Slow Food vs. Naked Lunch

I sort of dislike the way the Slow Food movement has developed in America.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against eating healthy, real food. I’m not against preferring local food sources over the industrial. I’m not against trying to appreciate sensuality instead of worshipping convenience and speed. To the contrary, these are principles I honor and, when I can, live by.

But I’ve gone to a few of these Slow Food events now, and although the food is almost always delicious, the politics leave a slightly bitter aftertaste in my mouth. The other Pete has written about this also, but I think my issue is subtly different from his.

I look around me at these events, and I notice a few things. The attendees are largely white. Largely older. And largely very, very wealthy. And I find it hard to reconcile the high flown and, at least in translation, condescending tone of the Slow Food Manifesto with the reality that this sort of lifestyle is only open to the wealthy. There are occasional programs, such as the various farm CSAs that are actually helpful, but my overall impression – which I acknowledge may be half-assed or simply wrong – is that the organization as it exists in this country is basically a social club for foodies with more money than friends. The other half of the equation is that it’s a great tool to market your restaurant or company to said foodies.

There’s nothing wrong with a social club for foodies per se, but it feels to me like this particular meal is larded with a generous helping of self- congratulation. And it seems to me that eating well when you’re wealthy isn’t a particularly difficult task.

Putting this into context, it’s clear to me that Jamie Oliver has done more in a month to spark a national conversation about how we, as a nation, eat than Slow Food has done in 20 years.

Watching Food Revolution, the most interesting aspect to me was that, in making a fairly healthy yet simple meal for some elementary school kids, Oliver still came in at over twice the school’s budget for that meal. I’d like you to think about that for a minute. Sure, maybe Oliver totally messed up and shouldn’t have included the foie gras as a side dish. But the truth is that the school district, even with all the State resources behind it, cannot afford a slow-foodish lunch for its students.

Now imagine how working single parents with little or no savings have to feed their kids. Their shopping and ability to prep meals is limited because they can’t fill a pantry in advance. They likely can’t prepare meals that take too much time. And for every meal they prepare they have to answer two burning questions: How much is this meal going to cost, and is it going to cost more than a $1 cheeseburger at McDonald’s? If you are in America and are in poverty, you have, at most, $7.87 to spend on food per day. And don’t forget that any time you spend preparing your food is time spent not earning money to hoist yourself out of poverty. If you think that’s easy, try doing it yourself. Let me know how long you last.

People are not eating crap just because they want to eat crap. Many, many people are eating crap because it’s the only thing they can afford. That cascades directly from our nation’s agricultural policies. It is not enough to lecture others about how to eat unless you also have an answer as to how they can afford it.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from Slow Food. Maybe its members are happy just being a part of a kaffee klatsch for the overprivileged. But I don’t think that I, personally, have time for something like that. Slow Food is all well and good, but at this point what we really need is Fast Change to our food politics.