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Slow Food’s slow decline

Posted Jul 20 2012 9:00am

You may have seen recent headlines and wondered what’s up with Slow Food USA.

In one word: drama.

Background: Slow Food International, the parent organization of the USA chapter, was founded in 1986 in Italy to preserve biodiversity and traditional foods.  Chapters have popped up all over the world in opposition to fast food.  It’s been criticized in the US as an elitist, locavore organization that is too costly for low income Americans.

And so begins the controversy.   In an effort to appeal to a younger, less affluent population, the Slow Food USA issued a ‘$5 challenge’ in August of 2011: participants were instructed to create meals for $5 per person or less.  Obviously, this challenge was to prove that for the same cost as a value meal, anyone could eat local, sustainably grown food.

The first president of Slow Food USA, Josh Viertel, publicly stated that he’s proud that the organization was trying to focus on food justice and making healthy food affordable.  In June however, he was asked to step down.  Actually, technically, he resigned.

Slow Food USA apparently disagrees with his notion of food justice.  The organization believes that people should be willing to spend (proportionally) more money on food to ensure that farmers are paid a fair wage.  I get it – Americans are spending less of their income on food than any other country.

Of course, many of us agree that farmers should be paid a fair, livable wage and that food should not be cheap and nutritionally empty.  However, if Slow Food’s argument is that not everyone can afford to eat local, sustainable food then it seems an air of elitism does exist.   Interestingly, Slow Food just received a grant from the Kellogg foundation for $1.2 million toward improving the diets of lower income Americans.  So, what exactly is their stance?!

Rather than all or nothing, balancing affordability and sustainability is about the tipping point for farmers (fair wage vs. affordability).  Unfortunately, as long as there are subsidized, commodity crops, fruits and vegetables will always be more expensive.  Let’s make that our focus.

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