Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, Slow Travel

Slow Food California in Cuba 2020

By Peter Ruddock, Slow Food California President

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.

To sign up, visit: https://altruvistas.com/cubas-organic-revolution-slow-food-march-2020/

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.

Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, slow food nations

Slow Food Nations 2019 — Stronger, more joyful, and inclusive with California support

By Charity Kenyon, Slow Food California Board, Co-chair Equity, Inclusion & Justice Working Group

Slow Food’s annual national gathering, Slow Food Nations 2019 in Denver, showcased the energy and support of Slow Food California chapters, members and supporters. With Slow Food California, Slow Food Russian River, and Slow Food Sonoma County chapters leading, 35 chapters nationwide and 80 individuals donated $35,000 to support food justice programming and participation of Slow Food Turtle Island. You could feel the difference of quadrupled support! Together, we answered the questions: Why Slow Food? What does Slow Food do?

Our own Ian McFaul (Bay Area Governor) worked with International Indigenous Councilor Denisa Livingston (Diné) to elevate the voices of Slow Food Turtle Island.  They ensured that the Leader Summit began with an appropriate land acknowledgement and blessing. The afternoon featured a powerful presentation of the Reclaiming Native Truths project by First Nations Development Institute followed by an allyship panel Ian moderated, including Chefs Vincent Medina (Muwekma Ohlone) and Louis Trevino (Rumsen Ohlone) of Berkeley’s Ohlone Café. Friday evening’s Indigenous Dinner was amazing — delicious, fun, thought provoking, and ambitious. Your support brought us Chef Ben Jacobs (Osage) of Tocabe in Denver orchestrating seven courses including local bison but also Ark of Taste Chinook Marbled Salmon purchased from the Makah tribe in Washington. And you brought us the music of Wade Fernandez (Menominee) — check out his Facebook page. It was amazing to have him join us. 

Your support brought diverse voices to discuss solutions to the inequities of our current food system. Moving beyond lamenting problems, the Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Working Group sponsored discussions of Immigration Reform and the Food System, as well as the Radical Power of Cooperatives. Attendees surely came away recognizing that, unless a food system is equitable, inclusive, and just, it is not, by definition, sustainable. But also that there are ways forward.

Slow Food California President Peter Ruddock, once again, organized a happy hour that gathered EIJ donors, Slow Food USA Board members and staff, and the food justice panelists and Slow Food Turtle Island delegates. Thundershowers did not put a dent in our celebration — those of you who missed it, also missed Northern California Governor Max Caruso’s braided hair!

The California members who made significant contributions of time, creativity, energy, and money are too numerous to mention. Thank you all!  Photos will give you some idea. Special mention goes to Hillary Lyons (Slow Food Russian River) who developed and deployed the social media campaign to fundraise through sales of our Joy + Justice bracelets. We have more for sale! All donations support the EIJ Working Group directly. Email charityjd@gmail.com

Photo link: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmFisSus