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How to Support San Diego and Temecula Slow Food Movement

Chef Leah DiBernardo in the Field
Chef Leah DiBernardo in the Field
Photo by Robin Dohrn-Simpson

McDonald’s Corporation had no idea what they were going to ignite when they tried to open a fast food restaurant at the Trevi Fountain Piazza in Rome, Italy in 1986. This one act made people stand up and say “Is this what we want our legacy to be? Fast food at this national landmark, the most reverential piazza in Rome?” This is what Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder and President, asked. Although McDonald’s ultimately won this battle, worldwide artisan food producers, chefs and consumers are trying to win the war.

The Slow Food Movement has now become an international organization with over 100,000 members in 153 countries. It defines itself as an idea, a way of living and eating. Participants link the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. Slow Food USA seeks to create dramatic and lasting change in the whole food system. Their goal is to reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. Equally, they seek to inspire a transformation in food policy, production practices and market forces to ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat.

Slow Food San Diego was founded in 2001 by Chef Gordon Smith with six members. He recognized that San Diego County is rich in bio-diversity, from organic farms and oceans teeming with sea life to apples from Julian. Today, San Diego has two chapters (San Diego and San Diego Urban) with each chapter having approximately 400 active members.

Scott Murray, president of Slow Food San Diego, says his chapter’s goal is food literacy -- returning the educational element of food to the people. "We want to preserve small farms, keeping them important to the community,” Mr. Murray started the San Pasqual Academy Organic Farm where he taught high school students about agriculture. Now there are over 180 volunteers who help build farms and harvest crops.

“We are in a crisis time with conventional agriculture," Murray said. "We need to relearn the whole food system and how we fit in it and how it will keep us alive. We want to help people to not leave behind the legacy of buying pre-made food from large warehouse stores, but instead to enjoy the growing of their food, cooking and dining together.” He calls it the “conviviality of the table.” “We want to celebrate food as the cornerstone of pleasure, culture and community.”

To achieve this goal, the Temecula chapter has made their mission to educate schoolchildren about where their food comes from and how it is grown. Chef and local chapter president Leah DiBernardo said, “By growing community gardens in schools, then learning how to cook the food they grow, children have a connection to the land and to their own health and well-being. Our community gardens are like outdoor classrooms. We feel that there is more to school than just reading, writing and arithmetic.”

And, by the way, if you’re interested in donating, the Temecula chapter is currently in need of hand tools, gloves, a composter, a water station for the shade structures and organic mulch.

The Temecula chapter is presenting a fundraiser called Field to the Fork. This wine, craft beer and food pairing event will be held on May 21, 2011 at Leonesse Cellars 1-5 p.m. For $50 general admission, you can walk through the vineyards and experience local food and wine pairing.For $100 you can attend the Chef Fight, really a friendly competition where local chefs will compete by creating unique and tasty dishes with a “mystery” ingredient that will be revealed one week prior to the event. As an added bonus, local middle school students will assist these chefs. Attend this event and vote for your favorite chef.

As a consumer you too have a vote with your food dollars at how you’ll support local products. Buy from farmers’ markets, subscribe to a local community supported agriculture consortium such as Be Wise Ranch, an organic farm that grows produce and delivers it to pick up points throughout San Diego County. This farm, located in the Santa Fe Valley, eight miles east of San Diego, is in a microclimate that allows year-round growing. Each week you receive different vegetables and fruits.

Executive Chef Deborah Schneider says, “Slow food is about real food and defending traditional food culture from post-war incursions. It’s about taking our food back from the corporate interests. Keeping food production local, enjoying the local food artisans.”

If all this intrigues you, tonight might be a good night to pick up some local food at your neighborhood San Diego farmers market and cook up some local food conviviality of your own.

For more information see: www.slowfoodsandiego.org and www.temeculavalleyslowfood.org.