You've heard of fast food. How about slow food? Slow Food is an international movement that focuses on cooking and eating at a leisurely pace. Its members believe in supporting small-scale food production, local farmers and reviving regional food traditions. While there are 65,000 members worldwide the movement is taking off rather slowly in Minnesota. There's about a hundred members in the state. But they say there is growing interest.
The "movement" began about 15 years ago in Italy. McDonalds was building a franchise in Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna. It upset a lot of people. But instead of launching a protest a man by the name of Carlo Petrini and a few of his friends got together and formed the Slow Food movement. They committed themselves to Petrini's mantra: "A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life."
Slow food advocates have some very lofty aims including preserving endangered food species such as the Vesuvian apricot and the Piedmontese cow. But the root of their activism is the daily ritual of eating.
Ron Huff is the president of Slow Food Minnesota. He recently browsed the fresh produce at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
"We are not a protest organization," Huff explains. "If you wish to eat at McDonald's that's your choice. But we also believe that we should have freedom of choice for the foods we desire -- foods of extraordinary quality, high flavor, beautifully produced and respecting the seasonality of the foods."
Huff, who works in a grocery store, says he shops almost everyday. He's always on the look-out for fresh vegetables produced locally.
Avid slow food followers eat locally year round. In Minnesota that means storing and pickling fruits and vegetables in the fall.
But Huff says it's not just about food. It's about slowing down one's life.
"Today mom and dad eat on the road driving their SUVs cell phone in one hand burger in the other and steering this vehicle with their knees," Huff says. "I don't think this is a lifestyle that we really choose. I think it's almost forced upon us."
But some people have chosen to slow down. Linda Noble says the crowded Saturday market is a testament to people making that effort. Noble raises pork, beef and chicken in Kenyon, Minnesota. She says people are starting to care more about their food.
"When we do our beef or pork we do one animal at a time," Noble says. "It's not hundreds of thousands of animals going into a single pound of ground beef. And we work with small family lockers. So we're supporting our community, bringing that money back and generating it within our community and that creates a system that's very healthy for the whole state."
Noble says she's seeing a rise in interest in organically produced products. Ron Huff says he believes it's partly due to a concern about food safety and potential outbreaks of disease.
There's a 9-year waiting list for a stall at the St. Paul market. Farmers say distribution of their products still remains a problem.
All of the St. Paul farmers market vendors come from within a 50-mile radius. One of Huff's favorite spots is the Cedar Summit Dairy.
"It's very very tough to find genuine cream in the grocery stores today," Huff says. "Most of the cream that we find today has a lot of stabilizers in it -- guar gum, caragean, locust bean gum -- that's not cream. Cream is 100 percent cream. That's all that should read on the product."
Pure cream is more expensive. There is also the time and effort involved in getting to the market to pick up the week's supply. But slow food supporters say the effort is worth it. Mike Minar helps his parents operate the dairy.
"We're a grass-based dairy," Minar says. "All our animals are grazed for as long as possible. No hormones or antibiotics are used on the animals. No pesticides or herbicides are used on any of our pastures. We run our farm in a very sustainable manner. As a way of getting more of the family involved in the farm we put up a creamery and we sell our own products."
With regular customers buying their staple milk, butter and cream from the farmers market each week the Minars can stay in business. Others have had a tougher time making a profit off of slow food.
Diane Lutzke is the owner and chef of Rebekah's Cafe in the small town of Plainview. She says she's been a slow food believer before slow food was a movement. She has wrestled with staying true to the slow philosophy while keeping her dishes affordable.
"There's a business that needs to be kept going," Lutzke says. "And there's only so much time you can allow for labor into food product before you're not making any money on that food product anymore. You're in a sense paying people to eat it, which is unfortunate."
She says people like her are pioneers. But she wishes there was a model for her to follow.
"Part of the difficulty is the public's expectation," she says. "They're so used to any food on demand any time of year. You can get tomatoes in the middle of winter but that doesn't meant they're going to be good."
As Lutzke educates herself on the financial side of her business, she's teaching her customers an appreciation for seasonal foods and changing menus. She says eating seasonally isn't just good for local farmers but it also jibes with what the body needs.
"Root vegetables of the fall are full of added nutrients, which aid the immune system for the winter," Lutzke says. "Greens of spring act like a tonic. They cleanse the system from the winter fats. The fruits and vegetables of the summer have added water content which aid your natural cooling system."
Lutzke is in the process of pickling, canning and storing her vegetables for winter. While it's been a challenge to educate them, she says her customers are catching on ... slowly.More Information