Slow Food Army, Unite!


The moment has arrived, from October 21-25, the biennial (this means once every two years, I looked it up) culmination of everything that the Slow Food movement stands for, Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto at the Lingotto Convention Center in Turin, Italy.

Though both events are sponsored by Slow Food, they are each directed at a particular target. Terra Madre is basically a UN type megameeting for invited representatives of Slow Food from all over the world. With over 5000 representatives present, this five day conference unites food communities, cooks, academics, artists, and youth who share the common goal of promoting sustainability in the food world.

Over the course of 5 days, various lectures and conferences take place about the current state of the world’s environmental health, learning traditions and cultures of others, and discussing crucial issues of these subjects that pertain to assuring a better future. Sounds a little bit idealistic… Kind of like the final part of “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland, where all the animatronic dolls of different races are mechanically bouncing up and down and rejoicing in their diversity. Haha…..just kidding.

Terra Madre is an exclusive invite only event for members of the Terra Madre network, my being a student at the University of Gastronomic Science has granted me access into an event that continues to make history (we hope).

Salone del Gusto, on the other hand is a public event for anyone who is passionate about food. I would use the word ‘foodie’ but I find it degrading. This is a convention where artisan producers, wine makers, chefs, and academics come together to celebrate their love of good quality and delicious foods. Producers from all over Italy as well as abroad come here to set up a stand and share the fruit of their labor with hungry patrons. Needless to say, this is THE place to be if you consider the pleasure of food to be on par with the pleasure of sex 😉

Ferrarini, the company I’m interning for, will also have a booth at Salone del Gusto, where they’ll be selling non GMO Parmigiano Reggiano, non GMO Butter, Prosciutto di Parma, Salami, and other delicious traditional specialities. We’ll see if I will be able to pull myself away from their stand to try the rest of the goodies offered, though it is difficult to separate from Parmigiano Reggiano; at this point it runs through my veins.

I will be going up to Torino on Thursday and will probably stick around until Sunday. The next update will probably just be pictures of me stuffing my face with food from all around the world but I’ll try to include some substantial information between bites.

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Organic vs. Zero Food Miles

Based on targeted marketing and the preach of pro-environment organizations, we all know that eating organic and local foods are important for the health of our ecosystem as well as our intestines… But in the battle between local and organic, which is ultimately a more important philosophy to follow??

Let us create a hypothetical situation: I am at the grocery store, and I see a tantalizing mountain of organic cherries imported from Michigan. I think to myself “Oh good, I am going to buy these cherries because paying the extra $3 is worth it to help the environment and to evade Parkinson’s from pesticide ingestion!”

…..But wait, right next to the pile of organic cherries is another pile of cherries grown in a non-organic farm just a few miles from my house. Automatically one might think “No, these are not organic and the organic man would be mad if he knew I had the option to purchase the ‘better’ choice and I didn’t because I found a less expensive option”

Although the cherries grown miles from your house are not organic, they are local, which means the amount of fuel used to transport them to your grocery store was much lower than those flown in from Michigan. It seems that buying non-local organic vegetables kind of contradicts the purpose of buying organic and supporting the environmental movement in the first place.

So I ask my readers, what do you think is more important when buying produce? Local or Organic?

(of course if something is both local AND organic you find yourself in an ideal situation, though this is not always the case)

Eating Your Pets: The Carbon Pawprint

Thanks to Al Gore and other various scaremongers for global warming (not that it isn’t an imminent issue) we as a society have become well acquainted with the term “Carbon Footprint” as we are constantly told of how our actions have a direct effect on the carbon emissions into the environment..

The obvious culprits of high carbon emissions are :

  • SUVs
  • Cattle (methane)
  • Oil Refineries
  • International Trade
  • Large Corporate Factories
  • Etc

But one serious contributor to high carbon emissions may be laying in bed next to you at this very moment….!!

No I’m not talking about your gassy spouse, but rather your family pet!

It’s true, your family dog places a serious carbon pawprint on the environment, in fact, studies show that over their life span, having domestic animal is worse (emission wise) than owning an SUV!

Here are some interesting quotes that came from the article I read on the BBC news site:

“The authors [of the book “Time to Eat Your Dog”] claim that keeping a medium-sized dog has the same ecological impact as driving a 4.6 litre Land Cruiser 10,000km a year.

They use a rather unusual method of calculating environmental impact.

Instead of measuring emissions of CO2, or CO2 equivalent, they calculate the literal footprint or “global hectare” (gha) – the amount of land it takes to support a given activity.

So they work out that constructing and driving the Land Cruiser for a year takes 0.41 gha.

Growing and manufacturing the 164kg of meat and 95kg of cereals a border collie or cocker spaniel eats every year takes about 0.84 gha.

A bigger dog such as a German shepherd consumes even more – its pawprint is more like 1.1 gha.” –BBC Article

The most environmentally friendly animals include: Hamsters, Cats, and Birds. But the most carbon efficient animal is the goldfish!

The best way to solve the problem with your domestic dog’s carbon emissions?! Eat it!! (so the article suggests) This is real sustainability folks!

And HERE is a recipe for Dog stew… for any of you die-hard environmentalists that want to jump on the train to reduce carbon emissions (though I do not endorse eating your family dog by any means)

Minicows: The ‘Green’ Red Meat

Though we can thank our ‘thriving’ economy for its contributions to the rapid increase of national unemployment and home foreclosure rates, heightened expenses have also made an impact on cattle farmers, forcing them to change some of their costly ways. I introduce you to the answer to every farmer’s economic problems: The MINICOW!

Minicows, weighing in between 500-700lbs
Minicows, weighing in between 500-700lbs


Due to skyrocketting feed and land costs, the minicow has allowed farmers to downsize their production operations and maintain a more economical and environmentally friendly business. It seems like everyone is truly feeling the weight of America’s plummeting economy these days…

Though smaller than their heftier bovine bretheren (weighing in between 500-700lbs as opposed to 1,200), the minicow produces about 75% of the meat and milk that can be produced by larger breeds.  One farmer boasted that each of his minicows can produce up to 2-3 gallons of milk daily. The minicows have also been bred to have much smaller appetites, decreasing the feed costs for farmers, and most importantly, decreasing their methane gas emissions!!

My first reaction to this minicow phenomenon was: Oh god, a genetically engineered meat source, sounds scrumptious! But I was happily mistaken. The minicow breeds are not genetically engineered at all, but rather come from smaller cattle breeds that were brought over from Europe in the 1800s. What was a bit concerning to me however, is this what cows are actually supposed to look like, and American farms have just been breeding them to be as behemoth as possible… Gross.

A little history:
Big cows that we are so used to seeing today only became popular in the 50s and 60s, when feed costs were virtually nonexistent and corporate farmers were obsessed with the ‘bigger is better’ concept. Minicows, though this might be counterintuitive, are actually much more monetarily efficient. Though they might produce 25% less meat and milk than their monstrous friends, they reach their ideal weight at a much faster rate, allowing farmers to spend less time trying to pork cows up before theyre sent to their demise (awwww).

Though the minicow revolution hasn’t completely taken over the cattle scene, a rise in their purchase has definitely taken place. The transition to minicows allows farmers to downsize operations, making the business more manageable and the environment much happier. It takes much less energy to manage 100 minicows than 100 bovine beasts.

I read about this in the LA times this morning and I figured I just had to share.. MINICOWS?! I love it.

‘Going Green’ in a Brown Economy: A Restaurant’s Nightmare?

Living in Los Angeles during the ‘Age of Going Green’ has put me in the center of the battle between the sustainable folk and those to get off on using styrofoam (zombie food to go!)

2007-116-rising-sea-levels

Unfortunately I can’t be too judgemental on the restaurants that haven’t (yet) jumped onto the Green train. Why? Because with the current state of our economy, it is impressive to even have a restaurant that can stay open, let alone transform its entire food and production system to be more environmentally friendly.

What does it mean to be Green?

  • Adios to Styrofoam (the biggest offender): Styrofoam is not biodegradable and is filled with toxic chemicals that don’t make the Earth happy.
  • Get Rid of Energy Eating Equiptment: Regular refrigerators and other kitchen/cleaning appliances require quite a bit of energy to run. According to Panasonic, the average refridgerator eats up about 1000 kwH of energy per year, but they just introduced a new fridge that boasts a 350 kwH/year energy use. (I am not endorsing the product but that is a pretty impressive reduction.)
  • Low-Flow Faucets/Flushers: Restaurants consume a ridiculous amount of water, from dishwashing, cooking, and bathrooms. Low-Flow faucets increase the amount of air in the water and ultimately lower consumption. Double flush toilets, well, no more “if it’s pee let it be” rule.
  • Sustainable Eating: For a restaurant to be gastronomically green (and not in a way that causes food poisoning) it has to serve foods that come promote the long-term health of the ecosystem: foods from local sources, organics, foods produced with sustainable agriculture (energy/resource conservation), etc.

Consumers want their restaurants to be Eco-friendly these days so they can feel like they are making a small contribution to saving the world with each bite of their lunch. This is easier said than done.

Reading an article in the LA Times, the exec chef from the Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica gives a little perspective on how difficult it truly is for a restaurant to ‘Go-Green”.

It is much easier to go green at home, and much less expensive. But if you are fixed on eating out on a regular basis, http://www.dinegreen.com provides a pretty conclusive link of restaurants around the US that are certifiably Green.

The economy sucks, we all know that, but what would suck even more is UNIVERSAL ECOSYSTEM COLLAPSE!!!!!! (cue dramatic music)

Fair Trade Food: Bohemian Trend or Sustainable Solution?

Free Trade for All?
Free Trade for All?
We’ve all been to our neighborhood coffee shops and seen the “Fair-Trade, no pesticide, organic yadda yadda yadda” but how many consumers actually understand what Fair Trade even means? Sounds like a term used on the play ground for teaching kids how to properly share their action figures…

But in FACT! Fair trade products, most popularly coffee, are the answer to sustainability and small farm support with in the international importation of products from developing countries. Sure, we love the local thing, saving energy on production and transportation of the goods we eat, but there are some things out there that you really just can’t find in your local area. Coffee from Colombia, quinoa from Ecuador are products that are particularly good when grown in these particular areas, but this does not mean we have to give into the money monster and support huge agrobusiness in order to get these products.

Oh no my friends, instead, we can import these products sustainably, and in support of small farmers in developing countries. This is actually what the elusive term, ‘fair trade’ actually implies, paying fair prices and promoting sustainable forms of production, while empowering and motivating farmers in developing countries to be able to work in their own businesses without crumbling under the pressure of the international food machine.

Raw Fair Trade Cherry Coffee Beans from Nicaragua
Raw Fair Trade Cherry Coffee Beans from Nicaragua

Here we find a variety of benefits of Fair-Trade fare:

a) Working against major industry to slow the run away train of international corporate food monopolies

b) Paying a normal amount for food

c) Eating food that actually tastes like something edible

d) Helping farmers in developing countries

e) Promoting community development

f) Sustaining local cultures/economies

g) Good Conscience?

TransFairUSA, a “only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S”, tells us a little more about fair trade certification:

“Fair Trade certification is a market-based model of international trade that benefits over one million farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Fair Trade certification enables consumers to vote for a better world with their dollars, simply by looking for the Fair Trade Certified label on the products they buy.

Fair Trade Certified agricultural products including coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, flowers, honey and spices (vanilla) are currently available at over 35,000 retail establishments in the U.S.

Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. By guaranteeing minimum floor prices and social premiums, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment. But Fair Trade is much more than a fair price. “

So I guess that confirms it. Fair Trade products aren’t just a new-hippie label for meaningless feelings of good conscious, but rather, offer an alternative way to do business internationally without completely exploiting the little guy.

For more information please check out/support: (amongst many others)

So the next time you buy a cup of joe, take a break from your average Fascist coffee and make your morning caffiene buzz fair.

*Important to note that there are many other products that fulfill the “fair-trade” certification, I just chose to focus on coffee because fair-trade coffee is probably the most common fair trade product confronting average consumers.

An Email I Received from Slow Food

“In these final days before President-Elect Obama makes his selection for Secretary of Agriculture, Slow Food Los Angeles urges you to express your support for dynamic and sustainable choices for the post.

An online petition available at http://www.fooddemocracynow.org is accepting signatures. The petition lists six suggestions including Gus Schumacher, former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Slow Food leader Neil Hamilton, the Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.

Josh Viertel, Erika Lesser, Slow Food USA board members, and Slow Food leaders from around the country have signed the petition and are spreading the word. SFUSA is encouraging members and friends to add their names in support of the suggested candidates: Even if the new administration doesn’t pick one of the listed candidates, signing the petition sends a strong message that we want a good, clean, and fair food system and that we expect our new administration to make choices that support that vision.

For more information on the nominees and the role of the Secretary of Agriculture, check out Kim Severson’s piece in last week’s Diner’s Journal on the New York Times’ website:
http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/foodies-make-a-pitch-to-obama/

as well as Steph Larson’s comments, posted on one of our perennial favorites, The Ethicurean:
http://www.ethicurean.com/2008/11/15/ag-sec/

For more about the mission of Food Democracy Now!, read their mission an description at:
http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/about-us/

Please sign the petition! This could dictate the future of how we understand and experience the not only the food we eat, but also the environment we live in!