The Slow Food movement is a little self-conscious. Slow Foodies are passionate about good food. Which means supporting farmers’ markets, small farmers, and organic veggies. Unfortunately, that also means paying more for those healthier choices. Which, in turn, means that the poor—those disproportionately hurt by empty calories, chemical additives, and frankenfoods—are sometimes left out.
So Slow Foodies are left to defend themselves against accusations of elitism. Ironic, since Big Agriculture has an army of lobbyists and government shills to ensure that they remain subsidized while small natural farmers are relegated to the lefty fringe. It’s a shame. And it’s the reason Slow Food and practical food activism must go hand in hand.
From Creative Loafing:
At the day’s first education session in the “Slow Food culture” track, Slow Food: From Education to Activism, the question of elitism came up almost as soon as the session’s moderator, Julie Shaffer, opened the floor for questions. Participants worried that the politicizing of the movement would drive away the very people they most hoped to reach. A young man sitting in the front row asked how Slow Food could combat the perception of elitism. It occurred to me that it wasn’t so much a question of perception – apart from right wing pundits who label every progressive thought as elitist, there aren’t a whole lot of folks accusing the organics movement of shunning the working class. In fact, this is an accusation that comes mainly from within. Slow Foodists worry about elitism because they themselves see the limitations of the movement. There’s a lot of frustration that Slow Food hasn’t figured out how to reach the people who need it most. Organic food, especially in a state like Georgia where demand vastly outweighs supply and the State is less than supportive of small farmers, is expensive. No one wants to suggest that these small farmers ought to devalue their merchandise – small-scale farming is hardly a recipe for wealth under the best circumstances. But it’s obvious that food is an issue that traverses so many serious societal issues, from environmentalism to health, there has to be a way for the Slow Food movement to have a positive impact, beyond wine tastings and gorgeous veggie plates at high end restaurants.
In the midst of the session, I was struck by the anxiety about politicizing the movement. I raised my hand and asked about that dichotomy, when big agriculture has one of the best-funded and most active lobby machines in Washington. Surely to make a difference to the Farm Bill, or major policies on the national level that contribute to empty, harmful calories being the cheapest and most accessible, we needed to get over our anxiety and form a strong political arm? The response I got, from Joel Kimmons, who led the discussion later that afternoon on policy, was all about how as a society, we needed to learn how to taste. Then the discussion veered into America’s puritan roots. It’s clear that, in a mainly white, mainly affluent movement, there are significant concerns about how to reach out and become more effective. But there’s also the tendency, when these tough questions arise, to go back to what we’re comfortable with, which is waxing poetic about philosophy.