Slow Food Nation
I spent Friday and Saturday at Slow Food Nation. I went to three lectures on Friday, bummed around the Civic Center Plaza poking around the food booths (where I ate a mediocre peach, bought some tough dried apricots and picked up some pretty good heirloom apples), volunteered at the American Charcuterie section of the food stalls on Saturday, and then went to the Slow Food Film Festival on Saturday night. On paper, it looks like I took a nice big gulp of the Slow Food Nation (hand-mixed, small-batch) Kool-Aid.
I signed up for the lectures a long time ago, and I'm glad I went to them. Sam has written a great post about her own version of a Slow Food day, and I'm sure the blogosphere is filled with other voices of dissent. I totally get that, and I understand why. As many a bumper sticker has said--sort of--if you don't have some issues with Slow Food, you aren't paying attention.
But I love listening to intelligent, articulate people talk about food, and I couldn't pass up the chance to hear Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Winona LaDuke, James Oseland, Marion Nestle, and Dan Barber all within a few hours. There was an additional bonus when angry protesters busted up one of the talks to take AG Kawamura to task for light brown apple moth spraying in California. And Dan Barber told a wacked story about "volunteer" wild geese taking up residence at a natural foie gras farm in France as proof of how good the conditions are. I haven't researched the veracity of all this and I don't want to go there, but it was a funny anecdote regardless.
I wasn't planning to volunteer, but I got a last-minute email from Heritage Foods offering the chance to toil in the Salumi booth, assembling the delicious muffaletta sandwich, and I gave in. I am a dork, and the prospect of hanging around with Armandino Batali--not to mention sneaking slices of his amazing mole salami--proved incentive enough to give up my Saturday morning. Watching Scott Peacock roll out biscuits and snacking on free lemongrass pork and vermicelli bowls, hand-delivered by Charles Phan himself, were just added bonuses.
So, I chopped lots of juicy heirloom tomatoes with my partner, Liz...
...sliced loads of mozzarella balls while the Swiss guy from RoliRoti next door came over to spread his own brand of silliness and craziness around...
...and split a lot of rolls with an ineffective knife.
I sliced some PanoRama bread for the Surryano ham plate (served with stupendous coffee red-eye gravy) and then finally got to work on the Salumi sandwich line, which I LOVED. Take a roll, plunk down some sauteed peppers and onions and four slices of mole salami on one half, smear some olive-caper relish on the other half and top with mozzarella, then smoosh together, wrap in paper and serve up to the constant stream of people panting at the cash register. Repeat 500 times.
By the time my shift was over, I was forced to remember exactly why I would really suck at working the line in any restaurant. I get bored. I get tired. My arms and hands ache. I get whiny. When I come home, all I want to do is drink a cold beer and watch TV. If I actually ever tried to become a line cook somewhere, I would turn into a miserable alcoholic wretch, because I just don't have the stamina, the muscles, and the gritty fortitude for any of it. You have to be hard, and as much as I wish that I could be, I am definitely not. I am soft. And squishy. Like the muffaletta. But it was fun to be a gourmet version of a Subway Sandwich Artist for the day.
If nothing else, Slow Food Nation helped me ponder a couple things about my eating habits. First, I think Randy and I do a pretty good job of eating locally when we're at home. We are Eatwell Farm CSA members, and I try my damnedest to use every inch of our fruit, veggie, and egg box without waste. Because of this, I don't need to hit the local farmers' markets much. I also don't need to go to Safeway. To some degree, the CSA helps shield us from a larger cycle of shopping and product consumption. I pick up my box at a neighbor's house. I do not need to enter any sort of marketplace for my food and be tempted by stuff I don't need.
The idea of shopping local is good, but the idea of not shopping at all is even better, I think. How to do that? The CSA still requires payment, not bartering/trading. Could we work on the farm in exchange for our subscription? But that requires gas to get out there. We could volunteer our house as a pick-up site, but we live in an apartment and our landlord won't let us.
Second, we could do a better job of sourcing our staples (flour, milk, butter, cheeses) locally. Too often we just give in and head to the Russian market around the corner for milk when we run out. We buy pre-peeled garlic cloves and pickling cucumbers at the Korean market when we feel like it. We use all these ingredients to make our own jam, breads, pickles, ice cream, and now beer. But we could do better about planning ahead and picking up the ingredients we need in advance of our cooking binges so we don't have to buy industrial milk, etc. But what about supporting local businesses? Our Russian and Korean markets are local. Really local. They aren't chains. Is it better to buy industrial ingredients from people in my neighborhood, or buy impeccable ingredients from producers who might live 150 miles away?
Which brings me to another issue: when I go out for Chinese/Burmese/Thai/Japanese/Korean food in my neighborhood, my interest in eating local/organic/unadulterated foods flies out the window. I suddenly don't care where they get the pork to put in my dan dan noodles. I don't care where the raw sliced beef in my pho tai comes from. The oceans are emptying of fish, and I still like to eat fatty tuna now and then. How do I reconcile being a rabid equal-opportunity eater with caring about local ingredients? The really good dim sum places do not serve free-range anything. What should I give up?
Fourth, I want to be more conscious about my car use. Our CSA has invited us all to various tomato sauce-making parties over the summer, but I have to weigh the benefits of a 1.5 hour car ride just to make sauce with free tomatoes versus the gas we could save by simply buying those tomatoes at a local farmers' market and making the sauce at home. How to weigh the benefits of socializing with the farmer and fellow CSA members against staying at home and not driving when it's not totally necessary?
Anyway. As you can see these questions reflect a mass of contradictory ideas and convictions that just leave me more befuddled than ever. But I think we're on a good track. And Slow Food Nation is on a good track too. Maybe we're just not at our destination yet.
Labels: food - San Francisco