Slow Food eating away at fast-food culture,
one meal at a time
If the old adage “you are what you eat” is true, then
a large portion of Americans, and foreigners, are cheap, fast
and easy. And while many may see nothing wrong with a lunch handed
to them by a stranger through a window and eaten in the car, a
growing number of concerned gastronomes, including some from Durango,
are just saying no to fast food.
In fact, such folks have even formed their
own anti-fast food movement, appropriately called Slow Food.
“I think we get more people hooked
on McDonald’s every day than we do smoking,” said
Jen Roser, one of about 70 locals who sat down to a five-course
Slow Food dinner spread out over four hours at Carver Brewing
Co. on Sunday night.
Rather than viewing food as something to
be shoveled in between picking the kids up at school and dropping
off the dry cleaning, Slow Food advocates seek to elevate food
to its rightful status – that of one of life’s greatest
pleasures, something to be savored.
“People need to slow down, chew the
food, taste it 85 and enjoy it and be grateful,” said Darsie
Olson, who also attended the dinner. Olson said she moved to Durango
10 years ago to become a farmer and since then has worked at the
Old Grove House Farm at the base of Missionary Ridge Road and
helped out at Sunshine Gardens, a farm on the Florida Mesa.
She is one of many people worldwide who directly
or indirectly participate in the growing Slow Food movement. Using
the return of the two-hour lunch and four-hour dinner as its rally
cry, Slow Food was founded in 1986 in Italy as a response to a
McDonald’s going into Rome’s famous Piazza de Spagna.
In keeping with its name, the movement, which chose a snail as
its mascot, slowly made its way north, with the founding of Slow
Food International in Paris in 1989. It eventually crossed the
Atlantic in 2000, with the founding of Slow Food USA. Today, Slow
Food continues its leisurely growth, counting 65,000 members in
more than 35 countries. The group also has garnered the attention
of the national media, from National Public Radio and The Utne
Reader to the Atlantic Monthly and Wall Street Journal.
“It started with Italian winemakers
and blossomed into something for everybody,” said Erik Maxton,
head brewer at Carvers who organized the Slow Food dinner with
the help of cook Aaron Seitz. “Slow Food is an international
movement, spread the world over, but it’s all about preserving
local and regional food.”
Saving the black asparagus
In addition to bringing people back to the
dinner table, Slow Food backers aim to preserve food diversity
by championing the cause of endangered food species – such
as the black asparagus of Albenga or, closer to home, the New
Mexican native chili.
“A hundred years ago, people ate between
100 and 120 different species of food,” Slow Food founder
Carlo Petrini told The Nation last year. “Now our diet is
made up of, at most, 10 or 12 species.”
In the same vein, Slow Food aims to persuade
gourmands to found their own branches of the group, called convivia,
in the name of holding tastings of local products in order to
promote their use. In so doing, not only do consumers end up with
higher quality product, but the area’s economy and environment
also benefit, Slow Food supporters contend.
Supporting the local farmers is something
that Maxton and Seitz also believe in. Maxson said without such
suppliers, the local food landscape wouldn’t have nearly
the variety it does now.
“(Without them) the diversity of local
food diminishes; we all lose,” he said. “Fortunately,
there is a choice, and there should be a choice.”
In addition to giving the proceeds from the
dinner to the Durango Farmer’s Market, Maxson and Seitz
tried to use local products as much as possible in creating the
“We got 90-plus percent of ingredients
from Colorado,” said Maxson. “Some we just couldn’t
get because of the time of year, drought or fires, but we tried
to keep as close to La Plata County as possible.”
Seitz said the eggs, eggplant, greens and
garlic all were produced locally, as was the flatbread, which
he made himself. A majority of the rest of the meal – from
the bison in the picadillo chili to the elk that constituted the
main course – came from in state, he said. Even the beer,
which accompanied each course, was brewed at Carvers using only
natural ingredients, Maxson said.
“We don’t do anything funny to
our beer because it’s meant to be consumed in six weeks,”
he said. “We don’t use processed anything. If it’s
a fruit beer, I guarantee there’s real fruit in there.”
Maxson said he came up with the idea for
a local Slow Food dinner after reading about a similar event in
New York City.
“I thought ‘Geez, we have all
of those resources, if not more, right here in La Plata County,
so why not expose our fellow members of the community to that.’”
Although there is no official Slow Food chapter,
or convivium, in Durango (there are ones in Boulder, Denver, Fort
Collins and Colorado Springs), Maxson and Seitz say they would
like to do another Slow Food dinner in the future.
“I would love to do it again,”
said Maxson. “I was incredibly satisfied with the turnout
and the support, on more than one occasion.”
Slow Food pioneers
Although the notion of Slow Food is new to
many Durangoans, there are local ranchers, farmers and restaurateurs
who have been practicing the Slow Food credo of sustainable, low-impact
production and consumption for some time.
Seven years ago, Dave James, of the 450-acre James Ranch in the
north Animas Valley, decided to eschew pesticide-ridden feed and
finish fattening his cattle, which do most of their grazing on
public lands, on the family’s grass pastures. Originally,
this was just a way to utilize the grass that grew on the ranch,
but James admits he inadvertently stumbled upon something bigger.
“Now research shows that key restaurants
are going with grass-finished beef because it’s good for
you,” he said. “It’s the wave of the future.”
And although such production practices
tend to be more time intensive and expensive than their mass-produced
counterparts, there are many who believe the end result is well
worth the added effort and cost.
“I became interested in slower
methods of baking because it just tastes better,” said Jeffie
Morehart, a baker at Bread, a local bakery that specializes in
hearth-baked, old-word style bread. “It’s real food
instead of something that takes two to three hours to make. It’s
a lot more flavorful.”
On any given day, Morehart says there
are eight to 12 different kinds of bread available at the bakery
as well as pastries. The flour for the bread comes from mills
in Colorado, and she estimates that 99 percent of the flour is
organic. No additives or preservatives go into the bread, most
of which is made using natural sourdough starters (fermented flour)
as leavening. “It’s just food: water, flour and salt,”
she said. “It’s simple.”
And although people need to go out
of their way and make a special stop for what Bread offers, Morehart
said it doesn’t seem to be a deterrent.
“People like it; we have daily
customers who come in for bread,” she said. “It’s
not produced in mass quantities, and you can’t get anything
like it in the grocery store.”