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« Slow Food versus The Farmers and You and Me, Part 2 | Main | Slow Food Part 4: Let's Ask Alice »

May 20, 2007

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Comments

Thor Thorson

Carlo Petrini made a big mistake when he picked the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as his demonstration object for possible problems in the organic farming and markets movement. His criticism was more an expression of ideological beliefs than an analysis of the local situation – an egregious gaffe for a book like Slow Food Nation. The offended farmers have every right to demand a forthright and unequivocal apology and I hope that one will be forthcoming.
To use this unfortunate slip by Petrini as a wholesale indictment of Slow Food (both the international and national organizations) seems to me as off-the-mark as Petrini’s comments. Slow Food has teamed up with many like-minded organizations to stem the seemingly inexorable tide of industrial farming and its deleterious practices and started, again in collaboration with other groups, excellent projects whose goal is to reclaim our food heritage and to promote sustainable, biodiverse forms of food production (I am thinking of the RAFT project, the Slow Food Ark of Taste, etc.). In my own volunteer work for Slow Food, I have met countless farmers, fisherfolk, artisanal food producers, chefs, and yes, consumers who are working together for the realization of better foodways.
I expect Slow Food USA and Carlo Petrini to make amends with the FPFM by acknowledging his offensive mistake. I also hope that most people who followed this éclat will realize that both groups (and many more) are striving for similar goals in local and international efforts and that a speedy rapprochment is in the interest of all concerned.

Steve Sando

Thor, thanks for your thoughtful post. Through all of this I have felt bad for all the volunteers and workers who really are making a difference and have nothing to do with management. But it has been 2 weeks and no actual apology has come. As much good as Slow has done, I don't think I want these people to manage much of anything. If this is how they treat their "friends", how are they going to meet Monsanto?

David Berman

Hi. I've been a chef, I've been a farmer, and I'm co-leader of Slow Food NYC. As such I can't give you-all the apology you seek--I've got nothing to do with SFUSA or the book tour. But I've just read my way through parts 1, 2, and 3 of this slugfest, and I gotta tell you Steve, that it's you and your crew who seem to me to be protesting too much.
First of all, please read through the passage Steve quoted from Carlo's book. There's some implied criticism in there, sure, but there's also lots of explicit praise, for the quality and the work that obviously went into it. More important, you guys condemn Carlo for having analyzed your market without having researched it, but what he wrote is clearly not an analysis, it's the impressions of a first-time visitor from another country, another cultural baseline. I'm not defending him -- his editor should have let him know he was going to be stepping on the wrong toes -- but he didn't write the all-out attack that would warrant this kind of response.
Second, I don't know your market, but I've been shopping at the flagship market of NY's Greenmarket system for over 20 years, and as a series of impressions, everything Carlo writes rings true. It is the single NY institution most responsible for the positive change in New Yorkers' awareness of what we eat and where it comes from, and it has also become a boutique, the home of the $50 chicken and micro-greens priced by the 1/4-pound, because the pound price would be too shocking. It is frequented by NY's top chefs, and by mostly well-heeled consumers, and many of the farmers are better-educated, more politicized, and more entrepreneurial than the generation of family farmers this country has lost and that this new generation is trying to replace.
Now, I understand why farmstead cheeses are five times the cost of Kraft, and why Violet Hill's Belle Rouge chickens are five times the cost of Perdue, but 1) most Americans don't, and 2) even if the prices are fair, that doesn't make it affordable for poor people. And that's the essence of the difficult and complex situation the Slow Food movement in the US is in: We are indeed an elitist movement, and at this point, we pretty much have to be. We are asking Americans to make virtuous choices about what they eat, and to pay premium prices to make those choices, the hope being that in the long run we can change the food system and revivify local agriculture and those prices will come down. But for the time being, the consumers who are participating in this movement are those who can afford to, and just by the way, anybody who can afford a Belle Rouge chicken has no business complaining about the $60 annual membership to Slow Food, nor about the fact that any advocacy org needs to fundraise, and that to fundraise you need to do what Dillinger did, and go where the money is.
Enough; here's the thing: Slow Food is still a baby in the US, and its development here has been hampered by a number of things. 1) The Italians, who are in charge, and who are justifiably proud of the extraordinary progress they've made at home, don't begin to understand to what extent the cultural baseline here is different, in terms of gastronomy, and political discourse, and especially tolerance of socialism. 2) Americans, for the most part, don't begin to understand the extent to which the Italians see us as the country that liberated them, rebuilt them, and has been lording it over them ever since. 3) The whole movement, both there and here, has responded with irrational defensiveness to the charge of elitism, and while making real food available to everyone should certainly be one of our ideals, we need to be realistic about what we're doing and who's paying for it. 4) This movement is complex, and Americans are simple-minded. We don't like having to manage inherent conflicts of interest, like that between cultural authenticity and eating local, or that between sustainability and price. No, we prefer reducing things to an easily managed dogma, like the wing of the movement that says that transporting food is bad, or that it's cruel to fatten a duck. If this movement is going to succeed -- that is, if we're going to save local agriculture, make food production and distribution sustainable, rescue endangered food traditions and food products, and transform the way America eats -- we're going to have to learn to manage complexity, not squash it.
Thanks for reading.

Steve Sando

Thanks David.
I'm not comfortable with you telling me I'm overreacting since you weren't in the meeting and you are with Slow Food, but again I'll say if there were a real apology or concern from anyone at Slow at the start, this would have never hit the papers. And it's building steam not by me (I'm done blogging about it) but by Slow's stubbornness. Do you think it's fun for me to be on the opposite side of a food issue with Alice Waters, a personal hero?
But I love the rest of your post believe it or not. You raise some great points and I wonder if the model of "cafeteria Catholics" here in the US might be the future for Slow Food members.
I lived in Italy and understand the WW2 chip on their shoulders which is funny as doubt a lot of kids today know there was a WW2.

Randy

David,

I have to disagree with your assertion that Steve is overreacting. To think that all you worked for, and paid for, to have your business shine as a beacon that upholds Slow Food's ideals, would be shut down and insulted by the very same organization? That would deal quite a blow to me. I am not wealthy by any means, but what I do make, I spend a majority of it on food, supporting local restaurants whenever possible, as well as local farmers, not to mention the overpriced Slow Food membership and event fees. I pay the prices because I believe in the ideals of growing and eating good, clean, and fair food, not because I can afford them. I make sacrifices in many other facets of my life so that I can eat what I love to eat, and who knows, maybe I would be wealthy if I ate at McDonalds everyday.

But I have to say that I love farmers, and to think that Mr. Petrini would insult any farmer trying to make a living growing good, clean, and fair food is appalling. And for you to assert that Americans are simple-minded rubs me the wrong way. Our President may be, but certainly not all Americans are. You don't seem to be, nor does Steve. It is the Italian Mr. Petrini who seems most simple-minded to me after his ill-thought arrogant comments.

David Berman

Hi Randy,

I'm not wealthy either, by American standards, but you and I both have the freedom to eat according to our tastes and our ideals, and that's a freedom that poor people don't have. As we know, the cheapest calories in this country are the fast food and the junk food.
And Steve, you're quite right that I wasn't at the meeting -- I'm responding to the book, which I don't read as so clearly an attack on you and your market. You know, blaming the translation sounds a little lame, but it's a very real problem. I'm very unhappy with "good, clean and fair," because "fair" is a terribly flattened translation of "giusto." "Giusto" means correct, and it means morally right, and appropriate, and just, and even-handed; it's the root of justice , but also of adjust. You can talk about a chicken that tastes "giusto" because it's upbringing was "giusto" and what it was fed was "giusto," and you can call the traditional recipe used to cook it "giusto" and the choice of wine "giusto." All those meanings are lost in the translation "fair." If you posit that something similar happened even once a page in Carlo's book, an awful lot of nuance could be gone.
And of course all Americans aren't simple-minded, but we do have a troubling cultural tendency to seek the lowest common denominator, to gravitate toward the slogan and the soundbite. I'm especially concerned about the prediction made by one poster that the movement would fragment along tight ideological lines. That's been the death of most progressive movements in this country -- it would be worth our all making an effort to prevent that from happening.

plot_thickens

Short N Sweet:
Food at the SF Ferry Building Market is 2/3 - 3x as expensive as the same food at Alameda Farmer's Market.

Guess where I shop?

Guess where I stand?

cupcake

If all of you spent as much time trying "to get people to eat real food" (your goal, right?) as you do attacking Carlo Petrini and Slow Food (who, despite recent mis-steps, have made tremendous strides towards the very same mission over the past 20 years), perhaps we'd have a healthier, more sustainable food system. I mean, for God's sake, where (and more importantly WHY) do you find the time to be so spiteful, especially when there is so much work to be done?

There are much bigger enemies to fight. Let's get back to the real work, please.

Steve Sando

Cupcake,
Do you want to explain to everyone the work I do? The number of pounds of beans I sell? The volunteer hours spent? Oh, wait, you have no idea, do you?

Steve Sando

plot, I'll check it out. To be honest, I've heard not good things about that market on Chowhound, but that's not fair, so I will check it out and if it's that much cheaper, you're smart to shop there.

plot_thickens

See you there, Steve. Note: start with the two ladies in the back corner, they have the best prices, the best jokes, the best produce, and the most succulent rhubarb!

Tana Butler

David,

I enjoyed what you wrote, for the most part, but my upset comes for one very specific and personal reason: Carlo Petrini (or his translator) really blew it in saying the Surfing Farmer basically gouged people so he only had to work two markets a month. I know the guy: he is my friend. He works four markets a week, and his hands are dirty when he's working on his farm. Like all surfing farmers (there are many where I live), he isn't in the water much during the planting and harvesting season.

No matter what good Carlo Petrini has done—and no one is denying that he has done many good things—it is the worst kind of disservice to libel a farmer (or a midwife, or a teacher, or any other underpaid professional who is doing the REAL work). These are the people who should be getting glory, not the idea men. And until I see the original Italian (so my Italian-speaking friends can translate it without a middle man), I believe that Petrini made his own point, and he made the wrong one. It will continue to be hurtful until he prints a retraction (IF there are future editions of the book).

As I wrote on my own weblog, I do "slow food" every day: I photograph and write about farms, I send people to Local Harvest, I shop at the farmers markets two and sometimes three times a week (and yes, they are all cheaper than Ferry Plaza, because they don't have the exorbitant rent of the waterfront in San Francisco to cover). But I am not going to re-up my Slow Food membership because I just do not like the way this whole thing has been handled.

FYI, one Slow Food leader wrote this to me shortly after the incident: "The situation reminds me of high tech start-up companies when the founder of the company is no longer able to lead the company once it gets into its growth stage."

I don't think it's hateful or spiteful at all to try to get Mr. Petrini to apologize for his inaccurate remarks, and to accept responsibility for the damage they've caused.

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