This article appeared first in Nougat Magazine, Lexington, Kentucky, April 1, 2006. Slow often means bad in our culture these days. The exceptions are delicious, though. Think slow dancing. A man with slow hands. Slow food.
Now think Slow Food Bluegrass. In the state that put the Kentucky in drive- through Fried Chicken, and in a city noted for its high number of chain restaurants, some of our neighbors have a different idea about what we Kentuckians want on our tables. Two months ago these retro-visionaries launched a brand new organization called the Slow Food Bluegrass 'convivium.'
Brown-Forman chef Mark Williams heads the new group. Williams grew up on Army bases in a series of southern states and worked with food and wine in California before choosing Kentucky as a place to live. He says, 'Kentucky has a very unique traditional cuisine to be celebrated, things like country ham, garlic cheese grits, single source bourbons. In a traditional place like Kentucky, slow food is already a branch of the mainstream, not just an exception. Take the way people in the mountains here forage for foods like mushrooms and ramps.' (Ramps are wild edible bulbs similar to leeks.)
The international slow food movement began in Italy in the early 1980s to protect and champion the ancient tradition of valuing the pleasures of the table and the physical and cultural sources of those pleasures. When Italians saw fast food restaurants from our shores colonizing their piazzas, they put down their stylish feet and defended their cafés, vineyards, farmers, families, markets, acres, health, taste buds, and unhurried meals ' the whole living web of Italian culture and agriculture that surrounds excellent food and wine.
Slow Food International addresses that web through its large set of related interests. These include ecology, business, agriculture, gastronomy, and health. As an example, in 2004 the organization hosted 'a forum for all those who seek to grow, raise, catch, create, distribute and promote food in ways that respect the environment, defend human dignity and protect the health of consumers.' Imagine the conference meals!
Slow Food Bluegrass may have good timing. As Kentuckians' health concerns rise and the small wave of interest in great local foods swells, we may be ready for the connected view of what is good and good for us.
Mark Williams describes how our convivium will carry on the purposes of Slow Food International: Start with great food and drink. Add in community-building among people who want more pleasure and less hectic lives. Embrace small farms and sustainable growing practices. Work to get local foods in schools and institutions. Protect plants' genetic variety and heritage breeds. Promote the health benefits of eating fresh, sustainably grown local foods. Help people understand the importance of the slow food way of life. Williams says, 'We need to start getting people to think about what they are eating, where it comes from, and the real cost of food.'
Williams expects Slow Food Bluegrass to produce at least six events a year. Most events will feature food or visits to farmers or producers. Membership costs $60/year.
Slow Food Bluegrass starts with pleasure and ends with health. No wonder the Italians and other Europeans want to protect the traditions and practices that have filled their tables for millennia.
Read the full interview with Mark Williams.
Read more Nougat articles by Rona.