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Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
– Bill Gates
THE
BULLETIN
Volume 75 | Issue 4
July 2007

Taking It Slow: Slow food movements on campus

Elizabeth Stringer

ast year, College of the Holy Cross offered students a new way of dining—the slow food way.

"This is a worldwide movement," said Art Korandanis, director of auxiliary services (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "I think it adds such quality to life."

Slow movement spreads quickly

The slow food movement started with one man in Italy, Carlo Petrini, who "recognized that the industrialization of food was standardizing taste and leading to the annihilation of thousands of food varieties and flavors," said Jerusha Klemperer, assistant to the executive director of Slow Food USA (personal communication, June 11, 2007).

Not only is food being standardized, but according to Klemperer:

Recent news has shown that the industrialized, commercialized food supply is the source of certain troubling culture issues: contaminated food—e-coli outbreaks in industrially processed spinach, for example; obesity and obesity illness; and environmental degradation, with the recent U.N. Millenium assessment [finding] that the food system is the No. 1 polluter. (personal communication, June 11, 2007)

Petrini, with the support of his friends and community, spoke out against the fast culture and realized the need for a change of pace. He wanted to promote a food supply that is nonindustrial and shortens the chain between producer and consumer.

"To keep those alternative food sources alive, it was imperative to be an eco-gastronomic movement—one that is ecologically minded and concerned with sustainability and sees the connection between plate and the planet," Klemperer said (personal communication, June 11, 2007).

In 1986, Petrini founded Slow Food International. In association with Slow Food International, localized movements are active in more than 100 countries, including Slow Food USA, founded in 2000. According to Klemperer, there are more than 80,000 members worldwide, with about 16,000 of those in the United States (personal communication, June 11, 2007). She sees many reasons for the growth of slow food:

People respond to the growing movement and the ideas expressed therein for many different reasons: some have become tired of eating the same foods wherever they go across the globe; some have noticed the degradation of flavor in our food; some are concerned about the health issues raised by an industrialized food supply; some would like to be environmental stewards of the land through the food choices they make. (personal communication, June 11, 2007)

At College of the Holy Cross, Korandanis has always had some interest in the slow food movement after reading an article about Petrini. And after seeing him speak, Korandanis knew that he wanted to introduce the slow food ideal to his students:

Students are so hurried today that they often don’t take time to eat. Not to say that all college students don’t take opportunities to dine during the day, but this is more than that. This is bringing people’s attention back to the Earth, back to the people that grow the food. Sustainability is a movement of the future. If we don’t start paying attention and taking care of the Earth, then the farmers and the food won’t be around much longer. (personal communication, June 8, 2007)

With a tagline of "Because we all sit at the same table," the slow food movement made its way onto the
College of the Holy Cross campus.
Of the tagline, Korandonis said:

[The tagline] can be taken in many ways, and that is why we chose it. Some people may think of a more traditional table with family and friends; some people may think on a more global perspective that we are all in this together, so we should learn how to get along; and others may see it as a religious expression of sitting at the Lord’s Table. But, no matter what, it is about being together and enjoying one another. (personal communication, June 8, 2007)

For the dining services personnel, each slow food dinner takes about two weeks of preparation.

"We purchase the food from local farmers and use indigenous recipes," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "It takes the cooks time to research recipes, find the right source of food, and make sure the whole dining staff understands what we are doing and why."

Not only do the cooks play a vital role in the preparation process, but they also are active in the dining event.

"We bring the cook out, and he explains about the ingredients in the food and why we chose to use them. We talk about respect for the farmers and the land," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "It is like a mini-lecture."

For the first slow food experience, Korandonis invited the health awareness peer group, hoping that these students would spread the word about the event.

"The first time we brought students together, we explained what we were trying to accomplish. We told them to turn off their cell phones because they were going to just enjoy each other’s company for the next two hours," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007).

After dinner, many expressed an interest in bringing their own residence hall floor, classmates, or group of friends back for more.

"The students have said that the two hours fly by," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "I think that they really appreciate the program. It has been a really neat experience for everyone."

Korandonis and his dining staff held about 10 slow food dinners throughout the year, attempting to keep the guest list to 24 each time.

"It was full every time," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "We had lots of student groups and organizations. One time we did a whole class of 50 students. We also, unfortunately, had to turn some away because we did not have enough time."

However, when the next term starts, so will the slow food dinners.

"We already have plans for working with the biology department next year to do a shellfish dinner and buy those locally," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "A lot of people are starting to come to us and explain what they want their slow food experience to be."

Although the slow food dinners are popular on campus, Korandonis has not decided yet whether to push for more events.

"We might consider doing it more often in the future, but we want to keep it pristine," Korandonis said (personal communication, June 8, 2007). "And now, we have started to look more at the sustainability issue. We are looking at the types of the disposable ware we use and other areas to see how we can progress even more."

Middlebury College slows down

Middlebury College is another institution that has joined the slow food movement.

"What slow food is about is what we are about," said Matt Biette, director of dining services (personal communication, June 14, 2007). "Joining the slow food organization was a way for us to progress."

According to the college’s Web site, the agreement between Slow Food and Middlebury College calls for the meeting of several objectives, some of which are:

Protection of agricultural biodiversity and cultures and identities connected thereto; Protection of natural resources and the right of populations to use these for the common good; Protection of the original characteristics of products at risk of genetic damage; Support, in terms of promotion, training and education, of quality agricultural food products that are small scale and economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. ("Middlebury joins Slow Foods and Terre Madre University Network," n.d., ¶ 4)

Prior to the start of the slow food movement, Middlebury dining services was purchasing local and organic foods and sometimes using those to prepare indigenous recipes.

"We use scratch, local, nonprocessed foods," Biette said (personal communication, June 14, 2007). "Our budget allows for about 25 to 30 percent of our food to be local. And the money used for that comes straight out of our budget; we don’t have a grant of any kind."

Unlike College of the Holy Cross, Middlebury does not have slow food events on a regular basis. Rather, around six times a year, dining services provides a whole meal made from local recipes.

"We have had cookouts before. And not the hamburger and hotdog cookouts; they are higher end ones," Biette said (personal communication, June 14, 2007). "For example, we might use American flat bread as part of the meal, which is made locally."

Also, Middlebury College was host to a sit-down slow food dinner for slow food members across the state.

Biette believes that students will be positively affected by their slow food experiences at Middlebury:

Students will take the knowledge of what food they had, where it comes from, and why it is important. They will be able to know why the food they had here is different from food offered at other colleges. Maybe they will start buying food from the local farmers market and support the local economy and save the farms. (personal communication, June 14, 2007)

Williams College teaches ethnic appreciation

Much like Middlebury, Williams College is a member of Slow Food USA, but does not hold organized slow food dinners on a consistent basis. Williams College is adamant about purchasing local food and has embraced sustainability.

"We promote the preservation of local foods and support the farming community," said Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining (personal communication, June 12, 2007). "We purchase 30 percent of our food and drink from 15 local farms and businesses."

Although Williams College does not have slow food dinners as at College of the Holy Cross, students are able to participate in activities that teach appreciation for cultures. As a part of the diversity awareness program, students learn about different foods that are related to different cultures around the world through Project Plurism.

"Last [March], we launched a series of ethnic dinners," Abayasinghe said (personal communication, June 12, 2007). "Each dinner has a different theme and students use organic food to cook for their [peers], preparing a meal the authentic way."

Project Plurism sponsored four dinners—Cuban, Southeastern, Indian, and Ethiopian. Each dinner was attended by 30–60 students.

"This program teaches true ethnic culture," Abayasinghe said (personal communication, June 12, 2007). "It brings everyone together. The students show each other how to cook the food, serve the food, and appreciate the culture it comes from."

Abayasinghe considers belonging to Slow Food just a part of being a good citizen and a good role model for the students.

"As a program, joining Slow Food is just the right thing to do," he said (personal communication, June 12, 2007). "We are very fortunate to |be in a place where our surrounding
areas have lots of farms and that we
are able to contribute back to the community."

Campus Convivum

The Slow Food USA organization also understands the importance of providing the slow food experience to college students.

"The students who are in college now are tomorrow’s legislators, movement starters, taste-makers, nutritionists, activists, and consumers," Klemperer said (personal communication, June 11, 2007). "If we can help young people realize the importance of Slow Food values, we are building a solid foundation for the future movement."

In February, Slow Food USA launched Slow Food on Campus, which will help with the expansion of the program to colleges and universities around the country. According to Slow Food in School Coordinator Cecily Upton, it was student interest that initiated the idea:

After receiving many requests from students for guidance on how to bring Slow Food on their campus, Slow Food USA realized the opportunity for organizational growth and impact by providing a membership and Convivia structure for these students. By developing this project, we are tapping into a new sector of future members passionate about Slow Food.

Slow Food on Campus is a network of Campus Convivum, chapters similar to our existing Convivia, but made up of students and overseen by a faculty or staff advisor. (personal communication, June 14, 2007)

Most states already have a local chapter of Slow Food USA, called a Convivum, through which, "Members are invited to taste, celebrate, and champion the foods and food traditions important to their communities" ("Local Convivia," n.d., ¶ 1).

When school reconvenes in August, five institutions will be a part of the inaugural campaign—Yale University, Princeton University, Carnegie Mellon University, Carleton College, and University of Puget Sound.

"Slow Food USA will initially provide documents for developing a Campus Convivia, guidance in planning events and undertaking larger projects, materials for events and promotion, and Web space for networking," Upton said (personal communication, June 14, 2007).

Over time, Upton plans "on developing a newsletter, a national student conference, and a student delegation to Terre Madre and other Slow Food events" (personal communication, June 14, 2007).

Whether on a college campus or in a local community, it is evident that the Slow Food movement is gaining ground.

"The beauty of Slow Food is that it provides a welcome home for the food lover, the health seeker, and the environmentalist," Klemperer said (personal communication, June 11, 2007). "With all of these interests in mind, our mission is to create a robust, active movement that protects taste, culture, and the environment as universal social values."

For more information on the Slow Food movement or how to join locally, visit www.slowfoodusa.org.

References

Local convivia. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2007, from the Slow Food USA Web site: http://www.slowfoodusa.org/contact/index.html

Middlebury joins Slow Foods and Terre Madre University Network.(n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2007, from the Middlebury College Web site: http://www.middlebury.edu/administration/enviro/initiatives/food/terra_madre.htm