Slow Food USA’s 200 chapters seeks to create dramatic and lasting change in the food system. We reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We work to inspire a transformation in food policy, production practices and market forces so that they ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat.
Visit Slow Food USA’s website at www.slowfoodusa.org
From Fine Gardening Magazine
Talkin’ Dirt With Josh Viertel
The President of Slow Food USA explains why cooks and gardeners have more in common than you might think
How did you get involved in growing your own food? My parents – my dad, mostly – had this little vegetable garden for a couple years, but it flopped and we pulled it out. Later, I went to a place called the Mountain School in Vermont, which is a working farm. That experience really moved me. From there, I cofounded and codirected the Yale Sustainable Food Project at Yale University and built an organic farm on campus.
Why do many people assume that Slow Food USA is an organization of chefs? I don’t know where that comes from. Slow food is a movement based on creating a world in which all people can eat good food that is good for them and good for the planet. So, yes, chefs play a big role in that. But so do moms and dads, teachers and farmers, and gardeners. I think, right now, the best chefs are passionate about the best gardeners; the best gardeners are passionate about the best chefs. And they’re linked by a love of beautiful produce. Eating is an agricultural experience.
What do you mean by that? The tomatoes in a salad have a story behind them – you’re actually connected to the hands of the worker that picked that tomato. That’s an agricultural story. And then the question, for me, is what do you want that story to be? The question that everyone has to answer is what values they have, then apply them to the story behind their food.
So what do you eat when you go out to a restaurant? I love restaurants that support local farmers. But sometimes I get stuck. I try not to make myself guilty about it – you’ve got to eat. I try to plan ahead a little bit. But this is not about being holier than thou – at all. It’s about being connected to the story and acknowledging it. We all have a responsibility to build a different world so that people don’t get stuck like that.
Have people become disconnected from their food and where it comes from? I think so. There was a moment when it became either more convenient or more profitable to move farther from nature. Things like growing food became specialized. But when you grow your own food, you’re nourishing yourself with the fruits of your labor. And when you share it with people, that makes a connection. That connection – to each other and to the land – is something that everyone’s craving right now. And that’s why I think vegetable gardening is making a powerful comeback.
What percentage of Slow Food USA’s 200,000 members are gardeners? I would guess 50 percent, at least – but maybe even as high as 60 percent, if you include urban gardeners.
Would the world be a different place if everyone had to grow a tomato plant? I’ve seen people have their hearts and their minds changed by gardening – even just picking something. I walked around a garden with a little girl who claimed she didn’t like tomatoes. So we went up to a plant, and I said, “Don’t you want to try it?” She said, “No, I don’t like tomatoes.” And I said, “OK. Do you want to pick it?” And she said, “Yeah.” And she picked it. And I said, “Now, do you want to try it?” She said, “Yeah,” and she ate it. And then she said, “I love tomatoes.”
So where did the term “slow food” come from? It started as a protest against a McDonald’s opening in Rome. The people there didn’t want to see their food culture marked by this global corporation. So they held a protest. Instead of waving placards, they handed out bowls of homemade pasta and chanted, “We don’t want fast food. We want slow food.”
Was the penne topped with homemade sauce? I’m sure it was.
Interview conducted by Danielle Sherry, associate editor