Five Questions With Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA
Flavorpill: What effect has the economy had on the Slow Food movement both globally and here in the US? Has it actually helped?
Josh Viertel: People are tired of fake things; lots of us are hung-over from fake wealth. We want something with substance. A meal at home with friends or family used to be an unlikely special occasion. Now it is becoming the normal way to socialize, the normal way we eat. People are cooking from scratch, canning, and gardening. And, why not? A sixty-dollar investment in a garden can yield $600 in produce. It is healthy. It keeps you connected to your environment. It makes economic sense. And, most of all, it’s fun.
FP: What is the biggest false assumption about Slow Food practitioners?
JV: Some people assume that Slow Food is fancy food for the elite. It isn’t. Slow Food is a movement and an organization working to make a world where everyone can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet. Good, clean, fair food. Real food is not a privilege; it is a universal right.
FP: Waste is something that plagues our society. How does Slow Food address this?
JV: Slow Food is based on the idea that there is a story behind your food. It is a story about peoples’ work, about the environment, about the economy, and about community. It should be a story you can believe in. Once you are aware of that story, it wont let you waste food.
FP: What is the biggest issue currently plaguing the food industry that most consumers are still in the dark about?
JV: Most people don’t know that the vast majority of the food we eat in this country, whether it is a hamburger or the ketchup on it, is made of two crops: corn and soybeans. What appears to be a dizzying array of options actually represents a series of makeovers using two products. Fed to animals, or transformed through the magic of chemistry, corn and soy are nearly always what is for dinner. People are also surprised, and rightly concerned, to find out that only three companies—Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra and Cargill—control the vast majority of what we eat. It looks like we’ve got lots of options, but really there are just two ingredients and three cooks.
FP:You said in a blog post: “No movement is worth being part of that doesn’t inspire creativity, art, a sense of humor to change the system.” What kinds of things are happening in the Slow Food movement that embrace this idea?
JV: Some Slow Food chapters host “grandmother workshops” where people come and exchange the skills your grandmother taught you (or, in some cases, should have taught you). Knife sharpening, canning beans, making chicken stock. There are people who are “guerrilla gardening,” throwing seeds into vacant lots, or planting gardens in the backs of flatbed trucks.
On Labor Day, we had a national day of action to push congress for real food in public school cafeterias. We had demonstrations in every state … more than 300. But instead of your typical sit-in, they were potlucks. We called them “Eat-Ins.” Legislators came, people shared food they believed in, and they made a difference in raising awareness around this important issue. At one Eat-In, they even broke open a snail (our logo) piñata. We’re continually amazed by the inspiration, creativity and humor that those involved in our movement bring to the table.