Slow Food - Where Have You Been? by Gia Machlin, February 15 2012, 1 Comment

Wow. Life really can get in the way of blogging, eh? After three months of dealing with a very ill mother, I am back, and I'm thrilled to say - so is she! It's amazing that my 86 year old mom made it through what she did - I wonder how much of it has to do with her personal toughness, and how much is due to her minimal exposure to chemically treated foods over the years. I know it may sound like a leap, but I'm starting to wonder if my parents' longevity (my dad is 91) has anything to do with their diet. My mom is the author of Classic Italian Jewish Cooking, and I'm fortunate to have had meals that came from farm to table (or rather, from our backyard garden) long before the "slow food" movement became popular. Earlier this month, I was really privileged to co-organize an event for the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of NY's Sustainable Business Committee called "Making Green from Green: Slow Food Meets Big Business."

The panel discussion, hosted by David Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, took a hard look at food production and consumption in the past generation and how it has deteriorated our quality of life. Gary Hirshberg, longtime sustainability hero of mine and Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, quoted from a recent American Cancer Society report that about 40% of us will get some kind of cancer in our lifetime. What?? How much of that is due to factory farming, the rampant use of pesticides, and other non-organic farming methods? Recent studies link bacon and processed meats to pancreatic cancer and pesticides to prostate cancer. Chipotle Mexican Grill Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker also talked about the harmful effects of factory farming. And Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel reminded us of a time when we used to eat three meals a day. Fellow Columbia B-School Alum Bradley Jobling summed up the discussion perfectly in this excerpt from his blog post:

- Genetic engineering (GE) which is supposed to make food production more efficient and less costly has actually done the opposite. Herbicide resistant crops are pollinating with other plants and creating herbicide resistant weeds. Some of these weeds are growing so large they cannot be culled by machines and must be cut by hand. Furthermore, when unmodified crops are tainted with the pollen from GE plants, the legal standing for labeling - and, if appropriate, damages - are unclear.

- We’ll never be able to go back the home cooked meals of past. Yet restaurants like Chipotle are serving fresher foods sourced from sustainable farming practices. Produce is sourced locally when possible. Meat comes from animals that are not fed antibiotics. In a reality of “less is more” Chipotle offers a reward program that is not based on the amount of food consumed, but by correctly answering sustainable food production questions.

- Stonyfield Farms has been an early and steadfast leader in promoting organic foods. Stonyfield’s CEO, Gary Hirshberg, promotes a strong position on food knowledge specifically when it comes to GE food. As Mr. Hirshberg described, the jury is still out on whether GE foods are healthy. In fact, GE foods have been shown to cause allergic reactions in people who have previously consumed unmodified food with no ill effects. Without a clear understanding of GE implications, Gary recommends that we should at least know what we are eating. How to do that? Good question. Unlike Australia, Japan, and even China, the USA doesn’t require GE foods to be labeled even when in 2010 93% of soybeans and 86% of corn planted on US farms were genetically engineered. So how do you avoid GMOs in the US? For now stick with organic foods. (A grassroots petition at requests that the FDA requires GE foods to be labeled.)

- I’m not that old, but remember when strawberries were sold at the grocery store only when they were in season. So it is surprising that some people don’t’ realize that certain foods must be imported to be offered year round. That’s where SlowFood USA is trying to raise public awareness of food sourcing issues, advocating local and artisan farmers, and educating school children on healthy food.

- Did you know that there were foods in danger of extinction? When it comes to the Jersey Giant Chicken, the Shagbark Hickory Nut, or American Rye Whiskey that seems to be the case. Another goal of SlowFood USA is to cultivate the local taste for these almost lost American food icons. SlowFood USA would like for you to be able to go into your local grocer and ask for that Bronx grape, without getting the raspberry.

Well said, Bradley! I hope we all can embrace this movement as it relates to our own health and longevity. Here's to dinners with the family, produce that's in season, zucchini from the backyard, organic yogurt, grass fed beef, and being able to pronounce the ingredients in our food.

Edda Servi Machlin
My mom in her vegetable garden; many, many years ago.