Saturday, September 13, 2008

My visit to the Slow Food Nation Taste pavilions

Updated below

My Slow Food Nation experience started well before Labor Day weekend, as I attended several panels and lectures at the Commonwealth Club, wrote a few posts for their blog, and attended the opening of the Victory Garden. During the Slow Food Nation (SFN) weekend itself, I was only able to attend the Taste pavilions at Fort Mason and take a quick look at the Victory Garden.

Before I comment about my experience, I'd like to say "Bravo!" to the Slow Food Nation staff and their partners. They dared to try something unprecedented and ambitious on a large scale, something that would educate, stimulate, and provoke. For the most part they succeeded. Sure, there were logistical glitches and topical gaps in the programs, but the event managed to create wide-ranging discussion about our food system, what we want it to look like, and how to get there. A conference of activists and experts at the San Francisco Airport Hilton or a special edition of the Slow Food USA magazine would not have had nearly the same impact.

The Taste Pavilions
I visited the Taste pavilions on Sunday afternoon. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for all of my senses, but ultimately unsatisfying. While it was pleasurable to taste great chocolate, preserves or cheese, I left wanting to know much more about the how and why behind the products. How are they made? Why are they special? Why are they worthy of inclusion in the pavilion? How do they fit into the Slow Food world? And so, although I'm glad I went to this unique event, I might have been happier if I had attended a number of the workshops instead, where a single topic was covered for one hour (like beer and cheese pairing). (To be sure, some of the pavilions provided limited opportunities for more learning and some of the artisans were at the event, but it was not easy to absorb the material and the artisans were often too busy for extended conversation).

The Taste pavilions were visually and conceptually remarkable. Constructed from reused material (like pallets or packing crates) or symbolic objects (paper umbrellas in the Spirits pavilion), they were wonderful to visit. The designer of the Honey & Preserves pavilion, for example, used fruit packing crates and wooden planks, to 'write' the word HONEY on one side and JAM on the other. (The reason there aren't many people in my photos is that I took them after the tastings had ceased and people cleared out.)

The Pickles & Chutney pavilion was a wondrous creation, as my photo below hints. A floating array of canning jar lids was suspended overhead by transparent cable, so the lids shimmered as air currents moved through the hall. The wall in the background was made from pieces of wood separated by canning jars with labels from various pickles and chutneys from around the country.

Although I didn't taste the olive oil, I appreciated the pavilion with my eyes. The netting evokes the harvest, the array of bottles let us appreciate the beauty of the product.

The cheese pavilion was constructed of milk crates and hay bales. The second photo shows the small speaker area where cheesemakers gave short talks throughout the day.

You can see more of my photos on my Flickr page or see hundreds submitted by other attendees at the SFN08 tag on Flickr.

Final Thoughts
Overall, from my perspective, Slow Food Nation was a complicated, messy success. Even though there was plenty of "preaching to the choir," the bold statements like the Victory Garden introduced many to great organizations like City Slicker Farms and hopefully will inspire local action on urban food production. Ideally, the local excitement will help build new coalitions or catalyze changes in local and state policy.

In Jen Maiser's "Looking Forward" piece for Serious Eats, she suggested that future SFNs should have a major community service component. That's a great idea. When I attended the Victory Garden opening ceremony, I could sense that the attendees wanted to do more -- they wanted to build more gardens, help more people grow their own food, use their time and energy to find solutions to the food problems facing people. A series of garden ground-breakings, or workdays on an urban farm (Sam wrote about volunteering at the Alemany Farm at Becks & Posh) or even some classes on political activism.

Slow Food Nation Link Pavilion
A lot has been written about the weekend. As I've been procrastinating on this post, I have been collecting posts and articles, and here is a 'link pavilion' for you to peruse:
For those of you who weren't able to attend the events in person or missed one of the talks, some of the Commonwealth Club events are available for streaming from their archive or download with a podcasting software like iTunes.

Update: The Slow Food Nation "Food For Thought" videos are now online for your viewing pleasure.

Random link from the archive: Mexican Sopes

Technorati tags: Food


doggybloggy said...

I have been all over this blog after finding sopes, we made them today and I thought I would see who else has, though I didnt blog about mine ....

Rebeca said...

On Labor Day, Monday September 7th, one year after Slow Food Nation, Slow Food San Francisco returns to San Francisco's Civic Center for a public potluck ~EAT-IN~ in support of its national Time For Lunch Campaign to bring real food to the country's public schools. Based on the premise that everyone is entitled to food that is "Good, Clean and Fair," and that our children deserve fresh, healthy food, Labor Day Eat-Ins will take place throughout the country.