San Francisco A lush, under-the-stars spread of bread, olives and wine makes an unlikely launch for a weekend dedicated to ending hunger, empowering poor nations and transforming farming as we know it.
Welcome to Slow Food Nation, epicenter of America's burgeoning foodie reform movement.
Some 30,000 people were expected to gather for this Labor Day weekend festival that started Friday as one part gourmet nibbles, one part social justice soapbox. It's a gustatory effort to persuade Americans to reject fast, cheap food and embrace organic, local agriculture and a return to the kitchen.
"A lot of people don't like to cook. They like to nuke," said John Fiscalini, a festival exhibitor from the Modesto-based Fiscalini Cheese Company. "We do live in a society where our time is so valuable that we don't sit and enjoy meals like our forefathers did."
Slow Food Nation marks the first major event for Slow Food USA, the American branch of an Italian-born organization. Popular appeal has been minimal, but this weekend's event saw the launch of a new strategy for the growing coalition of food reform and social justice groups that form the backbone of Slow Food, a strategy they hope can remake the movement's image and re-energize its members.
On Thursday, they released their "Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture," a 12-point plan they hope can be used as a blueprint for remaking the federal farm bill, the $300 billion measure that influences virtually every aspect of the American food system.
Critics have long complained the farm bill favors industrial agriculture and undermines efforts to promote sustainable, organic and family-based farming. The declaration also encourages greater clarity in food labeling and better treatment and pay for food and farm workers.