Dispatch from Slow Food Nation: Speaker Panels


From left: Gary Nabhan, Dan Barber, James Oseland, Winona LaDuke, Michael Pollan. Credit: Slow Food Nation

I have been sitting at my keyboard for the last 45 minutes trying to decide how to best describe Slow Food Nation. We San Franciscans have been hearing about the arrival of this massive event for about a year.

The brainchild of Alice Waters, Slow Food Nation is the first event of its kind. It's taking place over this three-day weekend and comprises panels, classes, a large Taste Pavilion, dinners, a farmers' market, two rock concerts, and more.

The event is being attended by about 50,000 food lovers, and has taken over San Francisco's food community. It's also divided the community: Some are thrilled about the event, and some are purposely avoiding it. The reasons for avoiding are many, and I hope to talk about some of them during this series of posts. Me? I wasn't exactly sure how I felt. And after attending a day and a half of events, I am even less sure.

I hope, over a number of posts, to give you all some insight into Slow Food Nation and to share some of my thoughts about the weekend.

Yesterday, I attended three panels out of four that were offered. To people in the sustainable food community, each panel had rockstar-level participants. Within a several hour period, I heard from luminaries such as Marion Nestle, Andrew Kimbrell, AG Kawamura, Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, Gary Nabhan, Winona LaDuke, Eric Schlosser and Jose Padilla.

Highlights of the panels, after the jump:

  • AG Kawamura, Secretary of the Food and Agriculture for California. Honestly, I was impressed that Secretary Kawamura was participating in a conversation about sustainable food. I don't know much about his work, but he seems to be really trying to strategize agriculture production for California. When a protester interrupted his speech (about a state issue regarding aerial spraying for the light apple brown moth), he addressed the protestor's concerns
  • Andrew Kimbrell giving his opinion that the Bush administration is constantly trying to undermine organic labelling, including adding a rider to the first Iraq Appropriations Act which tried to undermine the domestic requirement to feed organic feed to organic animals
  • Dan Barber talking about the new slaughterhouse at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It's more efficient, creates a closed loop, and he thinks the food tastes better
  • The panel's hat tip to big food moving toward buying local food. Michael Pollan mentioned Wal-Mart's efforts, saying that they make economic sense and are an important part of the conversation. Dan Barber gave a plug for Sysco, saying that their new strategies about food are "probably one of the most exciting things in big agriculture"
  • The moderator asked how our presidential candidates stand on food and agriculture. Michael Pollan responded, "they don't stand." He does believe that, in order to execute their energy and health care plans, both candidates will eventually realize that they have to deal with food
  • A discussion among the panel about the cost of local food. They were discussing whether it was possible to buy reasonably priced local food, and everyone on the panel had spoken except Barber. The moderator asked Barber if he had anything to add. Barber replied, "Being the guy who charges $40 for an entrĂ©e? No, I'm good"
  • The last panel, which was called "A New, Fair Food System." It was focused on workers' rights and social justice. The panel included several leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who launched a boycott against Taco Bell in order to increase worker wages, and ended up renogtiating terms with Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, and is about to announce a new agreement with Whole Foods. Everyone on this panel does extremely inspiring work dealing with heart-breaking, maddening worker conditions. The panel underlined the fact that those of us who care where our food is coming from really need to pay attention to who is providing our food and how they are being treated

It's interesting that Slow Food Nation was held in between the two national political conventions, as much of the first day had the feeling of a convention. There were lots of cheers and a palpable excitement from the audience. Everyone was on the same side, everyone spoke the same language, and everyone seemed to have a common goal to build a more sustainable food system.


Dispatch from Slow Food Nation: The Taste Pavilion