Annual Project, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, Regional Leaders Meeting

Learning from Slow Food Cascadia — What a Regional Gathering Can Bring to our Movement

By Charity Kenyon, Slow Food California Board of Directors

As we regionalize, Slow Food Cascadia is showing us the way by launching a regional gathering to inspire and nourish us. Slow Food USA focuses on gatherings, partnerships, and campaigns and is moving that focus throughout the network by creating regions. What might that mean here in the Pacific Region (California, Oregon, Washington, Hawai`i)? Warren Neth of Slow Food Cascadia demonstrated an answer with a festival in Vancouver Washington October 5, 2019. I was lucky to be there, joined by several Californians including a contingent from Slow Food Shasta Cascade.

What if we could organize similar events in our areas, to surprise us with hidden history of our region’s foods, all wrapped in Joy + Justice. What would it take? Let’s talk about it at our Regional Leaders Meeting February 22-23 in the Bay Area!

Some elements to emulate:

  • Leverage a food festival that Slow Food has participated in and continues to support.
  • Present the region’s food story with surprises.
  • Bring diverse voices from the region.
  • Invite a local college class.
  • Serve good food with meaning.
  • Include music and dancing.
  • Door prizes!
  • Good graphics, posters all over town, enthusiastic sponsors
  • Compelling, historical venue

We started at the Vancouver Old Apple Tree Festival. Slow Food Cascadia was all over it — and its presence has grown: its Urban Abundance Program was there with apple tastings (donates tons of fruits and vegetables locally), a cider press for local folks bringing their apples, a tasting area featuring Ark of Taste, and a cider tasting area — they’ve attended and participated since 2011.

The Cascadia Festival was across the highway at an old aircraft hangar all afternoon and dancing into the evening. Two big, festive gathering areas — one for programming and one for food and drink. The opening ceremony conducted by an Upper Chinook Elder and Chinuk Wawa Instructor grounded us in place. Food history of the region was the backbone of both two-hour sessions, with a break for salmon and wine tasting.

Fish was the centerpiece of the first summit session. Kamiah Koch, a descendant of Cascades Chief Tumulth, a signer of the 1855 Willamette Valley Treaty, told the moving story of joining her cousin to gather lamprey at Willamette Falls — yes, they are climbing the wall behind the falls using that weird rasping mouth and are very elusive. Others explained tribal and nontribal salmon fishing within the Columbia River and in the ocean and the history of the wild Olympia oyster. A fascinating history of salmon canning (there weren’t can openers yet! People actually collect old cans and study the history of labeling as a marketing device — flowers worked!) And we learned the historic role of native Hawai`ians in the areas fisheries. Ever think about how Salmon Poke came to be? No salmon in Hawai`i. It started here. 

Summit session 2 was more eclectic. We had presentations on the Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Manifesto adopted at Slow Food Nations 2018, two local book authors (one on natural beekeeping and one on making peace with (and rethinking) invasive species — I bought both books). Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm in Oregon presented on Slow Tools, started by Elliot Coleman and incubated by Stone Barns — tools designed for small farmers. Tao Orion of Three Sisters Nixtamal in Portland convinced us to look more closely — they are organic, non-GMO, and traditionally made. Two presenters from Washington State Department of Agriculture presented on their Focused on Food program — reinforcing relationships with local policy makers and the importance of participating in policy reform. And Paula Barbeito of Slow Fish International brought the Slow Food International perspective to the gathering.

And we celebrated — Joy + Justice. Tommy O’s Hawai`an luau topped off the day with traditional hula dancing organized by festival sponsor Ke Kui Foundation, dedicated to cultural programs and events keeping alive the Hawai`ian traditions of the Vancouver Portland area. Who knew?

Everything was focused on the region and its food history. Every element of the programming had a regional tie. Every one had surprising information to impart. And we came to the table together over a great meal.

Interested in learning more? In the Campaigns folder of our Slow Food USA Network Hub you can find an interview with Warren Neth about how he and his team did it and what it takes. Find pdf’s of programs, flyers, sponsor letter to help frame yours. And enjoy the photos taken by Giselle Lord of Slow Food USA.

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