The Pleasures of the Table: Slow Food Shasta Cascade

Lunch began with a warm bowl of palest green cream of spring asparagus soup (created from a combination of local asparagus and Berkeley Farms cream), green onions from the garden garnished the top as well as a swirling line of red smoked paprika from Sawmill Creek Farm in Paradise. Crunchy bread from Chico’s Tin Roof Bakery was passed around for dipping, and plates of regional goat cheeses and soft butter filled out the first course. A hearty salad of tender, multi-colored spring greens from the garden was tossed in local olive oil and balsamic vinegar, accompanied by some more goat cheese served as the entrée. Homemade chocolate chip cookies (the carmel-brown, thin crisp kind, which I like) were dessert. Photo: Home grown blueberries.

My father and step-mother visiting from New Mexico, Kathy Moore of Red Bluff, Lori Weber of Chico and Mary Jayne Eidman of Red Bluff, and I enjoyed this mostly-locally sourced lunch as slowly and leisurely as we were able. We ate al fresco at the table in the back garden – spring sunshine warming us as we talked – mostly about food: our own food histories – our own love of food – our society’s often conflicted relationship with food and its relatively short reckless joyride (since World War II) away from a sense of healthy connection to real, whole foods – grown and produced within a day’s drive of our own homes by people whom we might have a chance of knowing in person. We six people, ranging in age from perhaps late twenties to early 70s, talked about the increasing obesity epidemic, the continuing battle against anorexia and bulimia among our country’s teenagers, about the processed poison that is packaged in plastic and marketed to our children as food. Photo: Volunteers digging the roasting pit for Slow Food Shasta Cascade’s recent luau celebrating May Day at Llano Seco Ranch west of Chico.

We talked about the known benefits to our families of taking the time prepare and enjoy a family meal together most evenings. According to a variety of sources, these benefits include but are not limited to: healthier eating habits for the whole family; decreased incidence of obesity; decreased use of illegal drugs, tobacco and alcohol by children; better school grades; better family dynamics; and improved self-image for children. All from eating a good meal together.

Kathy, Lori and Mary Jayne are leaders/supporters/organizers/volunteers/enjoyers of Slow Food Shasta Cascade – a regional non-profit, which according to their website is an “eco-gastronomic organization that supports a biodiverse, sustainable food supply, local producers, heritage foodways, and rediscovery of the pleasures of the table. Three fairly different women, living in different communities, of different ages and experiences and careers, Kathy, Lori and Mary Jayne have come together over their shared passion about the importance of “good, clean and fair food.” As stated by Slow Food International: “We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. Photo: Slow Food starts from seeds – of plants, animals and ideas.

The Slow Food movement as we now know it started when Italian food writer Carlo Petrini helped protest the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome’s historic Piazza di Spagna in 1986. The movement is said to have been officially born in 1989 when delegates from 15 countries endorsed The Slow Food Manifesto, a wonderful little document, which reads like part prayer and a part call to arms, composed by Petrini and another founding member Italian Poet Folco Portinari. Since then, Slow Food has grown into an international movement with more than 83,000 members in 100 countries worldwide.” Northern California’s own Alice Waters, chef, author of many books but most notably for me the lovely to hold and read cookbook “The Art of Simple Food,” and the proprietor of the renowned San Francisco restaurant Chez Panisse, helped motivate the “delicious revolution” as she called it, to the United States. Photo: Llano Seco pigs.

Kathy Moore, a relatively shy woman who listens intently, has kind smiling eyes and lots of strawberry blond hair, brought the seed of the idea of Slow Food to the North State and Slow Food Shasta Cascade sprouted “in the fall of 2005 through the vision of several passionate North State community members. The convivium [as Slow Food groups are known] was formed to cover the counties of Shasta, Tehama and Butte. [The North State] region is more rural, and the population more sparse, so a flagship convivium was formed to support each community in bringing together the resources to carry out the mission of Slow Food.” Photo: Happy volunteers and revelers at Slow Food Shasta Cascade’s recent luau celebrating May Day at Llano Seco Ranch west of Chico.

Convivium is a latin word for ‘banquet’ or ‘feast’ and the use of it to describe this coming-together of people across our bountiful food-growing region is typical of this group. They infuse their speech, their correspondence and their work with celebratory, positive, delicious language about food – their organizational ‘boards of directors, for instance and referred to as ‘head tables’. Their work is filled delicious food itself as well, of course. Attend any of their events – even one of their ‘head table’ meetings – sometime. The first one I went to was a pot luck business meeting where minutes were taken and handmade steamed pot stickers cooked by local Chico foodie and personality – David Guzzetti, local cheeses and flat bread crackers, even local wine were passed around with clipboards to sign up for tasks – now that is a board meeting worth attending.

Language is powerful and the words we choose to speak about anything and everything illustrate volumes about our relationships – with anything and everything. Thus the importance of the phrase ‘Slow Food’ as the moniker for this now worldwide movement.

What is Slow Food exactly and how is it manifested on the ground? Well, it is basically just what it sounds like – the polar opposite of Fast Food (and the fast life that creates it) – and everything that fast food now represents in our world. “Slow Food is not a dictate to eat any particular kind of food – such as fat-free, sugar free, high protein, etc., it just encourages the eating of clean, wholesome and fairly produced food,” members tell me. From the Slow Food Manifesto: “A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life. May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food.” Photo: Slow spring pea flowers.

“Slow Food is not aligned with any one political party, religion or socio-economic level,” Slow Food members tell me – and they hope that never change. This wide range of social and political diversity is nicely illustrated by the regional membership in Slow Food Shasta Cascade, which includes school teachers and university staff, small shopkeepers and farmers, independent growers and home gardeners, doctors, nurses and large ranch owners and staff from Iron Mountain Ranch outside of Redding to Big Bluff Ranch outside of Red Bluff to Chaffin Family Farms outside of Oroville.

In many ways of course the food you grow in your own garden is the ultimate Slow Food (when will that first tomato ripen???) I like to think that we gardeners have a pretty good connection to our food, as these things go (I might be biased). Here in the North State we are blessed with year round fresh produce from our own counties – we have local nuts, local oils local grains, lots of local produce, local wines and more. If anyone can succeed at living and enjoying this “delicious revolution” successfully. It is we North Staters. Photo: Young lettuces in my family’s garden. Tag courtesy of my children.

Slow Food USA oversees the activities of more than 14,000 members and 150 convivia (or regional chapters). The movement works to promote the food traditions that are part of the cultural identity of this country, an identity that is in danger of disappearing forever. Convivia carry out the Slow Food mission at the local level by promoting:
-Educational events and public outreach that encourage the enjoyment of pure foods that are local, seasonal, and sustainably grown;
-Caring for the land and protecting biodiversity for today’s communities and future generations;
-Identification, promotion, and protection of fruits and vegetables, animal breeds, wild foods, and cooking traditions at risk of disappearance;
-Respect and advocacy for artisans who grow, produce, market, prepare, and serve wholesome food;
-The revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community; and
-A slower, more harmonious rhythm of life.

Slow Food Shasta Cascade is bubbling over with many such succulent feasts and delectable banquets to be savored leisurely in our communities in the coming months. Having just had one of their most celebratory occasions yet – a Luau at Llano Seco Ranch outside of Chico in honor of May Day, you can anticipate the following: Photo: Slow cooking.

On May 7th, the regional head tables of Slow Food Shasta Cascade are helping to host a showing of Food, Inc. at the Sierra Nevada Big Room on Friday evening at 7:30 (doors open at 7) in support of Chico Eat Learn Grow and the Healthy Lunch Project, which continues to bring the tenets of Slow Food – good, clean, fair food to our children and schools – soon to launch in Butte County (In a North State Garden interviews Chico Eat Learn Grow’s Kristen Del Real May 22nd & 23rd).

Slow Food Shasta Cascade is also hosting the first annual Iron Chef Cook Off in Redding on May 15th in support of the new North Valley Coop in Redding: At 6pm in the future home of the North Valley Co-op at 1701 Placer, behind the Dermstore. Local celebrity chefs Cal DeMercurio, Rivers Restaurant; Che Stedman, Moonstone Bistro; and Wes Matthews, Market Street Steakhouse will compete for the title of Iron Chef Redding 2010! The chefs will receive a mystery basket of foods donated by local producers and will have 90 minutes to prepare an exquisite meal. Sure to be tasty and entertaining. Photo: The Slow Food logo is a snail – now while I am NO fan of snails in my garden – and I am big fan of the logo and the concept it embodies.

On June 26th in Red Bluff, the annual Field to Fork Celebration with take place at Red Bluff River Park: Festivities will include Pancake Breakfast, Wheat threshing, flour milling and break baking along with many other local food growers and producers.

And September 23 – 26th, Slow Food will host Olive Festiva – a regional olive oil festival and tasting at the Tehama County.

Come October, look for Terra Madre celebrations and more…

The Slow Food Manifesto ends with “That is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it. And what better way to set about this than an international exchange of experiences, knowledge, projects? /Slow Food guarantees a better future. /Slow Food is an idea that needs plenty of qualified supporters who can help turn this (slow) motion into an international movement, with the little snail as its symbol.” Lori Weber, coordinator for Slow Food Shasta Cascades events in the Chico area ends most of her emails with: “Until we eat again,” which always makes me smile. And look forward to the time. I might rewrite it for my own use as: “Until we eat again in the garden…”.

In admiration for, celebration and support of Slow Food Shasta Cascade and all it brings to our North State table, Jewellgarden.com is proud to announce a brand new line of luscious little note cards – bite sized and ready to enjoy in the coming week at local fine shops near you, including Lyon Books in Chico, Discover Earth in Red Bluff and the Turtle Bay gift shop in Redding at the Jewellgarden.com shop site. These should also be available at most upcoming Slow Food Events. As spring turns to summer and summer to fall, look for Edibles in the garden blank journals, note cards featuring fruit and nuts and squash and calendars. All of Jewellgarden.com’s cards are printed in Chico by Quadco printing using 100% recycled paper and vegetable-based ink. Yum.

For more reading on Slow Food’s Delicious Revolution try the following, available in stock or by order from Lyon Books in Chico:

“Slow Food: Collected Thoughts on Taste, Tradition, and the Honest Pleasures of Food,” by Carlo Petrini and Ben Watson

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” by Barbara Kingsolver

“The Art of Simple Food,” by Alice Waters

“This Organic Life,” by Joan Dye Gussow

Follow Jewellgarden.com/In a North State Garden on Facebook – become a fan today!

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.

In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell

In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.

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