Slow Food? Slow RUDE!

The Inside Scoop column in the San Francisco Chronicle informs readers about some serious fighting words that Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini has for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Petrini, who had been scheduled to sign copies of his recent book, Slow Food Nation, at the Ferry Building, was cut loose from the event when it was discovered that he had harshed on the Ferry Plaza’s considerable buzz.

From the piece:

Among other things, [Petrini] called the prices ‘astronomical … boutique-y,’ the market ‘extremely exclusive,’ the farmers ‘all well-to-do college graduates’ and the customers ‘either wealthy or very wealthy … most of whom seemed to be actresses’ who showed off their vegetables ‘like jewels, status symbols.’

One young farmer was singled out for confiding that he charged high prices so he could limit his attendance to twice a month, still support his family and spend hours surfing.

The Inside Scoop goes on to describe a contentious meeting between Petrini and his interpreter (Petrini’s Italian) and several Farmers Market farmers and purveyors, including Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo and Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm. The point of the meeting was to discuss the scuttled book signing, as well as the involvement of CUESA (which runs the Farmers Market) in the upcoming Slow Food Nation, “the four-day artisanal food event planned for 2008 in San Francisco and a pet project of both Petrini and Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters, who sits on advisory boards for both CUESA and Slow Food USA.”

Clearly, the meeting didn’t go well.

Walker says Petrini first said the farmers were overreacting, then blamed the translation.

‘I came out of that meeting as angry as I’ve ever been,’ Walker says. And he stayed an hour longer than Sando of Rancho Gordo, who had a lively exchange with Petrini in Italian and then left, feeling that Petrini’s response was unsatisfactory.

Meanwhile, Rancho Gordo fans have been receiving updates and Steve Sando’s account of the situation over at his site. In his May 14 post, Sando makes sure to note:

Carlo Petrini is the head of Slow Food, an international organization that mostly raises awareness about the deplorable state of modern food production. They’ve done a lot of good and opened many eyes. I’ve made some good friends and learned quite a lot, so I don’t want to discount the whole organization.

And then goes on to quote a substantial part of a passage in Petrini’s book that lauds the foodie beauty of the FP Farmers Market but opines that the prices are “boutique” range and comments on preferential treatment given to some of the wealthier customers. (SVWL’s note: I’ve also observed preferential treatment, but I’ve seen that it has more to do with the regularity of customers than pocket size. Of course, that could just be me.) After quoting this passage, Sando addresses each one of Petrini’s assertions, agreeing that the produce is expensive, but taking serious issue with some of the other comments.

Sando has a follow-up post on May 16 that describes the CUESA-Petrini meeting in serious detail. After explaining how Petrini shot back at Sando that he has “preconceived” ideas about him, Sando writes:

Now here is where I have to laugh. I had no idea that to be in Slow Food was to be in the Cult of Carlo. My local Napa Slow Food group is a fun, tight-knit community that likes to get together and support each other and eat well. At Terra Madre, Petrini seemed to be just one of many boring speakers. I have never read his books before. In other words, I had no preconceived ideas about him except for the very words he had written.

Still with me? Good, because over at the Ethicurean, DairyQueen writes:

I am trying to give Petrini the benefit of the doubt, not being able to read it in the original Italian and also not knowing Petrini’s point of view quite well enough to ascertain if what sounds like insults are really neutral statements, coming from him. However, I do think Slow Food’s U.S. team should have tread more carefully when publishing this section, as it deals with some of the same divisive issues of class and access to good food perhaps even more clumsily than I did in a recent post about my food-buying habits.

And finishes her well-structured response and analysis with this:

We have so much to do. We need everyone who cares about any aspect of this mission—including full-quiver fundamentalist Christians, longtime back-to-the-landers, concerned soccer moms, globe-trotting eco-gastronomes whose organizations have hefty membership fees, environmentalists, vegan animal-rights warriors—to pull a chair up to the table and start passing the salad, dammit. Let’s save the finger-pointing as to who doesn’t deserve the golden halo of ‘good, clean, and fair’ for when real food hits at least the 10 percent milestone, shall we?

Seriously, isn’t there some saying about people living in greenhouses not throwing food?