The Slow Food Challenge

“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Nobody likes being told what to do, especially when it comes to the food that we consume on a daily basis. Having been nagged countless times as a child to eat all my vegetables because, as most parents like to put it, there are “starving kids in Africa,” I now take my food choices very personally. I’m sure that Mr. Brillat-Savarin would turn over in his grave if he learned of my obsession with premium ice cream, nachos and a few other food groups that I kindly decline to mention in this post. Aside from my select culinary vices that tend to induce instant salivation, I believe wholeheartedly in the connection between food, health and identity outlined above by the French lawyer- turned-gastronomer. As a recent graduate from New York University, I became intrigued by different means of food activism during a senior media course. In today’s “green” world, it’s become trendy to use buzzwords like “organic,” “artisan,” and “local” in reference to produce, meats and other food products. These words have become the gospel for folks who can afford to eat this way, but what about Americans who enjoy daily trips to the drive-in window and are simply not as informed?

Enter: Turin, Italy. As a blossoming not-for-profit grassroots organization, Slow Food uses various activist strategies to effect social change in the food industry. The Slow Food movement began in Turin, Italy in 1986 under the direction of Carlo Petrini to prevent a McDonalds from being built outside the Spanish Steps in Rome. They aim to raise awareness around the production of local agriculture, as well as educate people around the world about the importance of nutrition, the relationship and impact to what is consumed, and the protection of regional cuisine. Slow Food’s underling principles give a voice to local, small-scale farmers and food artisans that support and respect their community environments. Their mission is certainly clear: to live “good, clean, and fair,” beginning at the dinner table.

One of the biggest legislative changes for Slow Food USA began in September 2009 when they launched the “Time for Lunch” campaign, a lobbying effort aimed at Congress to prevent childhood obesity. They helped convince President Obama to sign the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in December 2010, which improved free lunch availability for low-income children and increased nutritional standards for school lunches. Slow Food hopes to influence healthy lifestyle choices in children by forming a connection with community farmers in the near future.

Reforming an entire country’s personal eating habits might seem like a crazy dream, but Slow Food USA has started small, recently urging Americans to take the “$5 Challenge.” Their reasoning: SLOW food should not cost anymore than FAST food. So, grab 3 of your closest friends, head to your local farmers market and challenge yourself to create a tasty, innovative and sustainable meal for 4 that costs $5/person. Impossible, you say? Check out some $5 Challenge tips, tricks and photos from those who blogged about their experience: http://5challenge.tumblr.com/. Just make sure to finish your vegetables (thank your parents) and wash them down with a big glass of vino (cost NOT included in the above challenge).

To find out more information about the Slow Food philosophy, local chapters and events, head to: http://www.slowfoodusa.org.