Slow Food Part 4: Let’s Ask Alice

I promise that tomorrow we’ll be back to food, but today was an eventful day. I have some major national papers calling me about all this and unfortunately, the question of Alice Waters comes up. Waters is in an uncomfortable position of being on both boards, CUESA and Slow Food. I cut her a hell of a lot of slack because her intentions are always clear and whatever you may think of her, you know she’s trying to do the right thing. As a Bay Area native, being on the opposite side of a food fight with Alice Waters is not something you enjoy. Dread is a better word. So I called.


We talked for a good while, mostly about things we agree upon. She insists Carlo’s intentions are good and I kept bringing it around to why would he write such things, especially if they weren’t true. Waters talked about her history with the market and how defensive she is of it but the food movement was a bigger issue. The more she talked, the more I had the sinking feeling this was going to go nowhere.
Finally I said, "Would you feel it’s fair to say that you support Petrini 100% and the goals of Slow Food, but in this one case, he got the market wrong?"
There was a pause, and then she said, "Absolutely."
"So even though you support him, he didn’t ‘get’ the market."
"Absolutely. He got this one wrong. But I support his right to express himself, 100%"
As far as I’m concerned, she’s my new hero. This one small acknowledgment changed everything. I would love it if Slow Food could come out and say something similar but that’s for another day or someone else.
We continued talking about farmers we knew mutually, price, perception and the struggle to get real food to the table. I had the feeling a two week headache had ended.

One of the things that had upset her was my saying that she didn’t shop the market. She tells me this just isn’t true, so I apologize.

In related news, my fellow Terra Madre delegate and madder than hell farmer friend, Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farms told me this morning he’s still madder than ever but plans to renew his membership to Slow Food and hopefully make some changes from within. Good for him! If you still have a connection to Slow Food,  I’d encourage you to do the same. For me, it’s not my group anymore and I think I prefer to continue with my favorite seed saving organizations but one path isn’t any less valid or mighty than the next, obviously.

Whether Ferry Plazas prices are as outrageous as claimed are true or not, it doesn’t matter, because there’s the perception that they are. I hope this opens up a whole new dialog between the farmers and CUESA and the public. I don’t find the market all that expensive for vegetables but maybe I’m nuts. We’ll find out. I also hope Slow Food takes a look at themselves as well. Whether it’s true or not, the perception among many is that they’re arrogant and elitist. Again, if that’s the perception, I hope they can address it because it might as well be true.

Now, shut up and eat!

6 Comments on Slow Food Part 4: Let’s Ask Alice

  1. at the end of the day, i dont think it really matters, steve. because everyone…the farmer, the vendor, the markets at ferry market or alemany or just someone who grows vegetables in the community patch..(i’d like to give out a shout for one of my favourite bay area non profit >

    and i mean *everyone* makes changes, small or big, in their own way. the only important thing is that there is change. change is the only constant, isnt it? and hopefully, it will always be for the better!

  2. I’ve been following this controversy/dialogue from afar, North Carolina, and am glad there has been some semblance of reconciliation. Petrini will be here most of the week, and after reading what happened out your way, I decided it wasn’t worth the special effort to attend his lecture. I still feel that way. The US isn’t Italy, and we have to figure out what slow food means within our own parameters, without a traditional foodway.

  3. has a great grocery list showing that you can save money by shoppying at the Ferry Plaza market!

  4. I hope that you can address the perception that you are perpetuating that Slow Food is arrogant and elitist, too, Steve, and give us some credit for the good that we do on some of the forums you have posted on.

    I’m sorry for your experience, and I had an open mind about it until I read the actual passage in the book. In looking at the message boards where you have posted, I see little evidence that others have actually read the passage, relying instead on statements taken out of context reported by you.

    Where is the acknowledgement that he also praised the market highly on your discussion board? I just didn’t read the same negativity in the characterization of your market.

    I understand that you felt insulted that he focused on the aspects of the market that you felt didn’t apply to you. Fair enough. Why then, do you feel that it is fair to apply your opinion of him to the other members and convivia of the Slow Food organization?

    After all, as Alice said, we all have a right to express our opinions. Why can’t he express his observations, especially when the criticism was actually quite minor?

    I like the idea of surfing farmers, myself.

  5. Did you see I posted the entire passage of the book? Clearly a lot of us found it offensive. And in fact, it’s not true. And even Alice Waters admits, he got it wrong.
    Did you also see in this very post I add the information about Nigel staying? Why do you think I did that? To discourage people from joining Slow? No, the opposite.
    Why don’t read all four posts from start to finish, and read the actual words of Petrini from the point of view of someone whose livliehood depends on the market he describes and then post your thoughts.
    As you can see, this whole thing is winding down and I’m even encouraging people to stick with SF if they want, but your defending the infdefensible part of this only makes things worse, especially with a limited perspective.

  6. Petrini deliberately misrepresented things about the market and the farmers. Whatever his intention was (and that’s not really clear to me), the dishonesty and disservice to his own cause outweighs any positive comments about the market. Let’s hope he learned something, and that Slow Food USA distances itself from the aspects of Petrini that do the movement more harm than good, at least in this country.

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