Slow Food versus The Farmers and You and Me, Part 1
Slow Food versus The Farmers and You and Me, Part 3

Slow Food versus The Farmers and You and Me, Part 2

There’s a wonderful singer in Italy named Mina. She’s known as the girl with an orchestra in her throat. At one point, Frank Sinatra wanted to take her on tour and show her off to America. She ultimately declined, partly out of a fear of flying and I’m not making this up, partly out of a fear of American food. I mention this to illustrate how serious food is to many Italians. I suspect Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, feels the same as the great singer about saying ciao to Italian food, even for a short period of time. And food should be taken seriously, but Petrini won’t rest easy until the US has a food culture similar to Italy’s and that’s not going to happen. As a smarter friend told me, Italy’s is slowly eroding while America’s was wiped out and now has to try and rebuild itself. It’s a different problem and Petrini doesn’t understand it.

Slow Food benefit, under the redwoods at Rancho Gordo (2004)

As I wrote earlier, Petrini’s book has caused quite a stir among the vendors and management at my farmers market. Clue Number One that there is a big problem should have been that Petrini expected to come to this same market and sell his book on Saturday, May 12! CUESA, the producers of the market, wisely declined giving him the platform and instead a meeting was called. I attended, along with three other growers, all of whom attended one or both Terra Madre conferences. CUESA management was there as were Carlo Petrini, Slow Food USA president Erica Lesser (who was oddly only introduced as his translator) and a fellow who worked on the book. I should add this was 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, my busiest time of the day. This meeting was costing me to attend. We all introduced ourselves. Petrini’s face visibly lit up when he saw the bean samples I brought.

After some basic concerns were laid out, Petrini touched the fingers of his two hands together and leaned back in his chair as if he were a philosopher who had been asked the meaning of the universe. “I apologize that you are offended by what I wrote in the book. I see many contradictions in the sustainable food movement. Even contradictions with myself. I am exploring these.”

“But the examples you give are not true,” I said. “These people don’t exist.”

A fire entered Petrini’s eye. “I have shown this to many people and they all agree with my impression of this market!”

“But it’s still not true. You’re perpetuating a myth. I would even say you came here with preconceived ideas and ….”

He didn’t wait for Lesser to translate my words.

“No! It’s you that have the preconceived ideas about me!” He was quite mad at this point.

Now here is where I have to laugh. I had no idea that to be in Slow Food was to be in the Cult of Carlo. My local Napa Slow Food group is a fun, tight-knit community that likes to get together and support each other and eat well. At Terra Madre, Petrini seemed to be just one of many boring speakers. I have never read his books before. In other words, I had no preconceived ideas about him except for the very words he had written.

Petrini continued: “And this entire book is about all the wonderful farmers markets of America.”

I didn’t wait for Lesser and pushed on in my bad, but passionate, Italian.

“Show me in your book where you say anything positive about this market!”

“The whole book is about your wonderful markets!”

“But this one. San Francisco. You wrote about one visit and it was through the eyes of Alice Waters and she doesn’t even shop here!”

At this point I was losing my cool and knew I would never regain it. Petrini was yelling and pointing fingers and I understood he had no idea what he had done. And probably never would. He struck me as a George Bush or Michael Jackson type that was surrounded only by people of a similar belief system that would never challenge or cross him. His words (and Lesser's) faded away as I watched this angry, twisted face yelling at me. It was bizarre. He had accused me of pre-judging him yet this was my only real introduction to him. His fuse is rather short.

As is the norm on a Saturday, I’d been up since 4:30 a.m. to get to San Francisco and set up and be ready for my customers at 8:00 a.m. I’ve been concerned about finances, getting my fields ready, weeds, seed stock, who was going to get booted off American Idol next, my family, getting enough water after a dry winter, etc. I looked at Petrini’s red face and flaying arms next to the dead expression on Lesser’s as she translated his vitriol, and thought, I think I'll go get some coffee and then return to my stall.

I got up in the middle of his sentence and said, “I have to go to work so I can go surf.”
I heard laughter, but I assume not from Petrini.

I saw none of his noted charisma this morning.

One of the chefs preparing food for the Slow Food benefit at Rancho Gordo in Napa (2004)

To his credit, he didn’t play the language card. He knew exactly what he was saying. I’d heard from Slow Food people that his meaning was lost in translation, but as TV’s Judge Judy says, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Now I'm hearing it is partly a language issue. This is hard for me to believe after meeting Petrini and learning that his manuscript, in English, has been floating around the Slow Food US offices and among its executives for months and they all signed off on it.

I wonder if some of his disdain for the market and ferry plaza has something to do with the fact the neither Petrini nor Slow Food had anything to do with its success. The building is a justifiable source of civic pride for San Franciscans and the Bay Area as a whole but it grew organically, long before Slow Food's manifesto hit our shores. Slow Food is planning a big event called Slow Food Nation to regionally show off food producers but I'm trying to think what this event can offer that a Saturday at the ferry plaza can't. I was invited to participate in Slow Food Nation and my uncanny intuition tells me this invitation will get lost in the mail.

with Kristie Knoll of Knoll Farms at a Terra Madre event in Italy. 2004

My impression is that Petrini has a certain amount of disdain for America, justified or not. His disdain is based on impressions, not facts. He's only interested in his own output, not in taking in anything beyond the cliches he's already learned. He needs us to be greedy, foolish, over the top or stupid so Poppa Petrini can come in and save us. He won’t be happy until we follow his model to the letter. And the funny thing is, there are lots of problems with this market, and a lot of other farmers markets as well, but they're not the problems Petrini describes. Language and cultural bias are going to keep him from understanding what they are and what we should do about them.

I'll be honest. I'm feeling a little sorry for myself. I have had one day off in the last seven weeks and that day was spent with a tiller and chicken poop. I'm dog tired and I have to wonder why Carlo Petrini is picking on me and small guys like me. Hasn't he heard of Monsanto or ADM, the self-described supermarket to the world? If he doesn't feel like helping us, please ask him to leave us alone.

I would, however, thank him sincerely for showing us where the dead bodies are, but we’ll clean up our own mess in our own way, thanks. It’s the only way any of us are going to learn.

Be sure and click on the Comments link below to add to the discussion or hear how others are feeling.



What's particularly galling is his apparent refusal to recognize that in THIS geographical context, you and your fellow farmers are the experts. Who, after all, is producing the food in your neck of the woods? Answer: not Petrini.

I'm sorry you were on the receiving end of the narcissistic (but enlightening) bilge fest. Holy crap.

Gregory Emerson

Right-on, Steve.

I think that Petrini's Socialist leanings are a big factor here. It pains him to see sustainable food thriving in a capitalist framework, and the Ferry Building is a poster child for slow food through free market enterprise.

Petreni would have our government step in to subsidize sustainable farmers, prohibit agribusiness practices, and ensure that organic produce is available at a low price. Anyone familiar with US ag policy knows that this ain't gonna happen. Petreni can hold his breath until the Bush regime goes green (in fact, that may be the best way to shut his big mouth). The rest of us will continue shopping at the Farmers' Market, a celebration of capitalism at its best.

I wonder how many Bay Area memberships Slow Food is about to lose?


Steve Sando, you're my hero!

But seriously: I really am in awe of your chutzpah. And your ability to mouth off in three languages. ;D

ps: All the Slow Food photos in the post are the perfect, perfect touch. Bravo.

Tom Bowles

Sheesh--it isn't just his Socialist leanings or his Italian-colored lenses on America in general talking in this situation, he's just becoming another personality cultist. He's letting the fact that he started the Slow Food movement get to his head, and instead of the slow cuisine he prepared, he's eating his foot!
You are spot on about his apparent need to make us seem like we need saving--he really IS interested in his own output first. If he is going to continue Slow Food as an institution, he's going to need to learn a thing we like to call modesty.
And I'm still up for joining the rest of us in giving "The REAL tour of Farmer's Markets"...who's with me?


Let's do a video rebuttal, the real Farmer's Market tour. Oh, but I'd have to get up early, huh? Damn. I do want to come check out the actresses though! What time did he say they were done by?

Steve Sando

Thanks for your comments. Sometimes I question myself and think, Am I nuts? Well, that's not such a simple question, but it's nice to get the same reaction I had.
The stupidest thing is the way Petrini, Lesser and Slow Food have reacted. All it would have taken was a simple, "I'm sorry. We really screwed up." but like a certain President I can think of, there's no admitting a mistake here, only dead silence or non sequitors. It just makes me more mad. Or it did. I'm calming down now and realizing that a lot of people have been put off by Slow's arrogance and this is just the smoking gun we suspected was there all along.
My gut feeling is that Petrini is not happy that things are moving along without his help. My hope is that they put a muzzle on Petrini and continue being one of many organizations doing good work. Again, the key phrase here is "one of many".
Thanks all of you!


Hit the nail on the head with the comment about his disdain coming from not being directlyl involved. Steve, I adore you.


Go Steve -- what better rebuttal can there be than losing your temper (in Italian no less), and then going back to work. As Gary Snyder says the key is to "Be crafty and get the work *done*."


I am so insulted that he said I look like an meager actress when it is quite clear that 'fabulous Hollywood film star' would have been a much more apt desciption of me.

CP is pretty foolish to try and wedge a dividing stake amongst people who should be on the same page.

I'll bring yo a big hug this saturday.



Steve, you have done as much for slow, real food as anyone I can think of. You've showed people how to cook "outside the box"...literally.

What does Carlo Petrini do for "slow" food besides eat it? When you called him "President for Life" (elsewhere), it occurred to me that Slow Food is a literal meal ticket for him, and he has a tight hold on that. Good work, once again.


I do find this whole thing pretty confusing.

As a co-leader of a Slow Food convivium, I'm often scratching my head about how Slow Food USA expects us to hold local benefits for national, with a suggested $50 per person going to SFUSA. That clearly means hitting up the elite "wealthy" or "very wealthy" group, since paying for a dinner and event on top of the $50 donation would mean going above the $100 per person mark.

I agree with those who have said that fresh, healthy food should be accessible to everyone. But I also believe in the "fair" part of Slow Food's "good, clean, fair" motto. In an area of wealth, I think it's sort of the "wealthy" and "very wealthy" consumers' responsibility to pay more for their food and support the farmers. In this way, these same farmers can afford to sell at the lower end markets so that the lower income consumer can eat good food.

It's an awkward position we're all in--being both consumers and producers. We all want to be paid what we're worth, but nobody wants to pay inordinately high prices.

Why Carlo Petrini thought it would be wise to say anything derogatory about any farmers' market is beyond me. It seems to go counter to what Slow Food's mission is.

I'll continue to support Slow Food because I think they really are doing great things for the small countries who do need help. If I can help raise awareness and funds for supporting local farmers through Slow Food events, it's serving my purposes, and I hope all you awesome farmers, too.


s1 said: "In an area of wealth, I think it's sort of the "wealthy" and "very wealthy" consumers' responsibility to pay more for their food and support the farmers. In this way, these same farmers can afford to sell at the lower end markets so that the lower income consumer can eat good food."

I have disagree with you. Somehow, I dont think farmers or anyone who sells their product for a profit will sell it at different prices to different segments of society. Also, access to good, fresh, non toxic food has to be a given. Subsidisation is not the answer.

I would like to know how many farmers from the Ferry Market Plaza sell their food to 'lower income' customers at a differential price. I doubt that you'd get any support for this idea from the farmers themselves. You think the wealthy care about subsidising lower income food consumers?

As usual, I would go by way of legislation. It is legislation and lobbies that fucked up American Agriculture. And it is time Americans rescued it. Farmers markets or the Slow Food Movement isnt going to help any....In a battlefield, you cannot fight the sword with a stick.

Steve Sando

Thanks again for all the comments, especially s1 who still plans to support SF. Why not just have pot lucks and not charge any money or do fundraisers for specific causes like a high school garden program?
And for the record, if my local group (I'm sorry, I refuse to say convivium at this point) wants me to help, I'd be there. Not as a member and there's no way I'd give them any money, but I'm going to promote my agenda wherever I can. And let people know Slow isn't the only game in town.


I find it odd that Petrini would slam the patrons of the Ferry Building as wealthy actresses. Many of us who shop for produce exclusively at the Saturday and Tuesday markets contend with challenges that make driving to Trader Joe's a tempting alternative. Despite the abundance and quality on display at the Ferry Building, it's still hard to opt out of the industrial food chain and buy all the perishables you eat there. It's easy to toss a $2 carton of big-organic eggs into your cart every week; it's hard to get to the market by 7am on a wintery Saturday before the pastured eggs sell out. It's easy to eat salmon and asparagus and strawberries whenever you want; it's hard to wait until May for a restricted salmon season to open. Food doesn't get any slower than that!

When I think about how many Rancho Gordo tortillas and marrow beans I can buy for the price of a Slow Food membership, it's a no brainer. See you on Saturday, Steve!

Udderly Delicious

Steve, you've done such a good job speaking on behalf of the local farmers. I'm so happy people like you are out there.


Hey Steve -- since I'm too far away to get to the market, I just bought some beans off your (very cool)website -- since it's barely spring up here in the north -- can I plant some of them in my garden?

Jennifer Jeffrey

Go, Steve! Just got a box of goodies that I ordered from your site. Hibiscus flowers, marrow beans, quinoa, etc.

Thanks for saying it like it is.

Bob Cannard

The ultimate goal of the organic nation is to bring naturally, completely grown foods to all of our children, sponsoring their health and their tranquility.

Whether it be a farmers market, a certified farmer growing at any scale, a humane rancher, or an organization committed to the unified consciousness- All are contributing towards this condition of health for the flesh, soul and soil.

Small confusions such as the Carlo Petrini in Ferry Plaza market exchanges don’t contribute towards that which is truly the desire of the whole community.

Please let such matters rest and instead focus attentions upon the nature in your farm or organization, focusing our energy upon positivity.

Bonnie/Dairy Queen

Steve, you are so my hero, however I might have mangled your name previously.

Bottom line: Access and affordability are major divisive topics of the real-food movement, and they need to be talked about in civil, thoughtful ways. (I failed to do so in the "Naked Fridge" post on my blog, but readers soon set me straight.) It's the biggest Achilles heel, one that critics just love to poke holes in. But I think Petrini went about it all wrong, so clumsily, and picking on a farmers market for exclusivity is just about as boneheaded as it gets. So what if the Ferry Plaza sells a $3 organic peach? That's the same as a latte, and anyway you can buy one for 30 cents at Safeway if you want.

In regard to Bob's comments, above me: Dude, don't lecture Steve -- Petrini started this mess! I think his portrayal is a lot more hurtful,and harmful, than just a small confusion. However, as much as I think Slow Food owes you guys an apology, best to take the high road and keep doing what you do best: growing awesome food for people who really appreciate you.

Steve Sando

First and foremost to Charlotte- yes, plant the beans! You'll get about an 80% germination rate, or better I'd guess.

Bob, can I assume you're sending a similar note to Slow Food?
My goal is to get people to eat real food, too. You probably can imagine how hard it is to get an average person to understand what goes into growing a tomato or a zucchini. Can you imagine how difficult it is to get them to cook dried beans? And then to pay for them on top of that? There's a large portion of the population that is dipping their toes into these waters and to have someone like Petrini come along and confirm their suspicions that they may be getting ripped off, while also making fun of them, is beyond irresponsible.
All it would have taken was for Petrini or Slow to admit they screwed up and apologize and this would have passed.
Seeing how they've handled this, I'm pretty clear I don't want these same people dictating the course of any food movement I'm involved with.

Joey B

After reading all this, I almost feel sorry for Petrini. Clearly he fucked with the wrong bean grower.


I also travelled to Italy as a slowfood delegate with the help of my local convivium. I have to say that as a farmer -and not a chef- I kinda felt like I was suckin hind teat. There was no farmers lounge, as there was for the chefs. There was no night of the farmer,only night of the chefs - w/ free booze btw. The salon de gusto was the only thing that I felt was worth a shit and even that was more of a celebration of cooks and processors and not of farmers. Yeah, this salami rocks bro, How are the pigs raised? cricket cricket. The US doesn't have the market cornered on factory farms and most of the meat is produced this way in Europe as it is here. It ain't nothin special and all the herbs and spices can't spruce up that turd. Nothing I tasted in Italy can front on what I am producing in CA. and I was looking hard for the good shit. OK OK the spanish ham is good. I agree that the US is starting up a great movement of real food, but it will happen with or without slow food. We're just going to start having farm dinners on our own. I've been involved with slowfood for a few years now and have always thought of it as an elitist thing (with the exception of slowfood monterey bay which is more like gourmet potluck). Anyway, right on for standing up to CP. I bet the veins in his forehead must have been about to explode!


Wow, pigluva, this is a bit of an ugly spinoff. Who really is the enemy here? If you don't want to support SF, fine, but disparaging remarks and personal insults are truly divisive and counter-productive to an entire group of people who all have the same goals in mind--getting people to eat real food.

The bit you wrote about nothing you tasted in Italy being better than what you're producing in CA, that's great. But that's what most of Italy is eating all the time. We want to get it to the point where that's what most Americans are eating all the time.

Slow Food has been very instrumental in raising awareness internationally about the importance of supporting small and local farmers. There are a lot of farmers around the world who don't have a chance in hell of making anything near what it costs them to grow their food, and that is why I will continue to support SF with my membership.

As far as the local events we do, we give the proceeds to our local school gardens and help farmers buy seeds or animals to increase their diversity, etc. But I can't raise money and get donations as a non-profit on my own, so there's another reason SF works for me.

I hope everyone gets the apologies they deserve, although that will never take back what was said and what it really comes down to is, "Don't take anything personally." You know that you are worth every penny that you charge at that market and nothing anyone can say will change that. The people who know that will continue to support you, and the majority of the poeple who read Carlo's book know that as well. I don't live anywere near the area, and I don't think any less of that market or the farmers than I did before I read that. So, time to move on?


Wow s1,you sound really upset. Maybe you should have a sense of humor. Actually, I think you must not understand what I was trying to say about slow food. If you took what I wrote in context and with the correct translation you would understand that I was only trying to convey how great I think slow food is. You are not entitled to your anger, you just don't understand what I meant. Most people who read my post will understand that I only meant to praise slow food. I hope that someone will apologise to you for what I wrote.

Steve Sando

Very funny, pigluva.

For the record, I attended the 1st Terra Madre and it was a pretty moving experience. I met other growers/farmers/producers and came away changed.

And yes s1, I agree that Slow has done a lot of good. And you can quote me!


Sorry, I didn't mean to sound angry or upset, because I'm not. And I do have a sense of humor. I laughed the whole time I wrote that. I'm still laughing.

I was just trying to state that my relationship with SF hasn't changed and here's why: it would harm my local community of farmers and halt all the awareness we've been raising with the backing of Slow Food, who has a lot of really great materials we use to educate people.

The other point I was trying to make is "united we stand, divided we fall"--it's the Wal Marts, Sam's Clubs, and government subsidizing of factory farms we need to be raising a fight against. Still, I'm curious about how this whole fiasco will get cleared up.

Anyway, peace and love and good food (especially beans). And yes, Steve, Dogliani ruled...the second TM was good, but nothing like the magic of 2004.

Slaton Carter

Thought readers of this blog might be interested in hearing this podcast with Carlo:

While it doesn't address the Ferry Plaza comments, it does give a good synopsis of the themes (good, clean, fair) covered in his book.

Thanks for the good discussion that has begun here; however, from my perspective what's most important is that we continue to appreciate different perspectives and remain focused on helping foster an open discussion concerning the very important issue of food sustainability. As we all know, it's a very complex issue and it deserves a thoughtful, balanced discussion to encourage change.

Jeff Hoffman

Sorry, but I totally agree with Petrini. I have been buying produce at farmers' markets for decades, and the SF one is in some ways the worst one I've ever been to. (The Berkeley one is the best by far.) I shopped there for about three years, but I now refuse to go back. These are my problems with the SF market, in no particular order:

1) It's way too crowded. Trying to buy and carry what eventually becomes a heavy load of produce is very difficult when one has to wade through masses of people like crammed in like sardines.

2) There's way too much non-produce there, which is what draws the oversized crowds in the first place. This market was designed under Willie Brown, so it's no wonder that it caters to yuppies, but I've never been to a farmers' market that had restaurants -- and very high priced ones at that.

3) The market sells far too much non-organic produce and has refused to separate the non-organic from the organic stalls. This can be very confusing for shoppers, because every vendor must display certification that the food was grown in California. This certification has been confused with organic certification, causing unintentional buying of non-organic produce.

Steve Sando

But Jeff, those aren't the problems Petrini is talking about. I agree with most of what you say (and clear signage is coming this summer, although all one has to do is ask.) There are lots of problems with the market. I could write a book. But the problems aren't the ones he talks about. I could also mention some Berkeley problems....


Bravo Steve, pleased to meet/read you..

I appreciate your statement: "..that was surrounded only by people of a similar belief system that would never challenge or cross him." I am a grad student in a Food Culture Studies program. There seems perhaps some level of indoctrination to a set of beliefs and mantras and seems little wiggle room or welcome to formulate original ideas, unless you're Marion or Michael or Carlo..

The movements of food can come to a halt as fast as they are beginning to germinate to mainstream feeders and eaters if it begins to sound like its own regime..


I have to say, reading this dialogue has been instructive. I am a student at "Slow Food" U, which, I suppose is no different than Micky D's "Hamburger U" except instead of Ray Kroc, we have Carlo Petrini! Seriously, what you say makes a lot of sense, and fits in with a lot of "twinges" I've had since I got here a year ago. I thought I was studying gastronomic science, not Slow Food, per se. Still, it's been a helluva year and I wouldn't give it up for anything!

You're right, though, many of you. The world, esp. North
America, is moving faster, much faster than Slow Food. Maybe that's why it's called "slow"....

costa rica homes for sale

Let's do a video rebuttal, the real Farmer's Market tour. Oh, but I'd have to get up early, huh? Damn. I do want to come check out the actresses though! What time did he say they were done by?

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