Saturday, December 1, 2012

December: Preaching to the Converted

            As the son of an Anglican minister, I am very aware of a nagging discomfort that afflicts all priests, pastors, and ministers:  the people in front of them on Sunday are not the people who need to hear their message.  The congregation is there, for the most part, because they already agree with what is being delivered, while those who are not in the congregation are beyond the reach of the message.
To some extent, we in the Pelham Slow Food Convivium are beginning to feel the same way.  There is evidence all around us that the message of Slow Food is getting through, that consumers, purveyors, and producers are all paying attention (or at least lip service) to the notion that good, healthy, locally produced food, served in pleasant, convivial surroundings is vastly better for our physical and mental health than fast food.  Surveys of those who eat fast food reveal that even they know it’s bad for them, but they can’t resist a hit of salt and fat as a guilty pleasure… and that their guilty pleasure is, in part, responsible for the “obesity epidemic” and the consequent rise in diabetes, heart disease, and other maladies (including the return of gout) that afflict our population and our overburdened medical system.
Upscale restaurants are including on their menus the farm or producer where the dish originates.  This trend, pioneered in Niagara by Michael Olson when he was the chef at On the Twenty in Jordan, is a welcome acknowledgement that good food comes from good farmers and good producers, a Slow Food mantra.  Local farmers’ markets are thriving and even expanding.  Supermarkets are advertising local produce when it is available on their shelves, recognizing that there is consumer demand for fresh, locally produced food.  (Although, in July… prime growing time… Sobeys was offering green onions from Mexico, so I drove down the street to Gallagher’s to get the Ontario version!)  The Ontario wine industry is further evidence that the quality and value of local products has reached the consciousness of consumers.  It wasn’t that long ago that only the most daring would present a bottle of Ontario wine as a hostess gift or serve it at a special meal; now, only those who don’t know much about wine would be scared off by an Ontario label.  Fonthill’s new butcher, Churchill Meats, makes a point of advertising that their products are drug free and eagerly tells customers which farm produced each cut of their meat.  Even pet food producers are boasting that they source their ingredients from within 100 km of their production facility.
When even manufacturers of dog food recognize that good, local food is a desirable (and marketable) commodity, we have to acknowledge that there has been a shift in the consciousness of consumers.  As a society, we have become more aware of the principles that gave rise to the Slow Food Movement, even if we aren’t even aware of the existence of the movement.  And yet… at the same time, fast food outlets continue to thrive; we are getting fatter as a population; we are getting less exercise; our incidence of heart disease and diabetes continues to rise.  What’s going on?
It seems that those who are willing to receive the message have received it, while those who continue to poison themselves with unhealthy food just didn’t get the memo.  And that has members of Slow Food Pelham uncertain about our purpose.  As a group, we get together to enjoy good food and share ideas about a better environment, healthier eating, local products… but it seems that much of society, at least those who are aware and care about their food, are as much Slow Foodies as we are!  And the rest will never get the message.  For more information about Slow Food Pelham, contact RenĂ©e at