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

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

Normally this space is dedicated to posts about soaking beans or pruning cactus. Unfortunately, a recent book by someone supposedly fighting the good fight for pure, good, local food has caused such a stir that I felt the need to comment and present the point of view of a grower who previously was cheering Slow Food and selling at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.


[This is my friend Annabelle, who also grows beans. The photo was taken by my 8 year old son, Robbie.]

Carlo Petrini is the head of Slow Food, an international organization that mostly raises awarness about the deplorable state of modern food production. They’ve done a lot of good and opened many eyes. I’ve made some good friends and learned quite a lot, so I don’t want to discount the whole organization. Petrini has written a new book, Slow Food Nation, and the bulk of one short chapter is spent describing his trip to Ferry Plaza with his friend, restauranteur and local food icon, Alice Waters.

I’d like to share the passage with you:

Morning. The cool morning began quite early: if you are going to the market it is best to be ready by seven o’clock at the latest. The sun was not yet warm enough when, in the company of my chef friend Alice Waters, I entered an elegantly refurbished area of the docks; pretty little coffee shops were serving warm mugs of excellent organic fair-trade coffee; sumptuous bakeries were putting out all sorts of good things, spreading the fragrant aroma of some wonderful kinds of bread. Oil and wine producers were offering samples in marquees, while hundreds of open-air stalls were selling excellent products: fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, sausages, and even flowers. Fresh, healthy-looking food, all carefully marked organic.

One could have easily spent a fortune there. The prices were astronomical, twice or even three times as high as those of “conventional” products. But how hard it is to produce things so well, and what costs are involved in obtaining certification! I am convinced that the farmers’ intelligent productive efforts deserve to be paid for generously, so I was not too scandalized by the prices, even though they were those of a boutique. Yes, a boutique: for I soon realized I was in an extremely exclusive place (bear in mind that this is one of the oldest and most important farmers’ markets in town, la crème de la crème). The amiable ex-hippies and young dropouts-turned-farmers greeted their customers with a smile and offered generous samples of their products to a clientele whose social status was pretty clear: either wealthy or very wealthy.

Alice Waters introduced me to dozens of farmers: they were all well-to-do college graduates, former employees of Silicon Valley, many of them young. Meanwhile their customers, most of whom seemed to be actresses, went home clutching their peppers, marrows and apples, showing them off like jewels, status symbols.

Two of the producers in particular struck me: a young man with a long beard and a man who was selling oil. The former, with long hair and a plaid flannel shirt, held his lovely little blond-haired daughter in his arms and told me, in a conspiratorial tone, that he had to drive two hundred miles to come and sell in that market: he charged incredibly high prices for his squash, it was “a cinch,” in just two monthly visits he could earn more than enough to maintain his family and spend hours surfing on the beach.

The latter, who wore a tie, extolled the beauties of his farm: it consisted of hundreds of hectares of olive trees, stretching as far as the eye could see, and nothing else. While I was tasting his excellent organic oil on a slice of bread which reminded me of Tuscan bread—absolutely delicious—I was thinking of what he must have uprooted and cleared away in order to grow all those plants, each one of them impeccably organic.

-from Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini. ©2007 Rizzoli Ex Libris

There are a number of disturbing suggestions and some flat-out lies. The easiest finger to point is at price. Yes, the price of food at Ferry Plaza, both in the shops and at the farmers market can be high. You can spend over $3 for a single peach. You can also find bunches of spring onions for 39 cents, juicy oranges for 99 cents a pound and lettuce mix for less than five dollars a pound, all comprable to an average grocery store. Petrini full well knows that “regular” prices are artificially low and I would say it’s downright irresponsible to bring up price without mentioning what it takes to bring a 69 cent head of romaine to a grocery store. For the small independent grower, expenses add up quickly. There’s gas, business permits, labor, ag department fees, farmers market fees, organic certificatrion, water and even seed stock just to start. But as long as we’re talking about price, did you know your Slow Food membership starts at $60? For this you get a little pin of a snail, probably made in China and not by “artisan” labor, and a quarterly magazine that is always late and rarely of interest. And you get the chance to got to events like meeting Petrini and eating a hamburger for $100. I don’t believe Mr. Petrini is in a position to discuss value.

Petrini mentions that most of the customers seemed to be actresses. In my mind, this conjures up images of women in furs with big Breakfast at Tiffany’s sunglasses strolling with their snow leopards on a platinum leash. Or at least unusually gorgeous and well-turned out women. I apologize to my customers, whom I love dearly, but San Francisico’s fashion motto could easily be “Dare to be dowdy!”, especially on a foggy Saturday morning. Try Beverly Hills or even nearby Walnut Creek if you want to see “actress types”. I mentioned this to a friend and he said, “There is a sense of glamor to the place. Maybe that’s what he’s picking up on.” I doubt it.

I think it’s great that Alice Waters introduced him to “dozens” of farmers but to see the farmers market through her eyes is not to see the market. She doesn’t even shop there! She probably knows her regular suppliers and thought she was doing them a favor by introducing them to Petrini. I sincerely doubt that all of the farmers introduced by Waters were all Silicon Valley dropouts and college grads but if they were, how wonderful! To turn away from a cubicle and work the land and show off the fruits of your labor should be something to induce pride. In an  interesting article, A Plea for Culinary Modernism (Gastronomica, Fall 205), writer Rachel Lauden accuses Petrini and Slow Food of being “culinary luddites” and I suspect they are “ag luddities” as well. What’s even more offensive is that these two farmers who left such an impression on Petrini simply don’t exist. He made them up as a way to illustrate his points but since he doesn’t really understand the California farmers market system, the Bay Area food scene and the dynamics of suburban sprawl, he’s caught off guard. He writes about the olive oil grower who wears a suit and tie (why is this relevant at all? Oh! A big bad business man!), “I was thinking of what he must have uprooted and cleared away in order to grow all those plants, each one of them impeccably organic.” Since this farmer and this grove of olives don’t exist, it is hard to say what was uprooted, but if it’s in Northern California, there’s a better chance that this olive grove prevented more suburban sprawl rather than destroy native habitat.

[With Joe Schirmer. I'm the really cute one.. Photo: Tana Butler]

The surfer example is the worst, in my book. The subtext here is that the farmer, the one Petrini chose to write about, is gouging the customer in order to go surfing. There is one rather famous surfing farmer and it’s Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce. Yes, he surfs, sometimes for extended periods, in Baja. But he’s an innovative farmer, works like a dog and sleeps in a tent on the beaches of Mexico. Joe and I exchange seeds from Baja, always looking for the elusive wild beans (frijol silvestre) of Baja and saving wild tomatillo seeds and studying legumes. But so what if all Joe did was surf on his well-earned vacations? Is this any of Petrini’s business or even mine?

The subtext is that it’s not enough that we grow food as Petrini has suggested in the past . Now we need to sell to a particular customer, charge a particular price, wear certain clothes and spend our leisure time according to his vision. I think he’s irresponsible and Slow Food should be ashamed for giving him an unrestricted platform, despite all the good things he may have done in the past.

Next: Rancho Gordo Meets Carlo Petrini in person!

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




A friend asked me last week if I was going to Golden Glass, and I said “How the hell does Carlo Petrini get off criticizing the Ferry Plaza market for having 'boutique' prices when I can't even justify the cost of the membership? $75 per couple is nuts, when all that gets you is a crappy magazine and the ability to buy tickets to more overpriced events.”

Not that I am surprised to find myself on the same side of the fence as you, but it's kinda creepy that you said almost the same things.

Steve Sando

I think everyone is wee bit fed up. Before meeting Petrini, I met with a "higher up" of Slow Food and told him, justified or not, Slow has a reputation of being arrogant and elitist. He leaned in to me threateningly and said, "We are the biggest organization of our kind in the world." Mmmmmm. I don't think he heard me.
For what it's worth, Slow people are welcome to respond here. I'll only edit as a reaction to extreme rudeness.

Jerry Jeff

One of the most obvious errors is the bit about "hundreds" of stalls. Like he is describing a market in Bangkok or Mexico City. I've been the the market many times and seems like the count is "dozens."

dirty joe

my response,"yo, carlo smallweenie, i have naked pictures of you with a mullet and a banjo from that day we met at the market. please depostit 10% of the gross sales of your fancy new book into my winter surf fund or i will publish the photos in my book." just kidding, sometimes we foodie writers stretch it just a bit to make a point. writers who over romantacize always get it a bit wrong. hey carlo, save the drama fo yo mama. such a distraction. lets get back to the beans steve-o. what's up with those amazing giant cranberries, madeira's or what ever you grow? i want some of those. how are they as fresh shelling beans? also, there were these ginormous white canalini types i had in san sebastian that filled up my entire soup spoon. what, where, how? i'm so riled up i'd like to grow the biggest bean in the world and send it to carlo with a note on it telling him where he can put it. just kidding, i'm not riled up. "hey carlo, how's the surf in italy?" what a barney. i actually liked the guy.

Steve Sando

Later in the chapter he describes being in a taxi on the way to Berkeley and he's surprised that the ubiquitous American habit of always having the air conditioning on wasn't practiced by his cab. It's a tiny detail but it shows he doesn't know the bay area and has no business writing about it.

Tana Butler

Today I tried to do a little research on Petrini: his fictionalizing the farmers and the people at the market really chapped me bad. (I found it very puzzling that an Italian would criticize any woman who dressed nicely enough to be mistaken for an actress: isn't America derided constantly for not being fashionable enough? Don't Italians have a perhaps justifiably heightened sense of style? His remarks sounded, across the board, insincere.)

The remark I found most offensive was about the "young dropouts-turned-farmers." Most of the farmers I know have college educations: many have graduate degrees. I would be willing to bet that Bay Area farmers are among the most educated in the world, if only because the University of Santa Cruz's farm apprentice program has been turning out organic farmers for forty years. Many of the graduates, of whom Joe Schirmer is one, stay close by—because the support is here. We do love our farmers, don't we?

I wrote yesterday in a post about food movements (Slow Food and others) I will NOT be renewing my membership, thanks to your post here and over at MouthfulsFood. I think Petrini's worst crime, for me, is that he damaged the high esteem in which I had held Italy, probably much the same way as the witless monkey in the White House damaged whatever esteem people had for America.

[A tiny note: I'm pretty sure Joe Schirmer's parents have a modest house in Mexico that the whole family uses from time to time, but it's hardly a gated villa with guards.]

I appreciate your candor and the bluntness with which you have dared to write about the Emperor's Clothes. Good work. Thanks.

Steve Sando

Joe, people keep asking which one is which in the photo. I keep telling them I'm the cute one.

Steve Sando

Good points. I'd just add if Joe's parents had a McMansion, so fucking what!??!


Does Petrini represent Italy? I don't think so. Generalizing something about the whole of Italy based on one jerk's narrowmindedness is no better than what he's doing.


Wow. I mean Wow! Who knew there could be so much love among the Slow Foodies. But seriously, this post serves an important purpose, but the reminder is that the members of Slow Food USA make it what it is, not the leaders here or elsewhere. So this should be a clarion-call to Slow Food members to reinforce and redefine what the organization will be in the future.


The problem of arrogance in the slow/real food movement isn't limited to Petrini. He does have a point -- Ferry Plaza *is* somewhat precious -- but Ferry Plaza is merely the showplace -- did Alice take him to any of the hundreds of local farmer's markets? I once saw a woman burst into tears in our market in Hayward (*so* not Ferry Plaza) because for the first time since she'd left Vietnam as a war bride she'd found the peppers of her childhood. Ferry Plaza *is* something of a boutique, but there's a whole supermarket of smaller farmers' markets in neighborhoods where there were no decent vegetables before. Up here in Montana we see some of the same snobbery -- I've been sneered at in the Co-op, and my boyfriend, who grew up here, was scandalized when I paid six bucks a pound for local, organic lamb. And what about people the movement leaves out? Up here, most people, including my boyfriend, hunt and grow gardens and still put up food. These aren't the folks that slow food is reaching out to -- most city foodies I know are scandalized that the same boyfriend provides most of our annual meat by hunting antelope, deer and elk every fall. What could be more slow food than hunting and butchering your own meat? I guess my point is that while Petrini was wrong on the particulars, perhaps the reason this has struck such a nerve is that the movement *is* a little guilty of elitism and smugness, however, that doesn't also mean that the movement isn't making progress, and that the aims aren't essentially correct.

Steve Sando

Thanks for your comments, Charlotte. There are many problems with Ferry Plaza, I agree. I'm there every week and I could write a book. But they're not going to get solved by attacking the very people Petrini claims to be helping. FWIW, I'm on board with what your boyfriend's hunting (especially if he makes sausages and wants to share!) but that fact that you'd be criticized for it only proves my point. It's not enough that we eat by his standards, now we have to dress, work, educate or not, and spend our free time as he sees fit.
The market is run by a non-profit organization that can be frustrating for someone like me. It means lots of meetings and planning and suggestions and Zzzzzzz.... but it's not snotty or elitist. I know most of the farmers and vendors and they're not snobs by any means. I'm trying to think of the stores inside and I can't think of any problem ones. Even the caviar people smile at me at 6:30 a.m. when I arrive.
Personally, you take what works for from Slow Food and then you move on. You do what you can and you do your best and you talk and now things are beginning to change.


I guess what bums me out about the whole silly mess is the way Ferry Plaza is being used as a straw man (Petrini's a European Socialist of the 1968 school, isn't he? and a gadfly -- so perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised) -- it's the showcase, so of course it's beautiful and glamorous and a scene, but as the showcase it *also* stands for all those crucial, and less-glamorous farmer's markets all over the city, and all over a lot of cities now. I was stunned at the Farmers markets when I was back in Chicago for the first time in 20 years -- when I left after college, those weren't there at all. People can get fresh, local vegetables in neighborhoods where they never could before. But those neighborhoods aren't glamorous -- I can't imagine Alice and Carlos coming down to visit my old farmers market in Hayward -- which was lovely, and full of people and great vendors but which was very working-class and had a large Indian and Pakistani clientele. If Carlo wants to see the "socialist" version of a farmer's market, he should get out into the sticks -- because they're there, and they're vital.

But I think it's also important for those of us who are "in the movement" to guard against elitism and class snobbery -- there are a lot of people out there who would never label themselves "slow food" but who nonetheless are -- folks who hunt, forage for mushrooms, keep a garden, can tomatoes in August because they've always done it that way -- and sometimes the Ferry Plazas and the Bozeman Food Co-ops can be alienating for the very same reason that they're so appealing to the bourgeois -- I don't have a solution to that age-old problem ... wish I did ... (and despite my access to game up here -- I *do* so miss California produce -- and the flowers! I miss the flowers ...)


I think that it is unfair to condemn the entire Slow Food movement because of statements of Carlo Petrini.

As a longtime member, I have seen my local group support farmers and ranchers through hard times and in ways that have given them long term benefit.

Also the work that Slow Food does regarding endangered foodstuffs with Presidia and Ark designations is helping to preserve and protect our traditional pantry. This work is done mostly by volunteers without any compensation and aims to benefit and protect food producers.

Part of the probem for Carlo I believe is that he is only shown upscale examples of our food producton rather than the full range of our agriculture.

I understand the hurt feelings but wonder how much time has been spent in volunteer efforts for Slow Food by those complaining about some misspoken comments by one person. My guess is that there is not much vested interest by those who only pay membership and wait to be invited to events. The real value of the organization is only learned by becoming involved as a volunteer.

I was also a delegate at Terra Madre and felt that the experience was invaluable to my understanding of my place within the global food community. I also watched 3rd world delegates heaping their plates with food that we take for granted but were untold luxury to them.

It's a big world and we need to accept our responibilities along with the rewards

Steve Sando

Elissa, don't I say as much, almost right off the bat? "They’ve done a lot of good and opened many eyes. I’ve made some good friends and learned quite a lot, so I don’t want to discount the whole organization."

Scratch the surface and you'll see that Petrini isn't just "one person". He's quite important to Slow Food's agenda.

I was also a delegate to Terra Madre and I've done a lot volunteering. That's why it's so confusing to read Petrini's words and have Slow Food right on the cover.

Am I curious about the seed saving. Does Slow actually have a seed bank or are they suppporting organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH and Seeds Savers Exchange? Where is the Slow Food seed bank if there is one? I'm not being smug; I really don't know.


hello steve,

my 2c...disclaimer: i dont know much about the slow food movement, but i know ferry market plaza.

imo, good food must be affordable to everyone. as an example, when i was growing up in india, i can go vegetable shopping with my driver or maid and we'd all be able to afford fresh produce from the same market stall. if farmers' markets cater to only a certain top section of the society, it certainly does have a 'boutique' feel to it. so, in essence, farmers market cater to the consumer rather than a principle. not that there is anything wrong with that.


Ah, I can bear it no longer -- where's the followup Confronting Carlo post? (I could go over to MF and read it -- I've been hearing about all over the blogs -- but I am too lazy and stubborn :D )

Steve Sando

I'm going to save the next post for a few days. I don't think this has played itself out yet. Also, it wasn't so great and I'm having a hard time seperating the man I met from the good things that have come of Slow Food.

Tom Bowles

Okay, this is coming from a newb to the Slow Food and foodie community (I'm also kinda doing this at the encouragement of Robin Somers, my prof at UCSC)so feel free to crit me all you want.

I've been raised all over the US and I've seen the elements of Slow Food before the organization really took hold--my family rarely purchases stuff at supermarkets and we live by farmer's markets.

After hearing some remarks about Petrini's statements while I was in San Francisco this weekend, it struck me--Slow Food is showing signs similar to a religious shift...there are the strict adherents to the old ways (conventional eaters), real-life followers of the new (most of us, and the people who just eat slow food because they believe in it) and the extroverted status-seekers. This last grouping is what Petrini was lashing out against and unfortunately he roped the rest of us in...something tells me that there is going to be a schism much like the Reformation among the Slow Foodites because of the differences that are quickly being revealed.
I like the farmer's markets and to be perfectly honest, the organic showroom that is much of Ferry Plaza really isn't where some of my favorite food is--most of it actually comes from the really tiny, out-of-the-way markets that pop up in my hometown of Santa Cruz all the time. I feel more connected to the growers and all that Slow Food stands for at the philosophical level. Petrini can say all he wants about how everyone is turning into this status-hungry bourgeoisie...but y'know what? Most of us here have said and will agree: before he critiques American Slow Food, he should actually search places other than the poshest booths of Ferry Plaza. I'd be perfectly glad to show him Front Street's Farmer's Market on Wednesday.

Steve Sando

Tom, I think you raise interesting and thoughful points.
As much as I love the ferry building, I also love my small dorky farmers markets in Napa. They're part of my community and the food is good. Obviously San Francisco has no ag land so it's kind of a different set of circumstances than we see in Sta. Cruz and Napa.
I know I've said this before, but you should come spend a day at my booth and meet my customers. They're wonderful people and good cooks, but they're only hip in the sense that they're following their own hearts and doing wha they want to do. I just don't see the mythical elite customer or farmer, at least at my booth. Well, there are a few jerks but they're few and far between.
Buy me a drink and I'll tell you what's really wrong with the ferry plaza market!


I have been going to the SF farmers market for over 13 years; in the 3-4 (please correct me if I'm wrong) locations that it has been 'housed' during that time. As a transplant from Boston via Toronto I've felt privileged to be able to buy directly from the farmers and bypass the middleman. Yes, it's not inexpensive but Whole Foods is even more expensive and the produce is not as fresh nor do I get to converse directly with the person who grew my food or his/her kids. I am far from wealthy or super wealthy and certainly not an actress. Currently I am a fulltime student and fulltime employed -- guess that blows the stereotype. The farmers market in SF has been my main grocery purveyance for the entire time I have lived in the city. As a SF resident my salary has always (still is) below the median for this city. Prices may be higher but not prohibitvely so and you certainly have to buy alot of veggies to have the prices make a huge dent in your pocket. Also, given that most of the produce is picked that morning or the evening before my purchases never spoil/waste unlike waht happens on the occasions I have to resort to the major grocery stores. That in and of itself is a huge savings -- no throwing out spoiled food. I completely support all the farmers. I've hooked all my family in Boston on the market and they even order from those of you who have mail order. Otherwise they just envy my good food fortune and look forward to their visits so that they too can shop at the Saturday market (my Mom always takes huge bags that she can carry on all the things she loves but can't get on the East Coast even in the summer) Sorry for the rant but the farmers deserve more than this negative/incorrect portrayal.


Udderly Delicious

What I think is really annoying about Petrini's comments are that he knows better than to assume that Ferry Plaza Market is representative of all farmers markets. I'm from San Diego and visited the Ferry Plaza on vacation and yes, some things were more expensive than I expected. But, there were affordable items as well. It's slicker than many neighborhood farmers markets but the vendors are warm and friendly. It's weird that he would want to knock down the vendors and patrons; all people who are trying to live by some ideal.

Okay, even if there are fancy pants movie star types there (I felt over dressed in jeans and a nice blouse, most people were still in exercise wear or casual, around the house clothes), who freakin' cares?! They're still supporting local farmers. Who cares if they're doing it to look good? It's like Rupert Murdoch going green. Even if he's only doing it for good pr, if he actually makes the changes, we all benefit.

A person in his position should be encouraging all forms of local agriculture instead of taking a low swing at a lot of people who just want to eat good food, support their communities, and take care of the land. He's should be more responsible.


As a farmer, Petrini's insinuation that we can put in a few hours labor each month, feed our families on that little bit of work, and then spend all of our other time goofing off, is not only insulting, it actually made me sick to my stomach. To think that there are supposedly enlighted people out there who feel that way is discouraging. I used to practice law, and I work harder as a farmer than I ever did as a lawyer.

Petrini's words are as derisive as when my attorney friends ask me when I'm going to get a real job. I'd like to have them and Petrini see me outside in 16 degree weather on a January morning, trying to move frozen solid row cover with hands so cold they ache, or on a 113 degree July afternoon, delirious from the heat, frantically trying to keep alive the plants I've carefully nurtured the past three months.

They should see me battling to the death squash bugs, cucumber beetles, aphids, cabbage loopers, wireworms, maggot root fly, tomato fruitworm, earwigs, slugs, cutworms, spider mites, nematodes and gophers. Or the diseases: bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, early blight, late blight, fungus, crown rot, downy mildew, damping off, phytopthora, septoria leaf spot, black rot and a host of others that kill plants but remain mysteries. Oh, or how about the nutritional deficiencies that need to be diagnosed and corrected? I need to be able to understand when my plants are in need of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and about 20 other micronutrients that can ruin a crop if not made available to that particular plant in proper doses. And each type of plant needs a different balance of those nutrients.

Drop-outs or lazy asses need not apply. They couldn't cut it. So if a farmer has anything exquisite to bring to market after the weather, pests, diseases and nutritional needs have been battled and won, then they should be thanked, not ridiculed or second-guessed. I invite Mr. Petrini to come work on my farm for a month; he'd have a completely different perspective on whether it was "a cinch" to grow a perfect squash and he would agree with the "actresses" that the vegetables were indeed jewels.


Everyone has rebutted Petrini's observations well and thoroughly.

However, if the suit and tie rep from the olive oil farm was indeed present or representing MacEvoy Oil Ranch in Marin County, then Petrinis observations are valid.

It is a sprawling monoculture farm of hundreds of acres deerfenced throughout. I wonder how the local wildlife adjusted when this "gated" community moved to the neighborhood.

Joan Taramasso

As the manager of the dorky little farmers market in Napa, even I am incensed that Petrini would say or do anything to disparage the farmers and the farmers market system in California. I can't begin to to tell you what it takes, from my end, to get everyone moving in the same direction to make the farmers market happen. Add to that what I know it takes for any farmer to actually get him/herself and their produce to the market, on time, with a smile on their face, to stand around in either the freezing cold or blazing heat to OFFER their wares to the general public... It's too much to fathom. Anyone who would disparage the people who offer authentically fresh-picked, organic or not, SEASONAL produce without benefit of major corporate funding is no one we should bother paying attention to. I've been embarassed to be an American many times in my life, but this was the first time I was truly embarassed to be Italian.

Steve Sando

Joan, you know "dorky" means "HOT and HAPPENING!" in my book, right?

mimulus, I don't know the specifics about McEvoy but they don't sell at the SF farmers market. They have a store inside.

Cynthia, I smell like chicken poop. I can sympathize.

Paige and Udder- I'm with you! On some level, I think, how great that vegetables are being treated as jewels, even if it's not true and more of Petrini's fiction.

Upthread someone mentioned how one person's comments shouldn't represent the whole show. Petrini is head of the circus and the response today in the SF Chronicle from Erica Leseer, the US head was "It's definitely awkward." Hey lady, how about "We screwed up! I'm sorry!"

The fish rots from the head.


What an ass. I will never understand how an author can justify writing a criticism in a book when that opinion has so clearly been shabbily researched. I am flattered though that I look like an actress, there's hope for sweat pants and baby strollers yet!

I'm so out of the loop these days, thanks as always for speaking from the heart Steve.

Alice Q. Foodie

The Ferry Plaza Market does have some issues with crowding and prices (both are high) but I agree with the comments above - it's a showpiece for the area and he should have the good sense to regard it as such.

The comments about the olives are inane. What does he know about where they came from, or what was cleared away to grow them? It's a strangely negative note to end on - as if he just had to find fault and draw attention to himself somehow.


I think your mental vision of actresses may be a bit confused with drag queens.... maybe thats what Petrini saw too. Those gals can be awful purdy. ;-}

You want to see dowdy? come to Willits. We have a corner on that market.

In my small town, it is only by the grace and hard work and sacrafice of a handful of vendors that we do have a market at all. And by handful I mean there are five. I can't imagine they make enough to pay for gas getting there. The only other towns around us are about 25 miles away. It is a privilege to be able to purchase fresh food for my table. I live in the trees and unable to grow my own. We all cherish the slow life here.


Not that this discussion needs another rant, but MY issue with this entire topic is the timing these same folks came up with for their Slow Food Nation event in California. May, 2008. Now, May is a wonderful month and all, but as any California produce farmer or home gardener will tell you, it's too early. Yes, there is some asparagus and some strawberries and other little yummies, but it is frankly too soon for the full bounty of California agriculture. How about June? or July? Then we're talking peaches and grapes and corn and real tomatoes and... the list goes on.


I think this post (not written by me) from chowhound summarizes my opinion pretty much. I have a lot of friends in Italy and I talked yesterday with one of them and he doesn't understand this reaction of the market people. Even if you have a heated discussion and don't agree with somebody you should disinvite somebody but have public discussion about. But I guess that is an American problem I found quite often:

"The funny thing to me is, my Italian friends will argue for hours. The arguments can be really heated, with yelling, gesturing, and playful insults. It is usually over politics, but could be anything they are passionate about. At the end of the discussion, we are as good friends as ever, better maybe. Disagreement has nothing to do with our love for eachother. American friends rarely bring up sticky subjects, unless we happen to all agree and can have a mutual b***h-fest about Bush or whatever. I think we Americans, as evidenced by the FB reaction and this thread, take ourselves much too seriously"

Steve Sando

As soon as my trial gardens are finished, I swear I'm going to go shopping at the market with a camera and show off the price range. It can be insanely $$$ or you can do pretty well with not a lot of effort.
What's interesting is that Alan Richman in GQ spent more time on why the prices are the way they are than Petrini.
Jim, did you know Igot into beans because the markets all started in May and my tomatoes grown in Napa weren't ready until August and I was trying to think of something to carry me through until they ripened? I don't know but my impression of Slow Food Nation is that it's going to be a lot like the Salone del Gusto in Torino and that was mostly prepared food and dry ingredients, like rows of prosciutto producers. I don't think it's to show off farmers.
Honkman, that's a good point. I lived in Italy, too, for awhile and I remember loving the political discussions. I think that because they are a monoculture (ask any Ethiopian immigrant how Italian he feels), their differences aren't as vast as they are here. If you ask what it means to be an Italian, you can get an answer pretty quickly. We're still struggling to define what it means to be an American. But I think you're right in that we take ourselves too seriously and as a whole we don't take out politics seriously enough!


What's interesting to me in this discussion (and I'm admittedly a newbie to the concept of slow food, although I've been a farmer's market shopper for a couple of decades) is that the prices Petrini complained about are going to be justified as the cost of fuel keeps going up. The supermarkets don't even begin to hesitate to raise their prices for the least excuse, why should the farmers be expected to NOT pass those costs along, when it's a much bigger part of their margin? And why shouldn't everyone realize this? Sometimes, it's just going to hurt to do the right thing.

Nikki Rose

What is very strange about Petrini's subjective "report" of the SF Farmer's Market is that he had the opportunity to meet 10,000 farmers from around the world at his own organization's Terra Madre conference, of which I helped to organize the Greek delegation.

There, he may have learned about the "true cost of food" which is frequently addressed by Slow Food chapters. If a peach is 3 bucks, then you have a choice to buy it or not. So what?

Let the movie stars blatantly show their support for our organic farmers for a change.
If Petrini even put this experience into context, and did some "comparison shopping" around the Bay Area, he would have known that there are many diverse farmers markets and diverse customers. He might have figured out that it probably costs farmers more to sell their produce in SF as well.

Clearly this was not on his agenda and wasn't important enough for him to report on. Why he would express contempt for SF farmers (real or imaginary) is impossible to fathom. How he expected the red carpet treatment at that very market after his tabloid-style report is very amusing! It's in true SF style that he was asked to eat his words and his book sales.

And how many European farmers market shoppers do not dress like actors? That "blind" observation was pointless.

His comments about the Napa olive grove made no sense...what do the sprawling Italian olive groves look like? Most of which are NOT organic? Is it socially acceptable to clear an area for conventional production?

Just so people know, Slow Food did not start out as a major "sustainable organic farmer" supporter. They were simply promoting artisan production of Italian products. Gradually, Slow went in the sustainable organic direction after learning what people were doing around the world (and trying to drum up membership?), and the increasing awareness that sustainable organic farming has everything to do with food safety and environmental protection.

Many individuals and organizations have practiced Slow before it existed. Each Slow Chapter works very differently, which is definitely a plus, based on the Slow Pope's view of SF! The point is, many of us have worked on slow ideals before the Pope set foot on a podium or came to town. Let's forget about kissing his ring and keep up our own good work!

All the best for a great growing season...and time to surf!

Nikki Rose


'Try Beverly Hills or even nearby Walnut Creek if you want to see “actress types”.'

I find it ironic that you rebut Petrini's offensive comments by taking a swipe at the people who shop at the Walnut Creek farmer's markets. As someone who shops at the downtown Walnut Creek farmer's market weekly, I never noticed such 'actress types', rather, mostly down-to-earth types, some with kids in tow. I include myself as one of them.

Steven Sando

What swipe? I think people in WC are better dressed than people in SF on a typical Saturday morning. I've been told I am wrong but that's my memory of Walnut Creek. I'd take it as a compliment.


"I think people in WC are better dressed than people in SF on a typical Saturday morning."

How about compared to "people in SF" at the Ferry Building on Sat morning? Can anyone comment on this who has been to both? I really doubt that's the case.

Steven Sando

I'm sorry. I don't understand your point. I'm sorry if I offended or if I got it wrong.
My experience is that people wear sweats and "whatever" to come to the ferry building Saturdaty morning. If they are dressed to impress, they tend to be tourists. I live on the outskirts of the 'burbs and my experience is people dress up when going out, even to a farmers market. When I was in Walnut Creek, that was also my experience. I'm sorry if I got it wrong. Despite the way I dress, I think it's nice to look good!

colorado robyn

I know I 'm both late and foreign to this but I ran across the blog (and I will be back) from an article discussing the book.
where I live, in a suburb south/ southwest of Denver, I have a choice of two markets on three days (we have the Denver Farmers market, which basically goes on tour, and the local arts community decided an all local, all organic market would get play. They were right).
I like both the set up in the asphalt and the funky sidestreet ones.
We have farmers who drive seven hours one way to sell to customers with an appreciation of what they do.
Some are degreed-in-something-else professionals who decided to dedicate themselves to good, local food (which Petrini theoretically should agree with rather than deride) and getting that around the state.
We also get family farmers and family farmers running apprenticeships for the hippy-looking sorts.
For me, this is a bonus, but whatever.

I find it sad that a man supposedly dedicated to real food is acting as if parts of the world should be shut out.
and yes, $60 membership fees will be better spent on, well, food!


I live in a small village in Italy where most of my neighbors are farmers. A coat and tie is very common to see. It is a matter of respect for the people you are visiting or doing business with. I have no idea why Mr. Petrini would have found this offensive, it is typically Italian.

Also, if Mr. Petrini is worried about price gouging in California, he should have a look at the prices that are being charged in Switzerland for his Slowfood products.

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