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Slow Food, the international movement founded in Italy to combat fast food and preserve traditional food, is about to get its big U.S. moment: The four-day Slow Food Nation '08 extravaganza launches tomorrow in San Francisco. To kick off what's been billed as the "largest celebration of American food in history," investigative food journalist Michael Pollan will moderate a panel on the world food crisis featuring Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini and authors Corby Kummer, Vandana Shiva and Raj Patel. I recently spoke with Patel, who wrote the brilliant book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, to get a preview of the festival and the panel:
The schedule for the weekend is so impressive. What are some events to definitely check out?
"I’m very much looking forward to the Taste Pavilions. It’ll be like Christmas—the joy of it will be in discovering new foods [artisan producers will include Utah's Amano Artisan Chocolate and California's Laloo’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream]. One of the panels that I’m excited about is "Fostering Diversity in Food System Leadership"; Brahm Ahmadi from People's Grocery will be the moderator. It’s not a big secret that Slow Food is pretty white. California is so diverse, filled with immigrant history and food, yet people of color are very underrepresented in Slow Food so their voices are very important. I’m also really excited about the rock concerts. Gnarls Barkley, the New Pornographers, and a bunch of other artists will be playing Saturday and Sunday."
Can you give a brief overview of what you'll be talking about at the opening "World Food Crisis" session?
"One billion people are going hungry by the end of the year. The reasons are straightforward: The price of food is doubling and tripling but wages aren’t. I’ll be talking about how we ended up in the mess we're in—why it is that farmers in developing countries are growing food for export instead of the nutritious food they need to survive, and why traditional foods are being uprooted by fast foods."
What are some solutions you'll be talking about?
"Good clean food is part of the solution in a very deep way. By clean food, I mean food grown in a way that’s sustainable, not merely organic. Organic monoculture, for example, is still ecologically harmful. Clean means agroecological. Farms can intercrop in very sophisticated ways. Agroecology has a bunch of examples. The beauty of it is you don’t need a big area. You can farm intensively in a small plot of land barely the size of your kitchen and feed your whole family."
What are some other things the average person can do to help?
"Eating locally and seasonally is definitely the way to go. Other advantages besides reducing your carbon footprint is that it encourages you to be creative with your cooking. Eating together is also important. The pleasure of food is amplified when you share food."