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Food, Health, and Eco-news
“Slow Food” Movement Gains Momentum
Grass roots groups gather people to savor and sustain regional foods; New book spotlights unique food traditions of “salmon nation
by Randy Hartnell

You may have heard of the “Slow Food” movement, and wondered what it's all about. One thing it's certainly not is a society of snail connoisseurs... even if their symbol is a snail.

There's a simple but powerful idea underlying this remarkable movement: that people should truly savor delicious, healthful foods grown and crafted on a human scale, and help support their producers.

We returned recently from a vacation in northern Italy, and the visually ravishing region's bountiful pleasures—great food, wine, art, and architecture, and stunning, luminous landscapes—prompted us to reflect on life's priorities in light of the Slow Food philosophy.

Of course, when you've got a demanding job, keep busy raising a family, or run a small business like ours, it's hard to find time to swing in a hammock, glass of Chianti in hand. But our Italian sojourn brought home the need to make more time to enjoy family, friends, and great food.

To quote the mission statement of Slow Food USA, this mostly grass-roots movement is dedicated to five principles:
  • Stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production
  • Revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community
  • Invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions
  • Creation of a collaborative, ecologically-oriented, and virtuous globalization
  • Living a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life
A Renaissance man's response to McDonalds
Slow Food was the brainchild of Carlo Petrini: a remarkable man who hails from Piedmont: the same mountainous, lake-riddled region that hosted the 2006 winter Olympics.

Petrini is a true renaissance man. During the 1970's, he founded Cante' J'Euv—the largest folk festival in Europe—and pioneered Italian independent radio programming.

At around the same time, he began writing about wine and food in major Italian newspapers and magazines, and became a founder of and key player in the Italian food and wine association called Agricola.

Petrini founded Slow Food as a response to the opening in 1986 of Italy's first American-style fast-food spot (a McDonalds), in the heart of Rome. According to Slow Food USA, his goal was “a rediscovery of authentic culinary traditions and the conservation of the world's quality food and wine heritage.”

The movement went worldwide in 1989, when delegates from 20 countries enacted a constitution founding the International Slow Food Movement, which now boasts some 80,000 members and supporters in more than 50 countries.

Slow food: a powerful traditions-preservation prescription
Here's how the Slow Food USA site describes the increasingly homogenous, unhealthy state of the country's food, culture, and farms, and their prescription for reversing the trend:

“People have responded to the growing movement, because they have become tired of buying the same things, eating the same foods and living the same lives. From the spice of Cajun cooking to the purity of the organic movement; from animal breeds and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables to handcrafted wine and beer, farmhouse cheeses and other artisanal products; these foods are a part of our cultural identity.

“These foods, and the communities that produce and depend on them, are constantly at risk of succumbing to the effects of the fast life, which manifests itself through the industrialization and standardization of our food supply and degradation of our farmland. By reviving the pleasures of the table, and using our taste buds as our guides, Slow Food U.S.A. believes that our food heritage can be saved.”

Slow Food USA supports 140 local chapters called Convivia (meaning “with life”), whose members perform public advocacy of sustainability and bio-diversity, and meet privately to share great food and build a sense of community.

We applaud the work of Slow Food, and encourage you to explore the movement for yourself. To visit the Slow Food Web site click here, and to find a Convivia group near you, click here.

Renewing “salmon nation” food traditions
During a recent visit to the Slow Food USA Web site we were delighted to note the release of a new book titled Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions, which was published as part the larger Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) campaign.

The campaign's acronym—RAFT—seems an apt metaphor for the need to rescue America's regional food traditions, which are fast drowning in a sea of cheap, bland, heavily processed food lacking in character and nutritional value.

In 2005, enthnobotanist Gary Nabhan, Ph.D.—recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship—brought together seven of the most prominent food, agriculture, education and conservation organizations in the United States to launch the RAFT project.

The idea was to combine the food expert's focus on food quality and cultural traditions with conservationists' knowledge of agricultural biodiversity, to accomplish two things:
  • Compile a comprehensive catalog of America's indigenous edible plants and animals and identify those at risk of extinction
  • Determine which can be restored and revitalized in ways that benefit their stewards
The campaign's first success came in compiling a comprehensive list of America's Endangered Foods, which includes more than 700 endangered plant and animal foods and identifies their status, location, and historical and cultural links.

The second fruit of the RAFT campaign was creation of Renewing America's Food Traditions: a book co-edited by Nabhan and Ashley Rood, subtitled Bringing cultural and culinary mainstays from the past into the new millennium.

It was a most pleasant surprise to find that RAFT has published Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions, since it focuses on the foods of the region where we were raised, whose seas we fished for wild salmon, and where we now work to bring its unique and sustainably produced fish to the wider world.

Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions is the first in a series of 10 regional books from RAFT that will chronicle heirloom foods and traditions across the U.S. As the book's introduction says, "Among all the ‘food nations' of North America... Salmon Nation is the richest in mushrooms, berries, wild roots, fish, and shellfish” influenced by Native American, Russian, Spanish, Scandinavian, Japanese, Filipino, African, and Basque peoples.

These are some of the foods described in Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions as already on the road to recovery,

What is "Salmon Nation"?
“Salmon nation” is how Portland's EcoTrust describes the web of people, water, land, animals, and plants that gives rise to Northwest culture and foods.

Salmon Nation is also the name of an EcoTrust spin-off group, among whose several missions—advocacy for local agriculture, forest biodiversity, and more—is to “…protect and restore critical salmon watersheds", in part by gathering information about salmon and salmon-dependent communities.

thanks to the efforts of the folks collaborating in RAFT's regional efforts:
  • Certain wild lilies and other bulbs that on first taste are bitter, but once cooked for days in a steam pit, result in a sweet and sumptuous treat that provided sustenance for generations of tribal peoples. Chef Fernando Divina has begun serving Camas bulbs at Cave B Inn in Quincy, WA to rave reviews from diners.
  • The Olympia oyster is being brought back from the brink of extinction through tireless restoration efforts, local shellfish growers, area chefs and growing consumer demand.
  • Sea beans, an abundant wild succulent with a crisp, lightly briny bite, and starting to appear on top restaurant menus such as Ray's Boathouse in Seattle and Higgins Restaurant and Bar in Portland, was eaten thousands of years ago and was found in the digestive tract of Canadian Ice Man.
  • Ozette potatoes, prized for their sweet and nutty flavor, brought to the Northwest by the Spanish and cultivated by the Makah nation for 250 years, are now being more broadly revived by the Seattle chapter of Slow Food. Andrew Stout of Full Circle Farm in Carnation, WA will plant 1000 lbs of Ozette potato seed this spring.
Not a recipe book as such, Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions does convey traditional cooking methods, and as citizens of “salmon nation”, we think it's a rewarding culinary and cultural resource.


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