The world came to Denver today, Friday July 14, 2017. Well, the world of Slow Food anyway. But it is an important world, one of small farmers, artisan food producers, chefs, conscientious consumers and food justice activists. For three days they come together to take stock of the progress of the about 30 year-old movement—and the challenges facing the growing international food movement. The event appropriately is called Slow Food Nations, reflecting the international nature of the movement.

The food festival, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, was preceded today with the Delegate Summit of leaders in the movement who gathered to meet, share stories, discuss a wide variety of food issues, and help shape the future of Slow Food. Richard McCarthy, Executive Director, Slow Food USA, kicked off Slow Food Nations with an address to an estimated 500 delegates. The slide below condenses the message while focusing the on the values being practiced.

Richard Salvador (Director, Food & Environment, Union of Concerned Scientists) followed bringing an international perspective. His talk emphasized the the rights of workers in food production and each persons role in creating a good food system for all. I was particularly struck by a slide he showed demonstrating the relative cost of a McDonalds hamburger in different locales around the world. It helps to put the importance of local food production into perspective.

A highlight of the day, of course, was the lunch under a big, open tent in Civic Center park. Alice Waters welcomed everyone by talking about connecting agriculture and food (farms and gardens) with education and learning (schools and curriculum). She said, “I don’t want to talk about it. I want you to taste it and smell it and connect with (others).” She also stressed the importance of food for learning, how many children don’t even have one meal a day with their family. Then she talked about haw it would be revolutionary to connect school with farming and how she has an idea of the school lunch as an academic subject. While students from the Each One, Teach One program of Denver Public Schools helped with the food preparation, I was struck by how participatory the service was as people at all the tables we asked to volunteer to help bring food to their table.

The afternoon included a variety of workshops and break out sessions. I was struck by the workshop on Breaking the Corporate Stranglehold, when attendees took a break to call their members of Congress to ask them to cosponsor the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act and the Voluntary Check off Act, which would reform the commodity checkogf programs. At a workshop on Aligning the Good Food and Food Justice Movements presenters stressed the relationships between producers an consumers and discussed the pros and cons of exploring different business models, such as Community Supported Agriculture and cooperatives.

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini appropriately gave the closing keynote address to the delegate summit (translated by The Atlantic Senior Editor Corby Kummer). His address touched on the Slow Food values of self-sufficiency, small and local, organic production. Mr. Petrini also emphatically criticized so-called free trade treaties saying these international treaties made in the name of Free trade demolish small scale production. They reduce food to the level of commodity. “Free trade is the freedom for the foxes to eat chickens. And we know who the foxes are and who the chickens are.”

The speech continued touching on the surveillance state and privacy but how the new methods of communication can enable faster change. This technology is the means. the question is how do we use use it for our own community?

He added the international community hasn’t acted the way it should on Climate Change, even with the Paris agreement. And declared it’s the poor countries that suffer the most – many Slow Food members in Africa already have lost much of their crops, according to him.

Quantity vs. Quality? Mr. Petrini expressed concern about the increase in meat consumption notably in China. Noting the next Slow Food International Congress will be held in China he said there isn’t enough land, so they increasingly buy meat from the USA or Brazil without knowing the impact on the environment, their culture. “We want food with an identity.” He gave an example of the Slow Food vision noting prosciutto: it’s important to know what kind of pig, where it is from, how it was raised, etc. He acknowledged this means we need to make changes in our lifestyle: eat less meat but better meat, pay attention to where it is from, use fewer chemicals, and reduce waste.

“Participatory democracy begins with participatory food production.”

Mr. Petrini, approaching the close of his address, stressed the urgency of the food movement’s work. And pointed to the central role of the farmer: Now is the time to share – the common knowledge, folk knowledge of farmers is scientific knowledge. Farmers are themselves a university, an extended university. Farmers deserve respect, for their work, experience, knowledge, their scientific knowledge. Local farmers and food producers are scholars, scientists, a university of agricultural knowledge diffused. Traditional knowledge needs to work on an equally respected footing with academic knowledge

And Mr. Petrini noted the food movement can build bridges to other movements: We all depend on each other. We must be inclusive, with less structure, more ideas. When a movement becomes too structured, it starts to die. Focus on ideas, not structure. Let young people pursue their ideas. Focus on human relations instead of spreadsheets. Finally: a different kind of democracy will emerge. The new metaphor for our new dimension is the vegetable. Vegetables don’t have a brain but they work without a leader. The biggest leader is the group. So, the more people there are to think, the fewer errors they make. We need less bureaucracy, more empathy.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.