Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June: Slow Food International

The focus of this column has been, and will continue to be, Slow Food as a local movement, centred on the Niagara Region and the Pelham area in particular. However, it is interesting once in awhile to step back and realize that Slow Food Pelham is a tiny part of a global phenomenon. From its modest start as a counter-Fast Food movement in Italy in 1986, Slow Food International has grown to well over 100,000 members in 132 countries, and Slow Food Pelham is one of 800 “convivia” or chapters of the organization.

Among the aims of Slow Food is the preservation of local culinary traditions, plant and animal varieties, and food products; encouraging and supporting small scale and family farming and production, while educating consumers about the dangers of monoculture, factory farms, and commercial agribusiness; encouraging the buying and consumption of food that is ethically produced, local, organic, and sustainable; and, always, promoting the virtues of good food, carefully prepared, consumed at leisure in a convivial setting.

A quick survey of some of Slow Food International’s projects helps to provide a sense of how these principles are being put into practice.

Currently, a project called “A Thousand Gardens in Africa” has been launched to create exactly that: 1000 gardens in school yards, villages, and the outskirts of cities across the continent. Food gardens will be cultivated using traditional and sustainable methods, including composting, rational water use, planting local varieties, and intercropping of fruit trees, vegetables, and medicinal herbs. The objective is to help farmers and communities to recover local crops, rather than just handing out seeds and fertilizer.

In Italy, the production of a traditional cheese from the mountains near Milan has been saved by the intervention of Slow Food. Historic Bitto cheese is made by hand in the remote Orbie Alps by herders who follow the seasons with their herds. Slow Food has stepped in to provide a distribution system for the cheese to connect consumers and producers, so that the farmers get fair payment and consumers get a unique, traditional product at a fair price.

In Morocco, Slow Food has recognized and promoted the preservation of the traditional Berber delicacy, argan oil. Pressed from the kernels of the argan tree, this oil has been a fundamental part of Berber culture since time immemorial.

In Southeast India, the traditional foods of the Dalit people, 329 species of plants, many of which are designated as weeds by the scientific community, have been recognized and catalogued.

In Ireland, the Slow Food convivia are recognizing Grandmother’s Day, a day to celebrate the traditional foods and recipes of older generations. This year it was on April 16th… and maybe it is an idea that will catch on world wide.

In the U.S., a campaign called “What’s Killing Our Buzz” has been launched by Slow Food, with the aim of pressuring governments and agencies to investigate and reverse the devastating loss of honey bees over the past few years.

And so on. Around the world, the Slow Food Movement continues to work with partners and other like-minded organizations to preserve the biodiversity of our planet and the food traditions that have evolved over millennia. These examples merely brush the surface of a very active and dedicated organization, from whose efforts we all will benefit. We in Pelham “think globally and act locally” in our own small way as part of this worldwide movement. To learn more, go to slowfood.com or contact the Pelham convivium through RenĂ©e Girard at reneegirardb@hotmail.com

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