling down the beginning of the thread, but soupkitten: you said what was thinking.

            I never knew I was so elite? Sterling-lite, no less.

            Gads, people have to smarten up.

            Cay

            1. re: cayjohan

              Editing: you said what *I* was thinking...and I agree.

              And - Sterling-elite...that was lame, but I must correct. :-)
              Cay

          2. Devotay, thanks for taking the time to post the article and your thoughtful, articulate response. Mr. Sterling's supercilious pseudo-sophistication smacks of the Revenge of the Unknowing who wish to appear hip without losing their cynical sarcasm. Those who know not of what they speak shouldn't write for publication and Sterling is laughable in his ignorance.

            Magazines live by advertising revenue. God knows small farmers aren't paying NYC advertising rates to sell their food, but anyone with a grain of commonsense does know who is doing the paying ....... Sterling as shill for agribusiness ..... Well, that certainly demeans his accuracy and non-partisan piece, eh?

            1. Out of curiousity, since Slow Food's mission statement is world wide, what's the presence of slow food outside of Europe and the US in terms of trying to preserve foods that are on the brink of extinction (e.g. sharksfin).

              5 Replies
              1. re: limster

                Limster,

                While I couldn't address sharkfin specifically, Slow Food works in over 100 countries to preserve endangered foods, food traditions and folkways. Perhaps the Foundation's Social Report can provide the info you seek:

                http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/eng...

                If not, c'mon back and I'll try to help some more.

                Everybody else: Thanks so much for your support!

                Peace,
                kmf

                1. re: Devotay

                  I downloaded and searched....nothing there. Looking under Presida, the only thing listed for China (no HK) was a Tibetan yak cheese.

                  1. re: limster

                    China has been a particularly hard nut to crack (in a lot of ways!) but I believe you'll find out efforts in India, Africa and South America to be worthy.

                    1. re: Devotay

                      Any effort anywhere is worthy. But it's too bad about China, because given it's rate of modernisation,the vastness and diversity and in many of the foods there are in dire need of protection. I cite sharksfin because it's one of the most obvious -- wouldn't it be great if sharks are not in danger of extinction, so that we can partake in sharksfin at will.

                      There are many other examples of endangered species that are prominent, especially on Cantonese tables, many of which you might be hard pressed to find even in good zoos. It would be wonderful if that culinary heritage (as well as biodiversity) could be simultaneously preserved.

                      And of course there is the beloved scarlet robe, one of the rarest oolongs and one of the best.

                2. re: limster

                  I'm a member of the Cape Town convivium. One of two (soon to be three, hopefully) convivia in South Africa. There's been some talk about establishing an Ark of Taste (an ark is the slow food metaphor for protection of local specialities and ingredients) but we don't have one yet.

                3. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I suppose that most CHers would support the Slow Food Movement. So, Devotay, I think you have somewhat loaded the dice in favor of getting support for your feelings by posting here.

                  The main argument in favor of "Big Food" is the lower costs that industrialization has enabled with certain benefits to the poorest in our society.

                  Have you posted this on a "food for the poor" kind of board? One in which you will get a real dialog going, not simple agreement from like-minded people?

                  Please provide us with that link; I'd follow that thread with interest.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: filth

                    I support Slow Food. The points about biodiversity is well taken. Diverse food sources are, on the whole safer, better for the environment and provide more interesting tastes.

                    That said, you have to be in denial to say elitism isn't a factor and reality at this point in the U.S. It's like saying "I am NOT a yuppie"...and yet the louder you shout it...the less convincing it becomes.

                    Remember this little story from last year? I thought Petrini was angling towards the elitism.

                    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                    1. re: ML8000

                      Elitism is indeed a factor in the US, and there are snobs who are members of Slow Food (just as I suspect there are NASCAR fans who are snobs). But while you may think I doth protest too much, I am just sick and tired of the hard work that thousands of us put in every day trying to create a food system that is good, clean and fair get derided as nothing more than yuppie foodies stuffing their craws with foie gras.

                      And in the article you site, Petrini was actually condemning the very elitism that Sterling and others seem to see in him. Slow Food as an organization did a horrible job of handling that incident, and it cost us. That is one of the reasons that I refuse to let the MSM or the blogs frame the debate anymore at the risk of, as you put it, shouting too loud.

                      1. re: Devotay

                        There's no elitism anywhere but the US? And...what does NASCAR have to do with any of this? Careful what groups you hint are "not members of Slow Food." That's how the "elitism" definition starts to gain traction and have merit. Just as with any enormous group, there are certain to be people who enjoy NASCAR and who care passionately about the food they eat and how it is produced and handled.

                        Snobs certainly exist in all kinds of places; I will say that in the quote you note above the author only uses snob in the phrase "wine snobs" which is a term I hear people who are passionate about wine use to describe themselves (both on and off this site) quite frequently. So at least as regards that turn of phrase, I don't think there was any slight intended.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          My point was only that snobs are everywhere, as are any other subset of society.

                          And as for the wine snob thing, I believe that like many other terms, when one is applying to one's self, it is acceptable; when applying it to other as Mr. Sterling did, it can easily be taken as a slight. Witness a very controversial word that starts with 'n'.

                          But it is not the one word - it is the total lack of understanding of what Slow Food does, and the misrepresentation of it in the popular media, that is bothering me and that I am attempting to correct.

                          Slow Food does great work, and does not need to be falsely condemned by journalists who didn't do their homework (And he's living in Slow Food's hometown now!)

                    2. re: filth

                      I've posted it many places. The most disagreement so far has come through ChefTalk:

                      http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/profes...

                      I submitted it to Gristmill, where I expected vociferous opposition from commenters, and though they usually accept my submission on that blog, they did not this time. Dunno why.

                      It's also at Gather, eGullet, SlowFoodBlog, Treehugger, EdibleNation, and of course at the original post as well. Sadly Mr. Sterling has not responded.

                      1. re: filth

                        I forgot to mention that this morning I posted it to the Community Food Security listserv, which is very much of the type you inquired about. No responses from them yet though.

                        If there's another you could suggest, I'd welcome that.

                        1. re: filth

                          <Have you posted this on a "food for the poor" kind of board?> I don't know any parent who would knowingly feed his/her children the tainted food that is being passed off as healthful worldwide! Slow Food and other organizations (Share Our Strength comes to mind) are trying to show that it is possible (and necessary) to not just feed the hungry, but to feed them healthfully.

                        2. I pretty much dismissed this article when I read the word "leftists". Obviously this writer is a political regressive who believes anything that tries to counter the homogenizing effects of the multinational corporations is going to lead the world down a dangerous path of communism.

                          Why is it elitist to want to support a small farmer, but it's not elitist to support a giant wealthy corporation like McDonalds? You think MIckey D's execs eat their own food?

                          I agree there are elements of elitism in the local/slow food movement. Inner city poor don't have access to country farmer's markets or CSAs and if they're working multiple jobs, don't have time to cook a fabulous three-course meal, but articles like this don't help bring nutritious food to the masses. They just proliferate the idea that "McDonalds is good because it's cheap and not snobby," and therefore poor people would rather thumb their nose at the slow food elitists. In the mean time, elite McDonalds execs line their pockets.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Avalondaughter

                            McD execs apparently don't eat their own food, at least not much. Witness the fact that the inventor of the Egg McMuffin died this week at the ripe old age of 89. But it's also true that these execs don't make their money from the edible food-like substances they peddle. Most of the money the corporation makes come from the fact that they are the single largest holder of commercial real estate in the world.

                            But Avalon, you said:

                            \\I agree there are elements of elitism in the local/slow food movement. Inner city poor don't have access to country farmer's markets or CSAs and if they're working multiple jobs, don't have time to cook a fabulous three-course meal//

                            That food insecurity is obviously not a result of what Slow Food is doing, and meanwhile we work to mitigate it. Look to our efforts on Slow Food in Schools, Terra Madre, Urban Gardens, etc. etc. Note especially SFChicago's work to proliferate farmers' markets in its food-insecure neighborhoods.

                            And a Slow Food meal needn't be fancy, or 3 course, to be fabulous. Penne pomadoro takes 10 minutes to prepare, requires a total of 3 cooking skills (boil water, cut tomatoes & garlic, and saute), and makes a delightful, cheap, healthy dinner.

                            Slow Food is not fancy food, even if it can be when you want it to. If it is raised with care, prepared with passion and served with love then it is Slow Food.

                            1. re: Devotay

                              Devotay,

                              If you want to legitimize and popularize Slow Food, I recommend that you refrain from making comments like this: "McD execs apparently don't eat their own food, at least not much. Witness the fact that the inventor of the Egg McMuffin died this week at the ripe old age of 89."

                              I'm pretty sure you're just being sarcastic because I doubt you know how Herb Peterson lived his life. So, that comment is just argumentative, much the same as Sterling's article that you ripped.

                              I'm not sure what kind of converts you will get with that vinegary approach.

                              1. re: filth

                                It was sarcastic, and merely a reply to the similar comment made by Avalon.

                              2. re: Devotay

                                That must have been what I did wrong when cooking. I knew my dishes were missing something. Apparently I forgot to put in the love. Dang.

                            2. Every organization has it's good and bad sides. On the whole, I think the Slow Food mission is great- attempting to encourage food diversity and better eating, greater appreciation of foods, etc. The Terra Madre project, Urban Gardens, etc. represent what it should be about- education and inclusion. I happily joined my local chapter.

                              Unfortunately, what's it's become in the hands of many convivia is indeed a group of hypocritical snobs, bypassing small local businessess in their Hummers to shop and be seen at Whole Foods, putting small specialty stores out of business. We had a pretty active chapter in the town I had a cheese shop in. Despite attending meetings with lots of product in hand, offering to host events, Not ONE SF member ever spend a dime in my store, despite enjoying my wares at meetings and promising a visit. They were all at WF. I saw them every time I went to do a price and product comparison.

                              So while Sterling's comparison with McDonald's is ridiculous, I think he's right about many of the people running around shoving their slow food banners in your face.

                              30 Replies
                              1. re: cheesemonger

                                Again, individuals - sure - but the org? Nope. And I'd blame the problems you had on WF more than SF

                                1. re: Devotay

                                  In some ways, yes- but to sit in a room listen to people yak on about "supporting the little guy", and then doing the opposite, that's the people. And it's frustrating to those of us who are 'believers", and try to carry the message with our own time and money.

                                  I think that the principle of SF is wonderful, but I think some of the followers are not adherents to the philosophy, they just like to say they are.

                                  But if you think about it, every "movement" has it's joiners and charlatans, why should SF be any different? But it doesn't make the message wrong just because a few have made it a status symbol of sorts.

                                  I did, however, stop attending meetings and cancelled my membership.

                                  1. re: cheesemonger

                                    Monger - would you tell me where? I'd like to bring it to the attention of the leadership at that convivium. I intend to fight this elitism thing within as well as without.

                                    1. re: Devotay

                                      If you insist on words like "convivium", there's no way you'll be able to address elitism within, or perhaps ever. I mean why not the "pedantic food club"?

                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        "Insist"? No, it's simply a tradition and has meaning. However, SFUSA actually has discussed formally dumping that word, and many local CHAPTERS actually have, for precisely the reason you allude to.

                                        And pedantic? No, that too is incorrect. Pedantic refers to a narrow focus on trivial matters. What Slow Food does is very broad, and is far from trivial.

                                        1. re: Devotay

                                          Well there you go. Glad you guys have figured it out, in part.

                                          re: pedantic, the use of "convivium" reeks of elitism, and that's narrow by definition/exclusion. If you want board membership then you have use accessible terminology.

                                          1. re: ML8000

                                            Board membership? Pardon the mere point of order here, but are you referring to plain membership in the organization, or membership on it's board of directors?

                                        2. re: ML8000

                                          "convivium" is the official name for the regional slow food clubs-- it's the same around the world, whether you're in osaka or rome or nome or morocco or houston or new york or london or paris. i think they picked it because it's a pretty old term--from the latin-- the slow foods movement originated in italy-- and one that implies a lively meeting of like, and conversational, minds. why would you insist that a movement that started in italy should use scottish-english terminology? that makes no sense. please explain.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Latin-schmatin... My point is if you want to cut the elitism out, you have to use accessible terms.

                                            Explanation? Head up to West Marin or somewhere they've bought into slow food and are producing it...and ask a farmer, "Hey, are you interested in SlowFood USA, want some info on the local Convivium? It's a good resource."

                                            I'd be willing to bet hand-milked and hand-churned, organic butter from a cow named Betsy the first thought from that farmer would be "what the hell is a convivium?" If you asked me I'd think "WTF is a convivium?"

                                            The use of "convivium" is a needless barrier. That's my point.

                                            1. re: ML8000

                                              Well, it sounds like translations to all languages should be provided, to get past the barriers. I'm sure that there are places where even vernacular English or Italian isn't understood at all.

                                              1. re: limster

                                                True enough I suppose. Every organization has it's terminology that occasionally requires explanation. I suspect most people wondered about "locavore" before it got all the media play it's gotten recently.

                                                All of this is just splitting semantic hairs though. Slow Food needs to do a better job of letting the public know about the good work it is doing, and in the meantime it'd be nice if the MSM and the bloggers didn't continually make that even harder than it already is.

                                                1. re: Devotay

                                                  It's a common tactic for organizations to create their own vocabulary to engender a feeling of unity, speaking a 'common language'. Organizations such as Starbucks have made it company policy, what with skinny, tall, no fun, with whip lattes et al. While initially the language may be intimidating, once 'members' become familiar with it and use the vocabulary themselves, they feel a sense of belonging.

                                                  This is the theory behind it; in this case, it's not working if many people find it too intimidating to become a member.

                                              2. re: ML8000

                                                Funny you should mention - Slow Food Marin actually has quite a few farmers as members.

                                                1. re: ML8000

                                                  "you have to use accessible terms"-- accessible to whom? hand-churned organic butter farmer-producers in italy, spain, portugal, brittany or argentina would likely understand the word "convivium." but-- you want the word for all slow foods chapters worldwide to be english despite the fact that the movement didn't begin in a primarily english speaking country. there is nothing to prevent you from using "chapter" or another english word to name your local slow food chapter-- but why do you want the original "conviviums" in italy to describe themselves in foreign terms? why do you feel the world at large should express itself in english terminology? is it so hard for people to incorporate one latin word into their vocabulary, regardless of their native tongue? i hardly think so, since latin has been a dominant international scientific language for over 2000 years. using latin terms for everything from comestibles such as hams and mushrooms to abstract philosophical concepts is very common, no matter what your native language. why shouldn't *you* learn one word rather than expect that millions of others learn the terms & language of west marin? because, like, dude-- west marin is *so* much more of an intellectual and philosophical seat of thought than, like, rome, dude.

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    "using latin terms for everything from comestibles such as hams and mushrooms to abstract philosophical concepts is very common, no matter what your native language."

                                                    Unfortunately, that's not exactly true in many parts of Asia.

                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                      "IF" the point is to get beyond elitism and reach the general public, using common terms can be helpful. The San Francisco Chapter of Slow Food sounds perfectly reasonable. Convivium does not. It's not a common word.

                                                      I believe Devotay's comment that many chapters are considering a switch says it better then I could.

                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                        unfortunately there isn't one word in english that convivium would translate to. "chapter" or "club" doesn't cut it in this case. sometimes it's better to adopt a more descriptive word in another language than to dumb down for the local populace. nothing is common about the botanical & scientific names for plants and animals, but people who want to be clear about what they're talking about use these latin names, whether they are farmers or scientists.

                                                    2. re: ML8000

                                                      <Explanation? Head up to West Marin or somewhere they've bought into slow food and are producing it...and ask a farmer, "Hey, are you interested in SlowFood USA, want some info on the local Convivium? It's a good resource."

                                                      I'd be willing to bet hand-milked and hand-churned, organic butter from a cow named Betsy the first thought from that farmer would be "what the hell is a convivium?" If you asked me I'd think "WTF is a convivium?">

                                                      You'd be at least partly wrong. I believe one of the coleaders of the Marin Convivium (sorry about that, I didn't choose the moniker!) IS a local farmer. and I know there are more than just a couple in that convivium, as well as many other convivia, as well.

                                                      Here in Northern New Jersey, where most folks don't expect to find farmers, we have several as members of our Convivium.

                                                      As for all the controversy here about the use of "Convivium": if that's what's keeping you from participating, then imho you aren't very interested in the first place. The moniker was chosen in Italy, back when the group was founded.

                                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                                        That wasn't my point. My point about "convivium" is that "if" SF wants to promote access and decrease elitism...it "might" try and not use big words. Yes this is semantics, dumb PR and yet, as I've pointed out twice, if some local Conviviums have in fact considered using a different term...well my point is made. That's it. Take it with a grain (or pound) of salt.

                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                          it is funny that you don't believe farmers close to you are capable of learning and using the word "convivium." when i work at my local farmer's market, i see many executives, doctors, corporate wonks etc. "dumb down" their language when they are talking to the farmers. what would astonish them to realize, is that the farmers also "dumb down" their language when talking to urban professionals-- who may or may not be able to follow the scientific language. catching either of these groups talking amongst themselves will get you a truer picture. if you think farmers are all countrified ignoramuses you might want to rethink-- farmers need to follow and adapt to new science and technology a lot more than your average cubicle drone--they are constantly learning. one latin word is a drop in the bucket to these folks. any farmer who knows his melleagris gallopavo from his equus asinus won't be scared of the word convivium.

                                                          1. re: ML8000

                                                            Agreed. It sounds pretentious to me. Think Niles Crane.

                                                            1. re: Chimayo Joe

                                                              If someone were to ask me about joining the "convivium" I would think it had something to do with membership in a coven, and figure I'm better off doing my toiling over high heat on my gas range at home while whipping up a fresh batch of Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—Yummo!

                                                            2. re: ML8000

                                                              "promote access and decrease elitism...it "might" try and not use big words"

                                                              Words are easily learned. Really - how many letters does "convivium" have? And a simple definition. Heck, most people use Latin every day without realizing it - not foreign to most of us. (Is that a bona fide Big Mac?) And we use all manner of less pedigreed words (and possibly difficult to decipher) all the time: Ameriprise, iPod, Google, HumVee, Amoco, turducken...words that all have a more recent coinage than convivium, and still needed to be defined to us. Using a very specific and succinct word is not elitism just because someone somewhere might not know what it means. And cripes, we all know what the word "convivial" means in English usage, right? Extrapolate from the root. Make your English teacher proud.

                                                              Sorry for the rant, but I really don't think words are elitist. They're all learnable. Just like a Slow Food approach to cooking and eating is. And really, most of us do both already: learning, and cooking slow.

                                                              Cay

                                                              1. re: cayjohan

                                                                Cay, thanks for saying what I was thinking. I get so tired of people freaking out and blaming others when they hear a word they don't know. What can't they do what I do: look it up?

                                                                (When I was at University, a fellow student complained about a professor for using words she didn't know. Some she mentioned I knew, others she didn't. when the subject came up later, I had looked up the words and now knew their meaning. She was stunned I had bothered. I couldn't fathom not wanting to know these words, nor could I understand why someone chose outrage and accusation in the face of getting a chance to learn something. This attitude is not only alien to me, but utterly disheartening.)

                                              3. re: cheesemonger

                                                Unless you were selling locally-produced cheeses, I see no reason at all why you expected SFooders to patronize your store. It is not a small-business pep group -- it is a local food producer pep group. The members of our local convivium enthusiastically purchase many delicious local cheeses. While many Sfooders do support local businesses, that's coincidental.

                                                1. re: cheesemonger

                                                  Cheesemonger......As a small organic farmer, who was once an active member of Slow Food, my experience mirrors yours. We participated in many events and donated vegetables for several Slow Food fundraising dinners. We even had one of our vegetables inducted into the "Arc." After many years of membership, I started feeling that most members of my Convivium were more interested in the the social aspect of the events, rather than actually supporting the small growers attending the local farmer's markets. The convivium I'm referring to, is one of the largest in the country and was initially headed by a well known local chef, who was very involved with Slow Food both internationally and locally. I came to the realization that even this chef, who headed the convivium, wasn't supporting the local growers at the largest Farmer's Market in the country. On various occasions, I was asked to let the chef know when certain products were in season. When I'd call the restaurant I was told they were obtaining their vegetables from their "wholesaler." The only time I would see the chef at the Farmer's Market was when the market was being used as a backdrop for a photo op. I became disheartened and dropped my membership. I believe in the philosophy of Slow Food and hope that my experience is unique. Hopefully, other conviviums are actually practicing what they preach.

                                                  1. re: mary c

                                                    Mary - as with cheesemonger, I hope you will specify the convivia in question so that I may bring these concerns to their attention. My goal in all this is to improve the whole situation - both the public perception and the internal workings of the organization, to the benefit of both.

                                                    1. re: Devotay

                                                      pica- I agree that no one is obligated to shop from me, but that wasn't my point (despite being the only provider of many local products). It was the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality that wore me down.

                                                      As for naming the convivium, no. My point in posting was not to tattle, it was simply as a counterpoint to the singleminded praise. No organization, no matter how well intended, is worthy of such. This thread, as a matter of fact, has actually turned me further away from the organization. I will continue to support my local farmers/beekeepers/cheesemakers/greenhouses with my money going to them, not by joining a global conglomerate of feel goods.

                                                      1. re: cheesemonger

                                                        Well, if you are "the only provider of many local products," I can't imagine why the SFooders were not buying from you. I see members of our convivium in large numbers at our Farmers' Markets. We also tend to patronize restaurants that use local products, and urge local grocers to sell them. We've been pretty effective. I just discovered a local rabbit producer, and have convinced a market to carry them. They're selling very well. I know that other of my fellow SFooders have done similar things. That's the way our group operates -- sorry you fell in with a bad crowd.

                                                        1. re: cheesemonger

                                                          I'm not looking for a tattle-tale, I'm trying to solve a problem. I had hoped for some help.

                                                          Also, I don't understand when you say "No organization, no matter how well intended, is worthy of such." It is not worthy of such a singleminded attack either, and my post was a defense, not flattery.

                                                          My intent is to get people to understand that the bad experience you had with your locals is not the norm (because it's not) and I hoped, evidently mistakenly, that you'd be willing to help me make Slow Food better rather than "turning away."

                                                          That's a shame. Sorry to hear it.

                                                  2. Devotay,

                                                    For myself, this thread has been a failure if your point was to win converts to the Slow Food Movement. A friend (a fellow foodie) told me about it and I thought it was interesting but a little bit "granola" for me to really get into. So, at the start of this thread, I had somewhat of an open mind (although I am much more tolerant of chains and agribusiness than, I think, most CHers). Of course winning converts might not have been your objective.

                                                    In reading your posts, visiting the Slow Food website, and seeing other comments (specifically about the hypocrisy of the group) on CH and eGullet, now I am definitely not a supporter of your movement.

                                                    Examples:

                                                    #1. In your OP you wrote "Bear in mind that most of the great social movements throughout history were begun by the so-called “elite,” (witness abolition and suffrage - not to mention that Ghandi was a well-to-do attorney)." Are you equating SF with the abolition of slavery or providing equal voting rights to women or leading ones country to independence without bloodshed? That is already starting to fail the sniff test.

                                                    #2 In the OP you wrote: "...as the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity clearly states: "...33% of livestock varieties have disappeared or are near disappearing; 30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century, and one more is lost every six hours..." First of all, just because SF says it does not make it fact. Second, as a scientist, I know that a lot of those extinction figures are a joke...the denominator is not known and, realistically, will never be known. When you make assertions like that, at least to a logical, scientific mind, it doesn't fly. I'm granting you the numbers on the product diversity. That could conceivably be proven...maybe SF did, maybe it did not. Did it? If so, how? Let's say you can show that the number of brands of pasta has decreased by 93%. How did SF normalize for other societal factors? How does that compare to other industries? What "credit" is given for economies of scale?

                                                    #3 Your OP states, "Food defines who we are as individuals" That is just rhetoric. What about the "eat to live" portion of the population?

                                                    #4 eGullet (30 March) "What gets me is (and I just learned this), Mr. Sterling now lives in Turin, where the Salone and Terrra Madre take place, just a few miles from Slow Food's birthplace and HQ in Bra. He should know better, yet chooses not to. To be controversial? To tick off overly-sensitive, internet-addicted Slow Food members like me? " What is the relevance of where he lives? If I live in Green Bay, I'm required to pass a test about the history of the meat packing industry there? What if I've only lived there for a year? I'm sure there's a lot going on in Turin, maybe he considers other aspects of the city to be more interesting?

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: filth

                                                      Filth,
                                                      My sense is that the OP is not evangelising for Slow Food, but simply countering the points made by someone attacking its legitimacy. Where you want to fall on this is your choice.

                                                      Although I am not a member of any Slow Food convivia, I do feel that some of your points need addressing.

                                                      1. The OP was simply noting that Slow Food is a social movement (as opposed to mere foodie collectives, even if that's what it is in many parts of this country). Choosing examples of well-known social movements possibly leads one to social justice movements. Then again, for many, looking at and dismantling agribusiness practices is tied up in economic social justice, so who knows? Although I can't speak for the OP, I doubt the OP was saying this is the same thing as abolition.

                                                      No. 2: I don't know what to say about bio-diversity, but when you include types of pasta, it gets me wondering about looking again at economic social justice. When we look at food production and agribusiness, is it that more and more manufacture and output is in the hands of a smaller number of larger companies-- all of which leads to limited variety of output? Is choice actually being shut down according to the way these businesses run, and is it part of the Slow Food mission then to help the independent or peripheral producers? The limiting of choice seems like a good case against the neo-classical economics stand which would suggest that the food market is neutral, and benefits efficiency and demand.

                                                      3. Yeah, whatev. I have no idea what that means as a simple statement. However, drawn out to a larger question: is food a part of cultural heritage and in that regard, is this something to be preserved? (Think here of UNESCO and the cultural heritage and intangible cultural heritage projects.)

                                                      4. If you lived in Green Bay, and wrote a scathing indictment of the local meat packing industry that demonstrated little command or even little interest in the actual industry, yeah, it would be relevant. I would wonder why someone, in such close proximity to their subject, would opt to forgo research or investigation. Better things to do? Sure, bu then why write a piece on Slow Food to start? That said, not expecting this guy to take place in the local events-- although Terra Madre is huge, and would likely be worth attending for anyone who has such a strong stance on Slow Food and wants to write about it.

                                                      Just sayin. Probably just saying because writing this is better than doing the work that awaits me.

                                                      1. re: Lizard

                                                        RE #4, fair enough...you should do the research before impugning the subject. However, given the wide accessibility of information in the internet age, I'm not so sure that living in the town where the group is headquartered is that much of a research advantage. Living in DC, I think having the Library of Congress 20 minutes away is a research advantage for certain interests. For an org like Slow Food, living in Turin is much less so.

                                                        1. re: filth

                                                          Having LOC available is a marvelous resource. And so is the Internet. But i do think that on-site research has its value. Checking out a headquarters (to contrast infrastructure with aims) or attending a massive conference(to better understand the variety of uses, practices and interpretations of an organisational mission) has its benefits. Plus the stories can get pretty out there.

                                                          1. re: Lizard

                                                            Granted, it seems clear that Sterling did a crappy job of research.

                                                            However, in his rebuttal, Devotay applies some misdirection of his own. Specifically, responding to Sterling's assertion that SF was started by a bunch of leftists, wine snobs, etc. Devotay doesn't actually address the point. Instead, he discusses what snobbery is and isn't and brings wine to the level of fermented grape juice which is technically true but represents reductio ad absurdium.

                                                            If wine is just fermented grape juice, why do we have to preserve more grape varieties [which I extrapolate from SF's desire to preserve biodiversity]? Why can't a bottle of Two-buck Chuck do when you're eating at Per Se? It's just fermented grape juice after all. C'mon. The silliness and hype lie with both sides.