Thursday, April 9, 2009

Going Clubbing: Slowing Things Down

Warning: this post may leave you hungry—and a WaWa hoagie might not cut it this time. No, you’ll probably be craving something more along the lines of organic Ecuadoran chocolate, or gelato made from locally grown butternut squash, perhaps even homemade bread…

After months of dining hall fare, you may be out of touch with the food world, but the same cannot be said for members of Slow Food Princeton, the campus chapter of an international organization devoted to promoting “good, clean, fair food.” As Henry Barmeier ’10 told me, “Slow Food was founded on the idea that eating is about connecting with the origins of your food, from the farmers who grew it to the chefs who prepare it.”

Thus, while the group does eat a lot of gourmet food (In February, for instance, they prepared a twelve-course meal consisting entirely of local, organic ingredients in the home of a nearby cooking teacher), their scope extends far beyond the pursuit of culinary excellence. “We’re working to promote not just gourmet pleasure but the concept of food justice. Good food is a right that should be available to everyone—but it’s not,” said Joe Vellone ’10.

To that end, the club is sponsoring a speaker series this month centered around sustainable agriculture and featuring several organic farmers and food writers. They’ll also be holding an Eat-In at the opening of the Farmers’ Market April 14th, in the hopes of promoting another of Slow Food Princeton’s key messages: that as Princeton students we have access to a wide range of sustainable food and should take greater advantage of this privilege.

As an organization, Slow Food seems at first to contradict the typical Princeton student’s mentality: when was the last time you did anything slowly on purpose? But this is precisely Vellone’s point.

“I grew up in an Italian family where food was central, so it was a bit disheartening to find that at Princeton most people eat quick meals on-the-go, grabbing Late Meal at Frist or having a sandwich in between classes,” he said.

With this in mind, Slow Food’s “meetings” bear little resemblance to those of most other clubs; rather than meet in a classroom once per week, the group primarily gets together for events, such as a tasting or a dinner, that allow them to enjoy food in a more intimate setting.

Though there are approximately 230 people on their listserv, it is a core group of students passionate about sustainable food practices that drives Slow Food Princeton. Over fall break, this group traveled to Torino, Italy, for Slow Food’s biannual international conference, which Vellone described as a “consortium of farmers, food activists, producers, chefs, and, for the first time, students.” For a campus group started only last year, Slow Food’s reach seems remarkably wide-ranging. But then again, as Barmeier reminded me, “Food is central to who we are, and what we do.”

So if you must have that hoagie, at least take some time to enjoy it.