Thursday, October 15, 2009

-Grassy and a bit zesty, these fine green zebras are the perfect food for sowing dissent amongst guests. (Taken with my iPhone.)-

"Still, there's something to be said for food that doesn't follow Slow Food's mantra. I mean, it's easy to eat the way Carlo Petrini or Alice Water's does if you're Carlo Petrini or Alice Waters."

"No, I think it's possible. You just have to be smart about it and dedicated to good food," she smiled in a way that her pursed lips turned as fine as lines drawn from a pencil. She reminded me of a Stepford wife - all pearls, soft makeup, and cashmere.

"Oh lord almighty, I think this one already drank the locally produced punch." I thought with dread.

I nodded to her comment and feigned that I was taking her words in and kneading them in my head like bread dough in an attempt to make meaning. I turned to my plate and used my knife to nudge a slice of green zebra tomato onto my bread. Pinning the fruit and bread together with my hands I sloshed it around some aged cherry balsamic vingear and dashed on a little fleur de sel. The taste was excruciatingly complex in its use of simple flavors. As others bit into zingy pineapples, winey Castulato Genoveses, and somewhat mutely rich Japanese Truffles the din of the room grew louder as people gushed and praised each and every heirloom they tried.

I had never been the biggest fan of tomatoes so going to a Slow Food event that focused on them didn't hold the greatest appeal to me at first. Still, as I was writing an entire thesis on Slow Food rhetoric I drew the conclusion I would have to immerse myself in the culture. Plus, after reading hundreds of pages of information (no exaggeration) I figured a field trip of sorts was needed. Slow Food Sacramento had put together a lecture about the history of heirloom varieties to be catered by Del Rio Farms, one of the regions premier organic farms which grew an astounding variety of, well, everything; all of it in line with Slow Food's Good-Clean-Fair mantra.

These tomatoes had single handedly changed my mind about what tomatoes can and should be. One of the best parts about my research thus far.

Sadly, the lecture only lasted two minutes which left me feeling a little stymied and a bit peeved. Yet it seemed that the history snippet was enough for most as they were primarily here to eat and in the process donate money to whatever charity was being run that night (no one seemed to know).

I was able to do some observational research though. The room was, except for three people, white. All very well off judging from the fact that a designer label bomb had apparently been detonated in the room prior to the event. Given, I was no exception in either case, but I was in attendance as a poor student and planned to write the cost of the ticket off that way come tax season. (Slow Food Sac's committee had rejected my plea to attend for free so I could just listen to the speaker and then leave when people sat down to eat. I assume due to the fact that the "lecture" was secondary to eating.)

I swallowed my bite and admired the bright, grassy finish of the green zebra. I turned back to my table, "Well, no offense but I live as a grad student who works at a non-profit. I eat well but only because I buy what's in season at the farmer's market. Furthermore, I'm only buying for one so it's affordable for me. I rarely buy meat aside from frozen chicken cutlets for easy cooking. I'm also lucky that I have friends who hunt and farm," I nodded to Hank and Holly who were also in attendance and at the table. "For the most part, living the Slow life isn't feasible if you're poor, live in a low income urban area, and in both cases means you probably aren't white."

"Well, that's why we have to encourage our economies to work the right ways," replied Stepford. I noticed her high demeanor, and statuesque presence. I wondered if she had ever reflected on this discourse and what the right ways were in detail and how they were supposed to work? I had no idea and couldn't judge - though I am good at it - so I plowed on with a different argument.

"Still, that's niether here nor there. These tomatoes are fine eating. Can't believe I used to refuse them. I think it's just the Albertson's irradiated and sprayed tomatoes. I always found them way too sweet, almost like they tasted rotten," I snarked. We all laughed in agreement.

"Certain childhood foods, likes and dislikes, you just can't let them go sometimes," said Holly.

Stepford's husband chirpped in, "I still love McDonald's french fries. Love. Them. Ate them all the time as a kid."

"Ick!" I said, "Not me. McDonald's makes me ill, though I am a fan of Jack in the Box. You know what? I still love tuna casserole with potato chips crumbled on it. I still make it once or twice a year. It's not haute food but it's nostalgia and my childhood tastes. You can't be served that in a restaurant."

"I don't see how you could eat that," Stepford noted before popping a small organic cherry tomato in her mouth as well as one can pop a cherry tomato in the primest fashion possible. I wondered if Emily Post approved of popping.

"It reminds me of home and of simpler times when I lived in the dorm staying up late to watch zombie movies with friends." I pressed on, "I'm not saying it's environmentally responsible food or crazy healthy. Just that some food doesn't have to be justified. It can just be fun and invoke memories. Every once in a while I buy Captain Crunch for the kick of it or eat frozen corndogs because I don't want to make homemade pasta or I want to sort of kick back and chill out. It's not Slow Food, but it works for me. Tuna casserole has a place in society and people's lives."

And then she rolled her eyes at me.

Let me say it again: She rolled her eyes at me.

Her lips pursed harder, almost so hard that they might have merged together forever binding the flesh and shutting her up forever. They might as well have. She refused to speak to me the rest of the event. Eventually she denied her amiable nature to Hank and Holly as well once we moved on to the topic of "How to create the most offensive dish ever!" (Answer: Bunny ears wrapped in foie gras and slathered in twinkie cream, then deep fried and served with a a variety of dipping sauces one of them being zesty ranch.)

Whatever. This was her problem. She was too entrenched in Slow Food's surface aura, unable to see their real messages about economic, environmental and nutritional change. Stepford was oblivious to how the world worked outside her bubble, or at least didn't want to hear about it. I was the graduate student who didn't know to not eat tuna casserole with potato chips.

"Oh well," I thought, "she'll make for a good subject in the thesis."


  1. god. I'm ill just imagining being at the same table as that woman. I don't do well around people like that, and I just clam up and want to cry. Kudos to you for keeping your cool and letting her just be a....well, you know. And for the record, I love the occasional tuna noodle casserole. Frozen corn dogs aren't entirely out of the question, either ;)

  2. You are a brave soul. And when we finally meet? Make me tuna noodle casserole? Please?

  3. Please pardon my language, I don't mean to be so crude but here it goes:

    Your writing is fucking brilliant.

    Amazing post, G.

  4. Loving it! I hate food pretense in any form. Eating locally grown foods is great when you have that option (no one eats more homegrown tomatoes than I do!) but some people are completely irrational about it.

  5. Amen and can I get another? I'm all for growing my own, but just cannot stand food snobbery. Would love to have heard the whole bunny ears discussion.

  6. Holy mother of heirlooms, that is so rude. Way to go standing up for tuna casserole!

  7. Andrea, FYI Hungry in Hogtown wrote about deep fried bunny ears years ago and caused quite a storm.

  8. What an entertaining post! If that lady is planning to bring Slow Food to the masses, she might want to loosen up a little, or she will be laughed out of the room.

  9. Gosh, that was one big food snob you met there, I'm surprised her husband dared to volunteer his love affair with McDonald's fries! And the bunny ears are a winner - I cringe just thinking about it.

  10. You know, I think you're on to something with the foie-Twinkie cream bunny ear poppers. Don't knock'em till you've tried'em!

  11. Hey Garrett, I saw this post after someone sent out a tweet about it. I loved it. The tuna casserole that you talk about is one of my favorite memories too. My mom use to make that for us and we'd all sit around and enjoy it together and that is where the joy of food comes from.The memories made from eating it. Now I make it less often since my husband is not a fan, but when I do I love to add plenty of onions, krinkle cut potato chips and a sprinkle of Johnny's seasoning salt. Delicious.

  12. Egh. Let me at that bitch! Seriously.

    While I was reading I actually wanted to talk back at her. What an annoyingly close-minded and shallow woman! Obviously, her palate is not refined and diversified enough to appreciate a good tuna casserole (mmmm...) - because really, a woman who regularly eats deep fried fatty McDonalds crap should not be rolling her eyes anywhere near the vicinity of a discussion on a homecooked meal (be it from cans or not). Oh the irony!

  13. While I'm abhorred by tuna casserole, that woman needs to hop down from her high horse.


  14. Mrs Stepford - the very reason I never renewed my subscription to SlowFood after the first year.

  15. Hi Garrett - great post. I've never been able to relate to people who are "food snobs." WTF? For me, food is at its best when it is either part of a memory being created, or a memory being renewed. Even if you have great, organic, local ingredients, you can't make amazing food without love and passion. The food coming out of that woman's kitchen must be seriously AWFUL.

    Such a pleasure to meet you briefly at BlogHerFood, BTW. I was the girl from Sac who was just getting ready to start her blog. I've set up my domain, but don't have my first post up... yet! Soon, though. Thanks for your advice and great intel at the conference. xo, Dawn

  16. that dish is offensive to my taste buds... lol

  17. Garrett,

    Looking forward to your thesis. Just went to a Slow Food house party in Marin County last night, with an interesting mix of farmers and stepford wives. The good news is that Josh Viertel, Slow Food USA's President, gave me some hope about the future of the organization, towards addressing the issues of food justice and access...they seem to be on the right track and really see themselves as part of the good food movement. Keep your fingers crossed.

    P.S. we are having a fundraiser with the group in January (in Sacramento) and you are already on the guest list.

  18. Holier-than-though food snobbery takes all the joy and love out of eating well. Food that is contextual (and dear) to a person's life shouldn't be sneered at. BTW, I'm a CSA farm subscriber, but I can also appreciate having a velveeta grilled cheese sandwich with my homemade roasted organic heirloom tomato soup.

  19. haha, what a nut. i suppose living entirely on slow food is great for some... if they have the time for it! i for one (uni student, broke and time-poor) love crunchy, stir-fried veg, or fresh salads, each of which only takes a few minutes to throw together.

    love green zebras, for the record. i don't much like raw tomatoes, but when i had masses from the one bush i had planted, i roasted them with red wine vinegar and olive oil. so delicious!!

  20. I wouldn't be able to handle dealing with that woman. Seriously.

  21. Thank you Garrett, you just made my morning of data entry a bit less icky. Good for you, she was a piece of work.

    I have to say, this post made me realize I was slow food until I was an adult. I stopped and thought about what people consider slow food, and I ate at home, mostly of meat and vegetables from nearby, or homegrown. No, not all the time, but mostly. Between my dad's parents (and their siblings) canning, and butchering, farming, and freezing it was all local. Hmm...have to see what I can do about this....

  22. You forgot the bacon crumbles to go with that ranch sauce for the most offensive dish ever.

    Not that I don't love bacon, but I hate it's current trendiness.

  23. Ya know, so much of the problem around these topics is that people think it's an all or nothing thing - I won't give up olive oil which doesn't grow in CO, but I do grow some of my own herbs and veggies, belong to a CSA (which is actually very affordable) and buy meat from local ranchers when I can (which I admit is pricier than the CAFO crap in the grocery store). It's also wrong to assume that people can't eat healthy and to a large extent local on a limited budget - I teach it every week through Operation Frontline classes and the participants are anything but the white, affluent demographic you mention. This weed's class is Somali and Vietnamese refugees living in a project in Denver. Again, it's not all of nothing, not black or white, but about change where we can to make a difference - in our health, in the environment, and in the community. And BTW, I still crave the macaroni and tomato soup casserole with cut up hot dogs my mom used to make when we had a babysitter!

  24. Amen, brother. I've been to a couple Slow Foods things and luckily have sat next to farmers instead of Stepford.
    Slow food is a noble idea but nearly impossible most of the time for most people. I am a social worker, and my clients are lucky if they've even got a decent grocery store nearby.

  25. god. I'm ill just imagining being at the same table as that woman. .........

  26. I'm a totally random food-blog-loving cyber passer-by and I adored this post! I'm also a student, trying to eat healthily and variedly, experiment as well as live on a budget and make meals that fit my tiny, tiny kitchen. I often surf blogs that describe a privilege totally unknown to me - tons of free time, cooking appliances, huge kitchen, pantry full of stuff I couldn't even fit in my cupboards! There needs to be more awareness of different social circumstances, economic circumtances and such in the great foodie community.

    And I really feel like for some people, "slow food" is all about the fad and the show of it. And that's really annoying. Food snobbishness is as annoying as not caring at all what you put in your mouth.

  27. Slow Food plus a family of five on a budget in the sticks? It's not going to happen. You'd think there'd be a farmers market, but there isn't for several hours around. This is cotton country.

    And while I do grow my own, there's a limit to what I can grow here. You get tired of the same five vegetables every day.

    Some of these movements are great. They sound fabulous. But unless you have the unlimited resources to pay up front for everything it won't work. Fresh food is fabulous, but frozen veggies are cheaper and when it comes down to having cheap veggies or no veggies because they are cost prohibitive... well, cheap wins.


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