Ar­ti­sanal squab­ble

The Slow Food Move­ment’s founder catches some flak for point­ing out foodie elitism in San Fran­cisco.

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion -

In­de­pen­dent farm­ers mak­ing too much money? This could hap­pen, if it is hap­pen­ing, only in the rar­efied world of the Slow Food Move­ment — a cul­ture, if not a cult, started by se­ri­ous food­ies around the idea of sus­tain­able lo­cal farm­ing and sea­sonal, range-fed, or­gan­i­cally grown, ar­ti­sanal (you get the pic­ture) in­gre­di­ents home cooked ac­cord­ing to in­dige­nous tra­di­tions and en­joyed in leisurely so­cial gath­er­ings. And if that’s not enough gourmet jar­gon for you, they call their lo­cal chap­ters “con­vivia.”

It’s hard to ar­gue with the idea of health­ier, fresher food that’s good for the en­vi­ron­ment. Yet the first Slow Food fes­ti­val in the U.S., slated for May 2008 (it takes time to plan th­ese things!), man­aged to bog down in con­tro­versy oh-so-fast.

Turns out that the move­ment’s founder and co-or­ga­nizer of the San Fran­cisco fes­ti­val, the Ital­ian “anti-McDon­ald” Carlo Petrini, took a few pokes at that city’s beloved Ferry Plaza farm­ers mar­ket. In his newly trans­lated book, “Slow Food Na­tion,” he called its prices “as­tro­nom­i­cal” and its clien­tele priv­i­leged. That, ac­cord­ing to the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, so miffed the farm­ers that his sched­uled book sign­ing there was can­celed.

One farmer quoted in Petrini’s book ad­mit­ted to in­flat­ing his prices so that he could sup­port his fam­ily and still have time for surf­ing. But other farm­ers say their prices are barely higher than those in su­per­mar­kets. We haven’t browsed at any San Fran­cisco su­per­mar­kets lately, but the prices at this farm­ers mar­ket have widened the eyes of more shop­pers than Petrini. Chat rooms marvel at the $10 jars of jam and the $9 ta­males.

Of course, the con­vivia of the world shud­der when tagged as elit­ist, as they of­ten are. They never meant to ex­clude oth­ers; they sim­ply have more money to spend in sup­port of small farms, a cleaner form of agri­cul­ture, more nu­tri­tious food and a less stress­ful way of liv­ing. In Europe, the tra­di­tion of sea­sonal, lo­cal food never re­ally died out. But in the U.S., where beau­ti­ful, tasty pro­duce seems more like an oc­ca­sional ex­er­cise in nos­tal­gia, slow-feed­ers are less likely to re­al­ize that their way of life is out of reach for the masses.

The fast-grow­ing ques­tion for the Slow Food Move­ment in this coun­try is whether it can ex­pand be­yond the priv­i­leged few to put high-qual­ity food within reach of oth­ers, es­pe­cially in­ner-city res­i­dents who have a hard time find­ing fresh veg­gies. Petrini made his in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion on out­rage about food trends; he started the Slow Food Move­ment more than 20 years ago in re­sponse to the open­ing of the first McDon­ald’s in Rome. But be­fore he gets too ou­traged over foodie elitism, he might re­mem­ber that his first fes­ti­val here is planned for San Fran­cisco, not Oak­land.

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