On Oct. 23, 2008, Sam Levin, a high school student from Massachusetts, spoke the following words:
"We will be the generation that reunites mankind with the Earth."
Levin was addressing 7,000 delegates at a conference called Terra Madre in Turin, Italy.
He received great applause for the line and his speech. Italy is the Mecca of the world's slow food movement. He wanted the assembled to hear about Project Sprout and his conviction that today's youth will have more respect for the Earth's health and resources than recent generations have shown.
In 2007 he and a handful of other students created an organic vegetable garden on school grounds. It became so successful it not only provided veggies for the school cafeteria, it also provided extra for local food banks.
Project Sprout was a good example of what the slow food movement is all about. Adherents believe our food should be grown locally and responsibly - in other words its production should not harm the environment. And if it's being produced commercially the producers should be paid a fair dollar for their efforts.
The Slow Food organization also believes that youth must be involved to better understand where our food comes from, and, (as they say in their literature) to know "the strong connections between plate and planet."
Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini in Bra, Italy, just over 20 years ago. Initially, the organization's goal was to encourage people to adopt a slower pace of life and take time to make and to enjoy good quality food.
Today, Slow Food has a wider focus. It also promotes conservation of the planet's food resources, a clean environment and, as mentioned, clean food and social justice.
Slow Food has card-carrying members in 132 countries.
There are convivia, or chapters, in 77 countries, including Canada and most of its provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador was without a Slow Food chapter. That is, until now.
Two local chefs, Ivan Kyutukchiev and Tony Velinov, recently founded the first Slow Food chapter in St. John's. Both are originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, where Kyutukchiev joined Slow Food while working as executive chef at one of Sofia's finest restaurants, Beyond the Alley, Behind the Cupboard.
"I met the founder of the slow food movement in Bulgaria. She used to come to our restaurant in Sofia where I was executive chef. We used products from small local producers in Bulgaria, like cheese producers, jam producers, beef producers and so on. This made our menu very different from the menus of other restaurants because we did recipes that were in keeping with our Bulgarian heritage. We found traditional recipes and gave them a contemporary twist to present to the customer. For example, we might do something with a bean soup (a favourite food in Bulgaria) to make it a little more interesting for the customer."
Since then he has attended and cooked for Slow Food organization events in Turin and Bra. Now, he and his friend Tony Velinov want to encourage membership in their new St. John's chapter.
"We want to help promote the use of food from local farms, growers and food producers here," Velinov says. "A lot of what is consumed in Newfoundland comes from outside. A carrot grown in the mainland and shipped here is not going to taste as good as a carrot grown in Newfoundland. We want to support the use of local traditional recipes utilizing as many local ingredients as possible. Some of these recipes may take time to prepare and we're not asking people to cook these recipes every day, but once or twice a week would help the local producers and give you some very tasty, flavourful dishes to enjoy."
I asked them what they'd like to accomplish with the St. John's Slow Food chapter. Ivan jumped in.
"Right now we just have our ideas but in the future if we can connect with the local farmers and food producers we'd like to organize some events, maybe put together a tasting menu featuring locally produced ingredients. It's so important for people to know where their food comes from, to know that milk comes from an animal and isn't just something in a carton."
And what about members?
"We have six members right now. We are chefs, as well as our wives, but the other two members just have an interest in the subject. We'd like to see farmers, producers, cooks, restaurateurs, and people with a passion or keen interest join our convivium. I want to stress that you don't have to be a member of the food industry to join."
Velinov and Kyutukchiev would like as many people as possible to join them on their mission to make the slow food way more familiar in St. John's.
They want you to know that sometimes "slow" does beat "fast."
If you'd like to contact them here are their e-mail addresses:
Founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986,
Slow Food became an international association in 1989.
It now has about 85,000 members and supporters in more than 130 countries.
Slow Food Canada's website, with more information about the movement, can be found at http://www.slowfood.ca.