Dispatch from Slow Food Nation: The Taste Pavilion
"Slow Food Nation is dedicated to creating a framework for deeper environmental connection to our food and aims to inspire and empower Americans to build a food system that is sustainable, healthy and delicious."
—Slow Food Nation mission statement
On Friday night, I visited a preview of the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilion. Every two years in Turino, Italy, Slow Food members gather for a worldwide convention called Terra Madre. A major highlight of Terra Madre is the Salone del Gusto, where participants can taste artisanal foods from around the world. The Slow Food Nation equivalent of Salone del Gusto was the Taste Pavilion. It was a 50,000 square foot arena where guests could taste artisanal foods from around the U.S. broken into several individual areas: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Ice Cream, Bread, Pickles & Chutney, Cheese, Chocolate, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Charcuterie, and Tea.
The sheer amount of food and beverages available in the pavilion was overwhelming. I will be the first to admit that my cohort and I strategized poorly and that I misjudged the time it would take to cover the pavilion floor. We managed to spend a good amount of time in the beer, wine, and spirits pavilions (sensing a theme here?) and sadly missed some of the other areas.
The most surreal moments of the evening took place in "The Green Kitchen," a small performance area for things like cooking demonstrations, author talks, and lectures. We stepped into the area and saw David Chang setting up for a cooking demo. I stepped in to take a photo, and suddenly became stuck in a crush of well-known food folks. It was a love-fest between Davia Nelson, David Chang, Alice Waters, and Carlo Petrini. Being rather shy in situations like that, I averted my eyes and tried to retreat as quickly as I could. My friend and I watch the Chang presentation, and then I left just as Davia Nelson was thanking "Alice Waters and Slow Food Nation." Good name for a band, don't you think?
It was a fun evening. A highlight was talking to the gin maker of 209 Gin, a local gin known for being the "only gin in the world that is produced over water." It's made on a pier here in San Francisco. The pickle pavilion not only had delicious onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and pickles (including locally made umeboshi), but it was architecturally stunning. The ceiling of the area was designed with jar lids, and the walls were made of jars.
Throughout this entire weekend I have been thinking about Slow Food Nation's mission. While the Taste Pavilion was a darn good party, I am not sure that it did much to further the aims to support a sustainable food system. The cost to get in to the Taste Pavilion was $65—a relatively steep price for my budget. In an ideal world, the event be attended by a lot of people who have never been exposed to artisanal foods. And I'm not so sure that was the case. Instead, I have a feeling that it was attended by a lot of people like me—people with an obsession for great, sustainable food.
And that isn't necessarily terrible, however I am not entirely convinced that it moves us any closer to an aim of bringing sustainable food to all Americans.
About the author: Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. She is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.