Did You Go To An Eat-In?

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Photo by Siv Lie

Josh Viertel and Gordon Jenkins have written about the huge organization efforts Slow Food USA put into gathering hundreds of people at open-air picnics on Labor Day to launch their school food initiative. It took a lot of work, I can report from having been present at the creation--just a year ago, as the climax of the first Slow Food Nation.

The gathering was at Dolores Park, in San Francisco's Mission district, which itself has a distinguished past for gatherings of youth who want to bring about change. And the day was idyllic, as Labor Day was this year throughout much of the Northeast. The students were mostly college and high-school age, and many of them had been on their feet and on buses for most of the past week, volunteering at City Hall Plaza and Fort Mason for Slow Food Nation, which was a great hit. This was their celebration and finale.

It had much of the sweetness and harmony so many people have recently written about in the endless Woodstock reminiscences, and I imagine that last year's and this year's will inspire their own hagiographic literature in a few years. Why not get a jump start?

I have to start with the food, because it was so good. The event was potluck, so students got together whatever equipment they could in the apartments they were staying at and put together pretty glorious salads, stews, huge pans of cornbread, with of course everything free-range and much of the produce from the farmer's market that had operated at City Hall Plaza during the festival. There were pies baked my students at the Mission High School baked with help from Mission Pie, and using ingredients grown at Pie Ranch, on California's San Mateo coast.

Then there were the speakers. The event was really a mellow rally--mellow but with inspirational speakers.

There was, as is de rigueuer at all large locavore and foodie events (I wouldn't be surprised at vegan ones, too) a pig roast. Everything was set out along an endless, serpentine table donated by the Outstanding In The Field, which organizes outdoor group events at just this sort of table, generally cooked with local ingredients; I've seldom seen such an inviting table, let alone such a long one. I typically brought bread, typically filched, I mean begged, from the ovens at Fort Mason (a photo that an SFN-goer randomly took because she was so amused I was trying to balance my bread struck me as so characteristic that I use it on my Facebook page).

Then there were the speakers. The event was really a mellow rally--mellow but with inspirational speakers. They spoke from a stage with a red dutch-roofed frame in the shape of a barn and hay bales. Jered Lawson, of Pie Ranch, exhorted students to grow their own wheat so the world "wouldn't be reliant on our green revolution," and called for not just gardens but farms at every school. His conclusion was perfectly appropriate to the setting: "We've got fast food. We're dealing with it. We've got slow food. Now lets have love food. We want people who grow and make it to love that food. We're proud initiators of the love food movement."

Bryant Terry, an "eco-chef" who wrote the book Grub& with Anna Lappe, did a call-and-response to remind people that the Black Panthers and Bobby Seale "said, 'Revolutionaries got to eat too'--can I get an amen or ashay about that?" Melina Shannon-DiPietro was already onto this year's campaign when she called for "an America where every student sits down to a good lunch." She added, "We need a president who can invest in young farmers the way Kennedy invested in science." (Recall that this was at the height of the campain, and about five minutes before the economic meltdown.) Josh Viertel, just starting his tenure as president of Slow Food USA with a brief to make it into a much more political and activist organization, told the young people, "You've got not just my ear, you've got my heart."

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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