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Slow Food Nations to Take Stock of Progress—and Challenges—of the Growing Food Movement

When an estimated 50,000 activists, eaters, and food systems thinkers gathered for Slow Food Nation in San Francisco in 2008, it was with the goal of “catalyzing a huge shift in how Americans perceive and prioritize food.” And, by many accounts, it worked.

Nine years later, farm-to-plate is a household term, but greenwashing and “localwashing” is nearly as abundant as farmers’ market kale. Nearly every week we hear examples of the way the food industry has responded to consumers’ questions about the source of their food—in both real and disingenuous ways. And after eight years of forward movement in Washington, D.C., the Trump administration is now hard at work to slash regulations and funding in rural areas, create a climate of fear among immigrant farmworkers, and do away with recent school lunch gains, potentially setting food systems progress back a generation.

It’s against this national backdrop that Slow Food USA, the domestic branch of the international group founded by Carlo Petrini, is hosting its latest national gathering. Slow Food Nations will bring together approximately 500 food and farm leaders from around the nation (and several from outside the U.S.) for an internal summit in Denver, Colorado, followed by a three-day street festival on July 14-16.

The plan, says Richard McCarthy, executive director of Slow Food USA, “is to reach those who’ve just come to the table and seek how best to navigate good food choices.” And with interactive workshops, tastings, farm tours, educational talks, and hosted meals, the organization will likely reach that goal. But at a time when food is one of the more accessible lenses on justice, the group—and the larger food movement—has higher ideals as well.

“Our goal is to present food as a bridge in this age of walls so that visitors can experience food traditions and the people they represent,” says McCarthy. The street festival includes several events focused on food sovereignty and food justice, thanks in part to partnerships with groups such as the Turtle Island Slow Food Association, which McCarthy describes as “a relatively new assembly of First Nations advocates and experts who are working for food sovereignty.”

Alice Waters, chef and owner of the iconic Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, and founder of The Edible Schoolyard Project, is going to cook a meal for Slow Food leaders in hopes that she can encourage the group to get on the same page about the value of free, sustainable school lunch for all students K-12.

“I’m going to pretend they’re in sixth grade,” says Waters, who has served as a vice president of Slow Food International since 2002. “I’m going to serve them a Mexican meal like we could in a local school. I’ll buy all the food in Colorado and connect it to the academic study of the three-sisters agriculture—beans, corn, and squash growing together.”

The larger goal, she says, is to make school lunch an academic subject and a part of the curriculum. This provides a nourishing school lunch to all children and, most importantly, gives them time to sit down and eat together.

“These are essential places for social justice—at the school cafeteria table and in the fields,” she told Civil Eats. “When we provide our children with free school lunches and pay the organic farmers and workers fairly and directly, we are focused on ending childhood hunger and supporting the people who take care of the land. I would love for that idea to be embraced by the whole Slow Food movement, so we are all united and we’re going...

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