Seattle's Slow Food Movement - Preserving the Connection Between Plate and Planet

By L.M. Archer, Foodable Contributor

The restaurant industry operates on one speed - full throttle.

This frenetic pace includes consumers, too. According to a 2015 Food Marketing Institute report, over 25% of Americans eat meals in their cars, and over 50% eat their meals alone. Thus, to many Seattle culinaries, the Slow Food Movement’s motto, “Slower, slower, slower,” seems counter-intuitive.

Yet to area food professionals and educators who share a common passion for creating connection and community through their chosen medium -  food - these words resonate. In fact, Seattle’s Slow Food chapter ranks among the earliest founded in America.

What exactly is Slow Food? Started as a protest in 1986 against installation of a McDonald's fast food franchise near Rome’s famed Spanish Steps, the protest grew into an “eco-gastronomic” movement. Today, Slow Food enjoys over 1,000,000 supporters, 100,000 members, and 1500 chapters, or convivia, in 160 countries worldwide. While chapter missions may vary according to regional concerns, not the core tenet:  “Good, clean, fair food for all.”

‘Good’ means flavorful, healthy, high quality food. ‘Clean’ infers production that doesn’t harm the environment. And ‘fair’ reflects not just prices, but conditions and pay for producers. 

Since its inception in 1989, the organization’s ambitious project list includes curation of an International Ark of Taste, or ‘living catalogue’ of threatened heritage foods, establishment of a Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and Slow Food Presidia designed to improve artisan food production infrastructure through production technique stabilization, stringent production standard implementation, and local consumption promotion.

Moreover, the Terra Madre Foundation supports a global network of food communities, cooks, scholars, and youth on developing sustainable food systems, in conjunction with the international bi-annual conference called Salone del Gusto, the world’s largest food and wine fair. Additionally, the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont educates future food professionals. Other organizational projects include Slow Cheese, Slow Fish, Slow Meat, and 1000 Gardens of Africa.

Here, Foodable TV talks to some of Seattle’s culinary leaders about how the Slow Food Movement informs their menus, restaurants, and communities:

Slow Food Seattle

“We’re shifting focus from not just what we eat, but how,” explains Slow Food Seattle chapter member and Slow Food USA board member Philip Lee, co-founder of Readers to Eaters. “We’re undergoing a strategic restructuring nationwide, to what I call ‘Slow Food 2.0.”

Five years ago, when Philips joined Slow Food Seattle, the chapter focused more on the food and wine. Today, the emphasis centers more around educational and institutional food programs, particularly school gardens, school chefs, hospitals and large institutions, as well as biodiversity. In particular, Seattle’s School Garden Program teaches children to grow, cook and savor real food, thereby empowering them to make better food choices. Moreover, Washington State recently designated September as Food Literacy Month, and effort spearheaded by Slow Food Seattle in conjunction with state officials.

Girgentana Goats | Courtesy of Slow Food

Girgentana Goats | Courtesy of Slow Food

Philips also points to Ark of Taste and Presidio food the Makah Ozette Potato. The potato, brought to Neah Bay by Spanish settlers, remains the only potato in North America with direct links to South America. Abandoned by the Spanish only to be revived and harvested by local tribes for over two hundred years, non-indigenous people discovered the potato in 1984, Slow Food Seattle pushed to re-introduce the fingerling in markets and on menus with mixed success 2004. The Herbfarm in particular has been instrumental in featuring the tiny tubers on their menus. Now a key component of the Slow Food Seattle School Garden Program, the potato thrives in the education environment, part agricultural teaching tool, part history lesson.

Then, too, Seattle’s chapter focuses not just on indigenous foods, but its peoples. Many delegates to the Terra Madre convention in Turin every other year hail from Alaska and Pacific Northwest tribes. Recently, past delegate and local culinary luminary Maria Hines joined other ‘star-power’ chefs in Washington, D.C. recently to raise awareness about improving school food and food policies nationwide.

Cedarbrook Lodge | Copperleaf Restaurant 

“The menus at Copperleaf are a collaboration of seasonal inspirations that embrace our connection to the Pacific Northwest and the artisans that make it unique,” explains Cedarbrook Lodge’s Executive Chef Mark Bodinet.

Nestled on eighteen lush, sustainably-maintained acres near Sea-Tac, the 167-room lodge and restaurant offers guests an oasis from the hectic pace of life. “Following our values of "slow food"  and working directly with these producers, we are able to bridge the relationship of Farm-to-Table and inspire many of our guests to develop their own connection to those artisans and encourage them to patronize and buy from, many of the same local sources they have experienced with us.”

PCC Natural Markets | PCC Cooks 

“Fun Classes. Fresh ideas.” PCC Cooks started in 1983 as a way for shoppers to learn how to cook with the cornucopia of organic offerings available at PCC Markets. Today, PCC Cooks presents over 1,300 cooking classes annually at six state-of-the-art PCC culinary classrooms, taught by over 60 local celebrity chefs. Classes cater to all ages and dietary needs, including annual, always-sold-out “Around the World in Five Days” kids’ summer camps.

“Slow Food” is a mindset as well as a movement,” contends Alicia Guy, PCC Cooks Manager, PCC Natural Markets. “We try to create an environment in our PCC Cooks classes where students feel they can really focus on food preparation and be in the moment - enjoying the cooking process as an art, a meditation and a sensory experience, in addition to having a practical purpose.”

Seattle Tilth 

Seattle Tilth seeks to inspire and educate Seattleites in safeguarding environmental resources while investing in sustainable local food systems. “We tend to work with restaurants that are committed to locally sourced and organically and sustainably grown food, a bit different than slow food but a similar values-based focus,” offers Liza Burke, Communications Director for Seattle Tilth.” Burke notes some of those restaurants include Local 360, Café Flora, Macrina Bakery, which recently made strong public commitment to local sourcing, and Madres Kitchen catering.

Regardless the chapter or the member, ultimately the Slow Food movement champions small growers, artisanal producers, and environmental sustainability, while fighting against social and cultural homogenization in an effort to preserve the connection between plate and planet.