Hawai'i joins efforts to slow down, eat good food
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
|||Slow Food Hawai'i
Membership: $60 individual; $75 couple.
Membership forms and information: At Fujioka's Wine Merchants, or call or e-mail Nancy, (808) 885-6085; email@example.com
The group publishes a newsletter, theSnail, and a magazine, Slow, the latter available through Chelsea Green Publishing, (800) 639-4099.
Slow down and enjoy really good food, which can't be rushed, either in the making or in the eating. Slow down the disappearance of traditional and artisanal foods. Slow down the homogenization of the world's food supply.
It's called Slow Food and this international organization, which includes among its members many of the world's best-known chefs and the producers of many of our most endangered foods, has come to Hawai'i.
In typical form, the organizational meeting of Slow Food Hawai'i Thursday night at Fujioka's Wine Merchants involved a very short statement of the organization's goals by founder Nancy Piianaia of Kamuela, and a very drawn-out and relaxed tasting of California cheese and imported wines matched to the cheeses by Lyle Fujioka and his staff. At the last minute, grower Jeanne Vana arrived with ripe heirloom variety tomatoes from her North Shore farm.
Piianaia is a food historian and writer; her husband, Norm, is a merchant mariner who brought the difficult-to-find California cheeses to Hawai'i aboard his ship.
Slow Food, she said, "is not a gastronomic club, not a culinary Greenpeace; it's someplace in the middle." She thinks the best description of the group's intent might have come from an Atlantic Monthly piece by writer Corby Kummer: "Doing good by eating well." Kummer is writing a book, "The Pleasures of Slow Food," which will be published later this year. Or, as Patrick Matins, director of Slow Food U.S.A., has said, "We are a celebration organization. We protest by eating good food."
The Slow Food Movement, as it is officially known, got its start in 1989 when a man named Carlo Petrini wrote an impassioned protest of the opening of a McDonald's restaurant at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. His call was for "slow food," not fast food.
At the meeting in Honolulu last week, a group of about 30 talked about foods they'd like to see rescued by the Slow Food "Ark of Taste," a program that seeks to preserve endangered foods by encouraging their production, seeking markets for them and otherwise aiding in their rescue. Taro's vanishing breeds were high on the list.
Others were interested in the idea of working with children, as has occurred in other Slow Food regions; for example, arranging for middle-schoolers to tend a garden in what was once an empty lot. Restaurateur Alice Waters of the groundbreaking Chez Panisse restaurant, where Piianaia once worked, is behind that effort, in which the produce is served in the school cafeteria and the money saved by not having to buy produce is used to subsidize higher quality foods for the cafeteria menu.
Members and prospective members filled out forms indicating their interest in field trips and workshops in the future, such as a visit to a lo'i or farm, or a morning at the fish auction followed by breakfast and a talk on issues related to endangered fisheries.
Founding member Laurie Carlson, who has been in the food business in Hawai'i for some time, said the Slow Food Movement has a particular challenge here, where farmers are struggling with high land prices and other challenges, cheesemakers can be counted on one hand, organic farming is particularly difficult because of regulations and pests. "You almost have to re-invent what Slow Food means here," she said.
Kay and Jim Linn came out of curiosity; they both love to cook, sharing a glass of wine as they prepare their meals together. And they've noticed with regret the vanishing diversity of foods here. Jim Linn recalled a visit to a French market town on a recent trip, where they counted 104 cheeses in the supermarket deli, 60 more in the packaged area and still more in the streets on market day. This is the sort of variety of carefully created foods that Slow Fooders like to see.
In the future, too, members may nominate Island individuals for prestigious Slow Food awards, which recognizes artisans and agricultural activists who have been active in preserving, propagating and disseminating food sources that might otherwise have disappeared.
Every other year, Slow Food, which is based in Bra, near Turin, Italy, plays host to the Salone del Gusto, a food fair that attracts more than 100,000 people in a one-time Fiat factory in Turin.
Piianaia had heard of Slow Food and was inspired to start the Hawai'i group after she and her husband visited the headquarters two years ago. "I just fell in love with them, they are such dedicated people. ... Their goals are so much like Hawai'i Regional Cuisine's, but on a deeper kind of level."
The Hawai'i chapter is among the newest of the 72 U.S. "convivia," as the Slow Food Groups are called. There are about 70,000 members worldwide; 6,000 in the United States.