Tracing the origins of your dinner plate with the Slow Food movement
What did you eat for lunch today? Could you pinpoint on a map where the turkey in your sandwich was raised or where the chickpeas in your hummus were grown? Did you devour your meal on the go, or did you sit with friends to enjoy the meal?
If it were up to Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, your meal would have consisted of meat from locally raised turkeys or chickpeas grown just a few miles down the road. He would have expected that you leisurely savored your homegrown, freshly prepared meal and lingered over easy conversation with close friends. Here in Ithaca, making this culinary dream a reality is not as difficult as you might think.
Now that you’ve attempted to trace the origin of the food on your plate, let’s trace the origin of the Slow Food movement. Initially sparked as a reaction to the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna 25 years ago, Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was impassioned to bring pleasure back to the eating experience. To Petrini, this McDonald’s represented more than just cheap, greasy burgers—it represented global homogenization, a threat to Italian culture and the loss of a local, communal and enjoyable dining experience. Under this rallying cry, Petrini and his fellow foodies and culture aficionados petitioned to bring the joy back to preparing and eating traditional foods. The Slow Food movement was born.
Today, the Slow Food manifesto extends far beyond the dinner plate. According to Slow Food USA, the philosophy behind the movement unites food consumption with global “social, ethical, lifestyle, political, environmental and spiritual elements.” Its supporters are actively engaged in influencing free trade policies, protecting biological and ecological diversity and preserving culturally relevant, traditional foods that honor heritage. By fostering a unity between plate and planet, Slow Food advocates believe that food should be good, clean and fair. That is, we should enjoy eating the foods we eat not only because they taste good but because they were cultivated and distributed in an environmentally and ethically sound manner.
A major tenet of the Slow Food movement is the support of locally cultivated foods. By eating locally, you’ll naturally adopt a seasonal diet. In other words, you’ll be eating the foods nature intended you to eat. For example, if you were to dine solely on foods grown in Ithaca, tropical fruits wouldn’t be a part of your diet.
The Ithaca Farmers’ Market, a premier supporter of buying local, proudly states, “You won’t find bananas or pineapples in our climate!” In fact, 100 percent of the foods and goods sold at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market are produced within 30 miles of Ithaca.
Bandwagon Brewpub is one of the several restaurants in Ithaca that rely on locally produced ingredients. Bandwagon’s owner and chef, Will Olson, explained, “It’s fun in the summer when there are three markets open in Ithaca. I figure out how to work the fresh produce into what we serve, which allows us to be more creative on our menu.” Bandwagon’s seasonally changing menu reflects its support of locally grown food.
Not only is eating locally better for your body, but it’s better for the environment, too. Because local farmers aren’t as concerned with issues like packing, shelf life and shipping, they can focus more on growing fresh, seasonable produce.
Regional Access is one local company that recognizes the benefits of environmental sustainability in food production and distribution. This family-owned company provides New York state with locally grown natural foods. Regional Access’ Jay Reville said, “All that we offer starts as organic, which definitely sets a higher bar for how crops are raised in the fields. Our farms are very diverse; we don’t purchase crops that are mono-cropped and have acres and acres of just corn. Everything at Regional Access is done on a human scale, which makes the largest and best ecological impact.”
Furthermore, local foods have a smaller carbon footprint, as foods that are grown locally don’t need to be shipped across the country. The proximity of farm to plate results in fresher, tastier foods. Bandwagon’s Olson explained, “As a cook, I feel that the less distance the food has to travel from where it’s produced to where it’s consumed, the better. The faster you can get veggies out of the ground and into someone’s mouth, the fresher and better it will taste.”
In addition to increasing the quality of food available, foods produced and distributed locally also help the local economy. Both Reville and Olson agree that local foods and goods are key to supporting local businesses.
“Regional Access brings a higher quality of food to Ithaca because restaurants know they have a dependable source of artisan foods from right here in New York,” Reville said. “It creates a higher standard that people in Ithaca now expect. This local food economy brings people into town. When you go downtown, basically everything is locally owned, and we are a part of that. That’s a boost to our economy.”
Ithaca is nationally renowned for its food culture, and local foods play a major role in creating this famous reputation. Restaurants, markets, businesses and foodies across the nation, and especially in Ithaca, have embraced the Slow Food manifesto. Olson added, “Personally, I support local farms because it keeps the money in town. I feel that using local ingredients adds to the value of food we serve. Our customers know they are supporting local businesses by supporting ours.”
Embracing the mission of the Slow Food movement is more than just changing the way you eat; it’s a lifestyle. Reville is honored to be a part of Ithaca’s local food system. “I’m proud to be a part of keeping this thing going,” he said. “It’s so humble, and it takes twice as much effort to do what we do, but we’re very personal and so not corporate. Wow. … I’m just happy that it’s still possible to do business this way. It’s so amazing to be a part of that.”
Elizabeth Stoltz is a sophomore IMC major who can’t get enough locally grown sweet corn. Email her at [email protected].