The Right to Taste: The Slow Food Manifesto

by Vince Bushell

“So, what do you eat that is not a plant?” Pause. “Bananas!” offered one of the 10-year-old city boys helping in the community garden. “Nooo, bananas are a plant.” “Oranges!” shouted another child. “No, oranges are plants, too,” said the stunned adult working with the kids. “Have you ever eaten a cow?” “Naah,” accompanied by lots of negative head shakes. One 12-year-old girl knew “chitlins” came from a pig. “Well, what do pigs eat?” “Mud,” said one of the boys. The above conversation, which actually took place, gave me pause. There is clear evidence of a disconnect between food production and consumption. Ubiquitous “Fast Food” has moved us away from home cooking, regional dishes (ok, bratwurst, but have you had a Kielbasa recently?), and taste. The trade-off has given us consistent cheap meals that use sugar, salt, fat, and artificial flavoring to meet base level palate cravings. Chain food ties into international food conglomerates whose overriding purpose is profit — variety and taste be damned. This is true for both restaurant and supermarket fare. But in 1986 the Italians came to the rescue. In a country where eating has always been a cherished tradition, the Slow Food movement started in response to the threat posed by the McFood industry. At the core of the Slow Food manifesto is the desire to protect “the right to taste.” The Slow Food movement has grown to be an international organization including Slow Food USA, and in recent years the idea has arrived in Milwaukee as well. There is a Slow Food South Eastern Wisconsin (Slow Food WISE) Convivium, a group that promotes and enjoys the slow food life style, that formed this spring. Slow Food WISE leader Deborah Deacon, who has been a Slow Food member since 2000, said a motivation for her was to “familiarize myself with the farmers of Wisconsin.” She was amazed at the number of different agricultural products raised and grown in our state. Slow Food WISE recent events have included: tasting of heirloom Wisconsin grown tomatoes; demonstrating how to preserve tomatoes and sweet corn; enjoying a meal of Sea bass, fingerling potatoes, Toy Box tomatoes, and sweet corn; tasting grass-fed, locally-raised beef; exploring root vegetables including less-familiar celery root, salsify, and Jerusalem artichokes. These tastings and events occurred at the Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) campus (see sidebar for other upcoming events). This movement is not just for those who can afford gourmet restaurants. You don’t have to go far to discover homegrown produce and different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Garden Park’s market featured a cornucopia of homegrown produce through the end of October. Browsers and buyers found all kinds of local fare that included unique foods such as red, orange, and yellow carrots. By the time you read this, our garden market season may be over, but local markets such as the Riverwest Co-op, Beans and Barley, and Outpost Natural Foods can help you define your right to taste. And don’t forget to shop the farmers markets for locally grown produce starting next June. How to Find Out More About Slow Foods On Wednesday, November 19, from 2 — 4 p.m. the Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) demonstration kitchens will feature “Our Heritage Thanksgiving.” Presenters will be Paul Ehrhard, JenEhr Family Farm, and David Swanson, Chef de cuisine, Sanford’s Restaurant. If you attend, you will be able to try a new kind of turkey, actually a variety that dates back to the Pilgrims. You can discover the original taste of this holiday. For registration information call Sandy at 262/691-5254. The fee for this event is $30. As for chefs, Deborah Deacon says that the Lower Eastside’s Sandford’s, “epitomizes the slow food movement. David goes out with his staff and picks apples” right off the trees for his restaurant. Closer to home, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), “Five Star Chef Series” is hosting “An Evening of Slow Food” on Monday, November 3, starting at 6 p.m. The evening will feature Sandford’s Swanson and Executive Chef Dana DeWinter form the Women’s Club of Wisconsin and Executive Chef Jack Kaestner of Oconomowoc Lake Club. MATC Chief Culinary Arts Instructor John Reiss says the Slow Food movement incorporates ideas that have been around for a long time, such as regional cooking, and minimizing “food miles,” the distance your fruits and vegetables travel before reaching your dinner table. The Chef Series describes Slow Food as dedicated to ecologically-sound food production, the proliferation of culinary traditions, and to living a slower and more harmonious life. Reiss says the Slow Food movement is valuable as “an antidote for the fast trash coming out of these places.” The Chef Series is part fundraiser for the Culinary Arts Fund. For $50 you get local wine and cheese and dishes prepared by renowned chefs. Reiss guarantees no one will go away hungry. For more information and reservations call Meg Diaz at 414/297-6627.

Jan Posik and Nan Ericson at their produce stand.