An Open Letter to Alice Waters and the Good Folks at Slow Food Nation
Dear Slow Fooders,
The Slow Food Nation event is upon us this weekend in San Francisco, and I'm feeling a little forlorn that I'm not out there. The organizers have put together what looks like an impressive set of events, with interesting panels, compelling speakers, and lots of seriously delicious food.
We all love the idea of the Slow Food movement and what it stands for, namely supporting sustainable, artisanal food. All serious eaters are down with that notion.
But merely believing in Slow Food as a cause is in and of itself not enough. I have always found the Slow Food movement here in the U.S. to be more about nonspecific soaring rhetoric and less about specific actions we can all take that actually further the cause of slow food in America. Eating delicious, sustainable, artisanal foods and calling attention to those foods is laudable, but it is not enough.
Because right now in America there are hundreds of artisanal food purveyors under siege, threatened by the mushrooming homogeneity of our food culture and the march of "progress."
In writing about the food culture in America over the last 20 years, first in New York and then across the country, I have seen an alarming trend that does not bode well for the Slow Food movement or for serious eaters everywhere. Irreplaceable American artisanal food purveyors, some more than a hundred years old, are closing down their shops and restaurants. Some close because they haven't figured out a way to adapt to contemporary taste. Others close because of financial pressures. Still others close because their owners are tired and getting old and they either don't want their sons and daughters to work with their hands for such long hours, or that next generation has no interest in doing so. Whatever the reason, the result is fewer food shops making food the traditional, artisanal way, by hand, the slow food way.
Where is this happening and to whom? It's happening everywhere around the country. Sausage makers, bread bakers, mozzarella cheese makers, tamale makers, pit masters, fish fryers. All are under siege everywhere there are slow food traditions. I have detailed these folks' travails in books, magazine and newspaper articles, and now blog posts over the last 16 years. Others have, too. The fantastic work being done by the Southern Foodways Alliance in this area cannot be lauded enough. Think about the phenomenal way it marshalled the forces behind the Slow Food sentiment to reopen Willie Mae's Scotch House after Katrina. Southern Foodways is not alone. Food writers on blogs and websites, at major newspapers, and at glossy food magazines, have also attempted to make people to pay attention to this frightening attrition taking place at warp speed.
And yet for some reason, the Slow Food movement has not adopted this issue as its own. It would be an issue in which it could take concrete actions to preserve these American food traditions. Wouldn't it wonderful if Slow Food decided to take concrete actions to save local slow food businesses? The organization would immeasurably enrich the lives of so many American artisanal food makers that are in dire jeopardy of disappearing. And the result would be lots of seriously delicious food for all of us and, more important, the preservation and perpetuation of so many of our invaluable food traditions.
Just in the last few months New York has lost a fine Italian bread bakery, Morrone's (which, by the way, made the best onion rolls on the planet). The Morrone family just closed up shop, though they continue to live above the store. Their gorgeous ovens remain intact, and I am sure they would love to see fresh, hot, crusty bread coming out of them in the near future, baked by family members working with established younger artisanal bread bakers like Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery or Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread, and an army of interns from cooking and baking schools.
Let's take action before it's too late. We are losing too many artisanal food purveyors in this country, and it is unnecessary. Together, all of us, slow fooders and serious eaters everywhere, can make a difference.
I am sorry to be missing the event in San Francisco this weekend. But I'm even sorrier that so many honest food purveyors in America are being threatened with extinction.
Have a good time in San Francisco, slow fooders. Eat a perfect peach for us. We'll be there in spirit. Between bites and speeches, think about how your cause might actually become a movement. Together we can preserve, maintain, and even move forward so many delicious food traditions—if only we put our money and our minds where our mouths and stomachs are.
Your friends at Serious Eats