A few years ago at the biennial Farm-to-Cafeteria in Austin, Alice Waters delivered the closing plenary. If you don’t already know who Alice Waters is, you should find out. She is credited with establishing an edible schoolyard at a middle school in Berkeley, which over the past 20 years has grown into an entire network of school garden educators and dirt-to-dine initiatives known as The Edible Schoolyard Project. To conclude a dynamic and inspiring conference, she spoke about slow food values.
According to Waters, slow food values celebrate the sensory experience with food, which requires more mindful eating than most of us routinely engage in. Slow food values are about culture, rituals, traditions, and relationships. She argues that some of these values have eroded over time due to a food system built on delivering uniformity, speed, low-cost, and consumer choice (e.g., any fruit or vegetable in any part of the world in any season). She went so far as to suggest that food is the “real” declaration of independence.
Slow Food USA also espouses “slow food values.” By endorsing “good, clean, and fair” food for all Slow Food USA provides resources to inspire individual and communities to change the world through engagement with food. Slow Food USA has a robust National School Gardening Program that offers technical assistance, nurtures partnerships, and provides free resources to anyone who has the means to access them in hopes that more people will “cultivate the next generation” of eaters.
While researching food education in schools for my dissertation, I was interested in finding out what kind of food values teachers who integrated gardening and cooking into the curriculum were teaching. I found these teachers did, indeed, teach something very much like slow food values. A third grade teacher who invited guest chefs, planned seasonal cooking projects, and hosted tasting assemblies for the whole school created a classroom community built around cuisine. The culinary arts provided a multi-sensory, multimodal, and multicultural set of memorable experiences that no doubt shaped students’ relationships with food. A K-3 garden teacher instilled a deep respect for nature and strong environmental ethic. She taught kids simple, nutritious and relatively waste-free alternatives to pre-packaged food, such as Lunchables. These are just a few examples of slow food values in action in schools.
This July, I will attend Slow Food Nations in Denver. I look forward to learning more about fair trade coffee, the future of cooking with insects, and the history of BBQ, but I am equally excited to experience the tantalizing tastes, smells, and sounds of good, clean, and fair food. Growing “slow” in the school garden involves the very same approach. Inviting students to be keenly aware of the cycles of food, from seed to plate, is just one of the many ways to grow slow. Modeling how to be wowed by the unparalleled smell of carrots freshly pulled from the ground–with their sweet earthiness instills a feeling of respect for food. Shucking fava beans until all the pods are empty teaches just how much work good food can be, but how this work can also be an enjoyable way to spend time.
If you can’t make it to Denver, but you’d like a taste of slow food values, I will host an engaging day in a Slow Food School Garden with help from Slow Food Napa Valley and the School Garden Task Force. During this experience, we will demonstrate lessons from the latest Slow Food USA Curriculum, “Good, Clean, Fair,” including an authentic experience in a commercial kitchen. More information coming soon!