Written by Kaleigh Rhoads
There is the Organic Food Movement, which aims to reduce the amount of food we obtain from conventional agriculture because these practices pollute and damage the environment and human beings. There is also the Local Food Movement, which attempts to persuade people to buy their food from local sources to support local economies and cut back on transportation costs.
There is also the Sustainable Agriculture Movement, which applies to both produce and meat and dairy products, and aims to reduce effects on the environment and energy costs from agriculture. There needed to be one movement that united all of them with all these different ideas as this was the Slow Food Movement.
“Slow food aims to be everything fast food is not.” (Hopkins) This quote from USA Today epitomizes the goals of the Slow Food Movement. The International Slow Food Movement was officially started by activist Carlo Petrini to protest plans to build a McDonalds near the Spanish Steps in Rome. The movement began in 1986 and now has over 100,000 members in 150 countries.
The utilization of seed banks and educates the public about the risks of fast food, the drawbacks of big agriculture, and ethical buying practices. Members hold classes on taste education as well as gardening methods. Slow food aims to bring back traditional, regional flavors, remind people of what food is ‘supposed’ to taste like and reap the full health benefits of a natural and diverse diet.
A group of UC Berkeley students held these values and strived to create an environment where people could enjoy this kind of food. The 1960’s environment in Berkeley was one of protest, liberation, and free love. The free speech movement and anti-war protests provided a situation that was fertile for change. Monsanto, the developer of Agent Orange, was also the developer of chemicals used in agriculture and a significant player in agribusiness.
Those are protesting against war, and big corporations had no choice but to eat food from those companies, which was a byproduct of war. One excellent resource that helps readers understand this connection is a book called Food Fight. This book provides a simplified, easy to understand explanation of the United States Farm Bill and agricultural policies. The author, Daniel Imhoff, discusses how the farm bill is related to the obesity epidemic, food insecurity, industrial agriculture, among other related issues.
The foreword, written by New York Times bestseller Michael Pollan, suggests that the term “Farm Bill” makes citizens feel disconnected as if it has nothing to do with them but is only related to farmers. He recommends that we consider it a “Food Bill” because of how closely it affects every person in this country. It involves the health of citizens, school lunches, and the economy.
Making the Farm Bill easy for everyone to understand, Imhoff allows more U.S. citizens to know where their food is coming from and what is going into it, thus allowing more people to voice their concerns and opinions and get involved in change.
Amid these 1960’s protests, one young Berkeley student, Alice Waters, became determined to recreate the dishes that she had enjoyed while studying abroad in France. The authorized biography of Alice Waters entitled Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution, provides a more in-depth view of the events and ideas that led Waters to begin advocating for slow food and the environment that allowed her efforts to be such a success.
After relating Waters’ experience in France to the readers, the biographer explains that Waters realized that she could not do so without the proper ingredients while attempting to recreate these dishes. In France, Waters had enjoyed strolling through the outdoor markets tasting fresh, flavorful produce. In the 1960s, even the grandest, most renowned restaurants were using canned and frozen products in their dishes.
It was a rigorous search for such fresh ingredients. Still, through a combination of scouring Asian markets in Chinatown, hunting for herbs in parks and yards, and growing their produce, Waters and her roommates began regularly hosting dinners in their apartment that became the first slow food gatherings (McNamee). Waters also began feeding protesters of the Free Speech Movement and became known as the “caterer of the revolution” (Taylor).
To make this homey feel even more vital, Chez Panisse holds two seating times every night, as opposed to most restaurants that allow customers to arrive at whatever time they like. On opening night, customers formed a line down the block, perhaps foreshadowing the future of Chez Panisse. Today Chez Panisse is considered by many to the best and most influential restaurant in the United States.
The Edible Schoolyard Project’s future goals are to make “edible education” a part of the curriculum of every school in the country. Although Chez Panisse is quite expensive and thus not realistically accessible for people of all means to try, Waters as a member of Slow Food USA, aims to make slow food available to all. Because of this, Waters led one of the first campus campaigns for local food and persuaded Berkeley College in New Jersey to “transition to a menu of entirely sustainable and, when possible, organic ingredients” in the dining halls (Cobb, 162).
To Waters and activists like her, food is more than sustenance and has the potential to change the world. “She envisioned the soul-deadening machinery of corporate agriculture supplanted by a profusion of small organic farms, sustainable fisheries, and humane and ecologically benign animal husbandry. She dreamed of the fractured American family coming back together, and back to health, around the dining table” (McNamee).
Upon visiting Chez Panisse, I was able to interview the current general manager, Jennifer. I first asked her why she chose to work for Chez Panisse. She responded that she loved the idea of a restaurant with a complete and uncompromising commitment to sustainability. Working in such a beautiful place that serves such delicious food and holds these values provides her with incredibly gratifying work.
Chez Panisse food education is the highest priority. The staff goes on regular field trips to farms, ranches, and vineyards, and that because they don’t use recipes for their daily changing menu, they hold a strong tradition of educating their kitchen and floor staff. I wanted to know what Chez Panisse considers “local” food. I realized that the definitions are relatively flexible when she responded that although the restaurant always tries to source from farms within 50 miles of Berkeley, they sometimes have to source fruit from Southern California during the winter.
They source their fish almost entirely from Northern California but sometimes have to stray beyond their 50-mile guideline. They also offer a selection of wines from Europe. I inquired further about Chez Panisse’s requirements when choosing where to source their food from; she explained that they visit each farm and develop strong personal relationships with the people raising the food.
Organic is the minimum requirement, and some suppliers take this a step further by employing biodynamic, holistic methods of farming. Chez Panisse relies on a full-time fishmonger at Monterey Fish to guide them to sustainable sources when choosing seafood. Finally, I asked the question that I was most excited about; “what would you say to those that believe this kind of food is too expensive and therefore inaccessible to the general public?”
I would say that our food’s cost accurately represents the REAL cost of food produced by people taking care of the land and the cost of paying those cooking and serving the food a living wage with health benefits and the right work/life balance. Chez Panisse has never been an establishment seeking to make a lot of profit. It is a place that, above all else, supports the livelihoods of about 100 employees and about 100 farmers, ranchers, fishers, and winemakers. We will always be committed to offering a “menu du jour,” a lower price three-course menu. It still has a perfect and straightforward garden lettuce salad and pizzas on the menu to have a less expensive option and keep Chez Panisse accessible.
A more affordable, yet still elegant choice for a slow food restaurant is Gather on Oxford St and Allston Way. While this restaurant does not explicitly state that it supports the Slow Food movement as Chez Panisse does, it boasts that almost all of its ingredients are organic, local, and sustainable, all of which fall under the slow food movement. Gather offers vegan and vegetarian options, as well as meat and gluten-free dishes.
They also serve organic wines and spirits, and their menu is constantly changing to fit the seasonal produce of the moment. The ingredients they use are unique to the area and season, and therefore the dishes tend to be extravagant and incomparable to any other restaurant. Some famous words are the “brown teff Panisse” with seaweed and creamed horseradish leaves and a “vegan charcuterie” with a mixture of different recipes, with jasmine ingredients, sea lettuce, and Douglas Fir.
The first time I visited Gather to eat was on a horrible first date, and the only thing I enjoyed was the food. I had their vegan pizza with cashew cheese and chili oil, and it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I have had vegan pizzas before, but the cheese always tastes too processed, whereas this cheese was homemade with organic ingredients, and it felt much better in my body.
In my interview with Eric Fenster, the co-owner and founder of Gather, he explained that sustainable and organic food should be the usual way of eating rather than the exception to the rule. He runs his restaurant on the mantra of “always possible” rather than “whenever possible” and never sacrifices sustainability for the sake of saving money. One also has to consider the changing market prices of a food item when buying fresh and organic because this can lower or raise the price of a menu item, which may cause patrons to be agitated.
Straub concurs that organic food is always more expensive than conventional produce, but not necessarily because it costs more to grow. Instead, most vendors know people will pay higher prices for it. Despite this, Fenster still believes that he has achieved his goal of creating a sustainable restaurant that supports local farmers and provides options for everyone’s diets.
He believes that having a restaurant centered around sustainable agriculture initiates a conversation on the matter, helping the movement grow out of the restaurant. He concurs that he hears many of these discussions daily. Overall, this restaurant is an excellent option if you want to support the slow food movement and have the financial ability to do so. Still, if not, there are many other options in Berkeley, such as Cancun Taqueria.
During my visit to Cancun Taqueria, I expected their food to be similar to any other restaurants that serve Mexican cuisine. The menu was on the walls, and there were plastic cover menus and paper folded menu right next to the entrance. The customers at the Cancun Taqueria range from families, small groups and individuals. On the other side of the wall, there were many different types of salsa freshly made.
I ordered a simple soft taco with carnitas and chips and guacamole. I took a bite out of my soft taco with carnitas, and I can instantly taste the freshness and natural meat. It was not oily or anything, but made to perfection. The carnitas also tasted great and different from any other meat in tacos. The restaurant cooks with olive oil, which is said to be healthier than canola oil. The guacamole and chips were also fresh.
The color of the guacamole was exceptionally green and made entirely. You can tell if the guacamole was not new at other Mexican restaurants by how dark the guacamole is. The darker it is, the less fresh the guacamole is.
After indulging in Cancun Taqueria, I was able to speak to one of the managers named Jessica, who identify as Mexican American. She has been working there for four years and was knowledgeable of the Berkeley area and the restaurant. During my interview, I wanted to look at the historical and social background of Cancun Taqueria.
Cancun Taqueria opened up in 1995 right to Grub n Go on Allston and Oxford. They moved right across the street to a more prominent location. In the past couple of years, they received most of their shipments from a farm in Guerneville near the Russian River in Sonoma County and small amounts from other local farms. Before the farm in Guerneville, they received all their shipment from different local farms.
During the cold season, they receive less shipment from Guerneville and branch out to other local farms within 100 miles. During the interview, the manager stated that the owner wanted to create fresh and organic Mexican cuisines to enjoy by knowing where their food is coming from; he also wanted to make a small person-environment for his customers. The owner wants to keep his restaurants in the bay area to transport from the local farm from Sonoma County easily.
He has two other locations in San Francisco called Chilayo and Tialoc. They have the same menu and also receive shipments from the same place.
Jessica and I also discussed the history of Berkeley and the Slow Food Movement. With that, a lot of restaurants in Berkeley decided to follow Alice Waters.
Down the street of Cancun Taqueria lies a McDonalds. Jessica explained that there were once a lot of other fast-food chain restaurants lined up near Shattuck. Berkeley residents are still fighting to close down the McDonalds right down the street. Many fast-food restaurants closed down because Berkeley residents did not support these chain food restaurants. Berkeley residents supported these small businesses, especially organic vegetables and meats.
They also help decide what stays in Berkeley by protesting and through political actions. Berkeley residents were able to remove a lot of the giant fast-food chain restaurants. Jessica also stated that with Berkeley residents supporting small business, she sees the same customers throughout the year and starts recognizing and remembering people’s order.
In The Restaurant: From Concept to Operation by John R. Walker’s recent 6th edition is a study guide for those who want to open up a restaurant. The book covers everything from “concepts; types of ownership; types of restaurants; menus; planning, and equipping the kitchen; purchasing; bar and beverages; operations, budgeting, and control; food production and sanitation; restaurant leadership and management; organization and staffing; training and development; service and guest relations; technology; business and marketing plans; financing and leasing; and legal and tax matters” (Walker, xiv).
Walker explains the changes in consumers Today and how they want certain things in a restaurant. When opening up brand new restaurants, owners would have to take into consideration what is in demand. The guidebook covers everything from opening and running any restaurants. Each chapter has been edit to fit the needs of Today’s consumers. He focuses more on sustainability and sustainable restaurants because these are more in demand by customers.
The menu is one of the essential parts of the restaurants because the menu captures the customers’ eyes. There are times when items are not available year-round, and restaurants need to have a “constant, reliable source of supplies at a reasonable price [that] must be established and maintained” (Walker, 116). For example, Cancun Taqueria, have a regular menu year-round because they can get reliable, organic vegetables and meats from many reliable sources.
Throughout the year, the restaurant receives a lot of their products from one reliable source. During the wintertime, the restaurant would seek other local farms for fresh produce because their original farm could not support many of their vegetables in that specific season.
Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair by Carlo Petrini argues for many different ways for consumers to start taking control of their food. Petrini is the Slow Food President and has been advocating for sustainable food. His three central beliefs are that food should be good, clean, and fair. They should be organically grown from the earth itself and not genetically modified or even infested with pesticides.
Petrini believes that foods that are grown organically will be healthier for the environment and also the people. He also believes that workers in farms should be treated fairly, like any other employee at any given job. Lastly, food should be healthy and delicious. He suggests that we learn from different cultures and try to integrate how they use sustainable food in their cuisines.
Today, the average food item travels 1,500 miles from farm to table, but the Slow Food Movement defines local food within 150 miles. By choosing to source produce from local farms, we can stimulate the local economy and support local farmers who do not receive federal subsidies (Imhoff). We are also reducing carbon emissions from transportation and supporting the humane treatment of animals and sustainable agriculture.
While the Slow Food Movement is a great starting point for changing how people view and consume food, its reach is not very far. This movement needs to support restaurants and education about nutrition, especially to young children and low-income families. While going out to the restaurants that we mentioned and others support the slow food movement, it is the extra step of growing one’s food that completes the slow food movement.
Cobb, Tanya D. Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement Is Changing the Way We Eat. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2011.
Gold, M. V.. “Organic Production.” USDA National Agricultural Library. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2009.
Hopkins, Jim. “‘Slow Food’ Movement Gathers Momentum.” Money. USA Today, 2003. Web.
Imhoff, Daniel. Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill. Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2007.
McNamee, Thomas. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.
Petrni, Carlo. Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair. Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2007.
Straub, Earl D. Organic Food: Economics and Issues. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2010.
Taylor, Christopher, dir. Food Fight. Positively 25th Street Productions, 2008. Film.
Walker, John R. The Restaurant: From Concept to Operation. Wiley, 2000.
Winne, Mark. Closing the Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.