By Keith Schildt, Southern California Slow Food Governor
Most of us know the history of Slow Food. It started as an act of resistance against the uniformity of industrialized food and its negative impact on our local food systems, local culture, and public health. Slow Food California continues the tradition of advocating for good, clean, and fair food, for all. We engage in state policy making for three primary reasons:
To support those like-minded organizations who seek to move the needle of government policy towards a fairer, more sustainable, and healthier local food system (and one that tastes better too) across California and the country. We typically do this by signing onto or providing a letter of support to the organization stating our opinion and providing our Slow Food California logo for their use. For example, this past year we signaled our support for various pieces of state legislation ranging from increasing climate-friendly, plant-based foods in our local school systems (AB479) to clarifying the Micro-Enterprise Home Kitchen Operation standards (AB377).
This type of support system builds a larger advocacy coalition than any single organization could muster on their own. We have teamed with organizations such as Friends of the Earth (AB479); California Climate and Ag Network (AB1377); Western States Council of the United Food and Commercial workers Union (AB1066); COOK Alliance (AB377); and many more.
We also engage in advocacy to educate and activate our Slow Food Chapters and members across the state.
In the 2020, we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that Slow Food ideals are being expressed in legislation. Importantly, we are going to be augmenting that work with a new focus on implementation (typically at the county level) of past pieces of legislation. We want to ensure that legislation that improves local food systems is being implemented across the state in its intended way.
By Kelly Collins Geiser, Slow Food San Francisco Chair
GOOD, CLEAN AND FAIR SEAFOOD More than 80% of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported, yet we catch and harvest enough nationally to feed ourselves. The average boat-to-plate journey is over 5,000 miles. We can do better than this, anchored to the Slow Food vision of food that is good, clean, and fair for all:
Slow Fish 2020 is a collaborative gathering of fish harvesters, fishmongers, chefs, educators, researchers and advocates from across North America and beyond working to create more direct supply chains based on Slow Fish Values of providing Good, Clean and Fair seafood for all. The conference’s chief goal is to grow the Slow Fish North America network and create an open table for all races, cultures, ages, sexes and everyone who wants to embrace the Slow Fish values supporting community-based fisheries.
I’ve been to the last two Slow Fish North America gatherings, The 1st in New Orleans in 2016, and the 2nd in San Francisco in 2018 (A lot of you were there!) These gatherings are where I’ve met the most vibrant and full-of-life folks. From region to region one can find the connections we all share with the earth, rivers, oceans, and deep-love for the work we do. Slow Fish has been a highlight in my work with Slow Food, and if you get the chance, come to any Slow Fish gathering and see for yourself. This is truly where life-long friendships are made, and a wave of climate action participation and truly regenerative solutions are growing.
You will often hear that Cuba has the most sustainable food system in the world. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Cuba lost its main trading partner, from whom it got most of its agricultural equipment and much of its food. Food became scarce during the early 90s, a time that became known as the Special Period. The government, and people, of Cuba, however, buckled down and learned to grow their own food, using only the resources that they had, and their own ingenuity. Urban gardens flourished. Food became organic. After a period of hardship, a period of learning through trial and error, Cuba came out the other side with a model food system, which is the envy of the world.
There is a lot of truth to the story of Cuba re-learning to feed itself. As with most stories, however, there is a bit of exaggeration and wishful thinking. Cuba did learn to grow its own food again and most of that food is organic, if not certified in the way that organic food is certified in much of the world. However, there are a number of asterisks to that story. It’s not quite as rosy as it is often told.
In 2019, Slow Food California sponsored a tour to Cuba. In March, a group of Slow Food members flew to Havana for a trip inspired by the Food Sovereignty Tours operated by Food First for much of the preceding decade. That is, they went to study the food system of the country, while meeting people, eating very well and having lots of fun. They got to learn about those asterisks in Cuba’s story and appreciate the hard work behind what really happened – and the fragility of what exists today.
The most significant asterisk has to do with the food being organic. Perhaps two thirds of the food that is grown in Cuba is organic. One third of it never was. Farm equipment and big farms did not entirely disappear. Export crops, like sugar, got the equipment and chemicals needed to operate in the commodity world. Sugar remains one of Cuba’s main exports. Staple crops, like onions and potatoes are also not organic. And the farmers who grow these crops don’t necessarily want them to be organic. Like people elsewhere, they are often happy doing things the way they are. Why change?
Another third of the food is organic and will likely stay that way. Some of the people who turned to farming, especially those who created urban farms, are true converts. No matter what becomes available in the future, they are not likely to change their behaviors.
The final third of Cuban-grown food is also organic, but it may not remain so. These people are not so much organic proponents as organic farmers by default. Cuba is changing fast as it has been opening up to the world. Equipment and chemicals are becoming more available and as the people who grow this food gain access to them, many are tempted to switch to conventional methods. The future of Cuban food will revolve around these farmers, those who can be swayed. In fact, American agrichemical companies have been pushing to end the US embargo of Cuba significantly so that they can sell to these farmers.
Not surprisingly, our tour visited mostly the true converts, from whom there was a lot to learn. Not only are these farms often exemplars of the methods that Slow Food cherishes, but they operate under structures that give them resilience. Some our community owned; others, like Vivero Alamar, a 27-acre urban farm in the suburbs of Havana, are worker-owned cooperatives; many use permaculture methods; and others are family farms.
Our trip wasn’t all about farms. We ate in a variety of places, including Cuba’s famous paladares, restaurants set up in private houses. While California struggles to implement AB 626, the Homemade Food Operations Act, having licensed just over 20 home cooks, all in Riverside County, Cuba marked 25 years of residents operating home restaurants. California regulators fear a future of food poisoning, which is the main reason for our slow going. We heard that Cuba has had a few such issues over the years, but that on balance, the experiment has been a success, incubating small businesses while providing a variety of good, safe food to people. In fact, the law has been expanded and liberalized to a point way beyond California’s current imagination.
We had the opportunity to meet members of Slow Food Cuba, rekindling friendships started in previous years when those folks came to the EcoFarm Conference and to Slow Food Nations. We visited local farmers markets, but we were too early for the new Earth Market that Slow Food folks in Havana started after we returned home.
It wasn’t all food, of course. Old Havana was getting a renovation for its 500th anniversary, which took place this summer. It’s a beautiful old town. We visited some museums and some historical sights. And we met many wonderful people who generously shared their time, wit and wisdom with us. We came home glowing.
If you missed out on the trip, don’t fret. Slow Food California is sponsoring a return visit in 2020 and you can go! At the end of March we’ll convene in Havana for 11 days. We’ll visit many of the same places – Cuba is changing so fast, that it will be good to compare them a year on. We’ll also visit some new places, including Slow Food’s new Earth Market. We’ll strengthen friendships, eat very well, and undoubtedly come home glowing, the ties between California and Cuba having been made stronger than ever.
By Kelsey Maher, Slow Food California Member of Board of Directors
Each year on December 10th, all around the world Slow Food chapters celebrate Terra Madre Day. This international holiday celebrates good, clean, fair food for all. On this particular December 10th, chapters are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Slow Food Manifesto.
Find your nearest chapter’s event below:
Slow Food East Bay:Join local experts Nancy Ash & Kathryn Tomajan (with Roberta Klugman’s input, too!) for an informational and fun olive oil workshop and tasting. We’ll learn how to taste oils and then be guided through a series of this season’s new harvest oils with accompanying foods, all while learning more about the production of olive oil from tree to bottle. This is on December 8th. Cost is $50 per person.
Slow Food Sacramento: In honor of the 30th anniversary of Slow Food, we are celebrating Terra Madre Day with an Italian-themed potluck party. This event is free; RSVP is appreciated. Please bring a dish to share! We will be meeting on the 2nd floor of the Sacramento Co-op.
Slow Food San Diego:Come mix and mingle with us and meet your 2020 Slow Food Urban San Diego Board of Directors! We look forward to meeting our dedicated family of Slow Food members and volunteers in the community! Our general meeting from 6-7PM will be open to the public if you want to learn more! Tickets are free.
Slow Food San Francisco: Come join us for a night of delicious wine and food as we hear from Dr. Raymond Isola, a transformative leader in social justice for California public schools inspired by Italy’s Reggio Emilia approach at Casa Soto. Menu includes: pasta, porchetta, Slow Food Ark of Taste Vella Dry Jack Cheese, Acme Bread and desserts by Emporia Rulli. Ticket price is $30 per ticket.
Slow Food Sonoma North: We will gather in our candle-lit barn to celebrate 30 years of Good, Clean, and Fair Food with Slow Food around the world.Our meal will be prepared by our Leadership team and feature appetizers, roast pork, Bodega Red potatoes from our chapter garden, roasted vegetables and salad from Lantern Farm, and apple crumble.Wine will accompany dinner, and Irish coffee will finish off the evening.Come see old friends and meet new ones, get to know your Board members, and let us know what you’d like to see in 2019. We especially welcome those of you who are new to our community! Tickets are $45 for members and $55 for non -members.
Slow Food Yolo: Join Slow Food Yolo as we celebrate Yolo County producers and recognize the diversity of foods and sustainability efforts. 2019 Snail of Approval Award winners will be announced at this event.Enjoy appetizers and no-host bar at Snail of Approval Award Winning restaurant Preserve, in Winters. Meet and mingle with Slow Food Yolo members and Snail of Approval winners past and present. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for non members.
Even the most knowledgeable cheese connoisseurs in California might not be aware of Teleme. Cheese snobs may find Teleme not refined enough. Still, chances are, if you were raised in the Bay Area or you’ve been lucky enough to have a good, open minded cheesemonger at your service, you’ve at least tried Teleme, and for those who’ve tried it, California cheese doesn’t get any better than Teleme! It’s the cheese of traditional Bay Area polenta. It’s the cheese that most local Italian families know as a breakfast option often served with fresh fruit. It has shown up in other Italian dishes and on burgers, adding rich, creamy texture and oh-so-cheesey flavor where cheddar and jack can’t do the job. It has won the praise of chefs, foodwriters, and cheese professionals.
To get better acquainted with Teleme, you should be aware that it comes in two varieties from two distinct producers, and this is where it gets tricky: one is Franklin’s Teleme [https://franklinscheesedotcom.wordpress.com/our-cheese/] made by Franklin Peluso at Mid Coast Cheese Company; the other is Tomales Bay Teleme Cheese made by Peluso Cheese. Franklin Peluso used to own Peluso Cheese before starting a second company and selling his family-namesake company—an element that confuses buyers and customers looking for the real deal. You see, Franklin’s Teleme is painstakingly made by an old-world recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation. It has rice flour strewn on its surface to control its moisture, it is never wrapped in plastic, and it is ripened in boxes that are not sealed. All of these elements create a superior, traditional product that shares qualities with cheeses made for millenia in Northern Italy—a family of cheeses known as stracchino cheeses. This is the Teleme that has been profiled in books on cheese and praised by food writers for decades.
In spite of its importance to California’s food culture and its popularity, Franklin’s Teleme is in serious danger of disappearing. You may have noticed that it’s been missing from its normal places for most of 2019. Franklin, the last maker of real Teleme, has been without a production facility lease since December 2018. With no new facility lined up, it’s all too easy to surmise that Franklin, in his mid 70s, may decide to retire without passing on the family recipe.
Even more than my love of the cheese itself, it was the family element, the passing on of an old-world recipe from generation to generation, that attracted me to Teleme. A cheese with such a rich history is very rare in America. Once I learned that Franklin was the last man alive who knew how to make this cheese, I was compelled to nominate it for the Ark of Taste [https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/what-we-do/the-ark-of-taste/], a product designation and recognition project of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity [https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/]. The nomination process requires a full product history and biography to fulfill all of the eligibility requirements. During the process of researching Teleme and Franklin’s family’s link to this cheese, I realized that more was at stake than the loss of a unique product. The story of Teleme is the story of an American immigrant family experience; it’s the story of the American dream; it’s the story of a traditional food community in San Francisco that expanded to the larger Bay Area and up and down California; it’s become the story of one man’s struggle with modernity and wanting not to compromise his identity, which is intricately tied to this cheese.
Traditional Teleme cheese [https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/traditional-teleme-cheese/] was accepted by the Slow Food Foundation and added to the Ark of Taste in September 2019. It may be too late to save Teleme from extinction but at the very least I had the honor of chronicling its history for the Ark of Taste and brought its plight to the attention of many California cheese-lovers with a spring article in Culture Magazine [https://culturecheesemag.com/article/teleme-franklins-edition]. Many people are now watching closely to see if Teleme reappears in stores to be fallen in love with all over again. Hopefully, a new generation of cheese-discoverers will then appreciate a part of California’s food heritage that needs two things to survive and thrive: adorants who love it for what it is, and a brave, new cheesemaker to take it over and create the next chapter of its amazing story.