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The activist legacy of the family trio behind Slow Food Vegas

Interview and words by Michelle DiMuzio, Slow Food USA Editorial Intern

The chapter grew organically, built on their foundation of activism, social justice and community. All three women stressed the importance of working with communities and stakeholders, and ensuring they are involved in decisions being made about them.

This is a family rooted in activism and centered around food. I immediately recognized these attributes as foundational to the women behind one of our newest chapters, Slow Food Vegas, when I spoke with Shirley Sandoval Reynolds, Stephanie Pocchia (Shirley’s daughter), and Alex Pontillas (Shirley’s granddaughter). Each of them shared stories of their family history, traditions and commitment to good, clean, and fair food for all.

Within minutes of chatting, I was invited to share a meal with their family in Las Vegas—a testament to the warmth and welcoming nature of this dynamic, multi-cultural trio. 

It all started with Shirley’s grandmother, a centenarian born in New Mexico in the late 1800s, and living into the 21st century. She was a single mother raising three children and teaching them what it means to be strong, empathetic and have high morals. Shirley grew up in a farming community in northeastern Colorado, where she and her brothers were involved with the Colorado Migrant Council from a young age, even working with Cesar Chavez in California. This was how she got started in activism, and it has remained a significant aspect of her life. “I consider anything you do for others as being an activist,” Shirley shared. She explained that these roots go deep, and that they’ve been instilled in her and her family members today. Stephanie echoed this, explaining that growing up, they were a family of protesters. “When I was a kid, we would boycott lettuce, grapes, things that were part of our family life, to support the migrant workers,” Stephanie shared. On the wedding day of Shirley’s daughter (Stephanie’s sister and Alex’s mother), the entire family stepped away in the morning to protest with Cesar Chavez and were invited to march with him on the strip. Alex shared how these values have influenced her, explaining that her grandma taught her to constantly reflect: ‘if you believe in something, and something is not right, what are you going to do to change it?’

When I asked how the idea to start a Slow Food Vegas chapter was conceived, Stephanie (chapter co-chair, treasurer, and policy chair) described a desire to participate in something close to her heart, and for her, that is food. “The inequity of access to fresh, good, healthy food, is just unacceptable,” she remarked. Alex (chapter co-chair and social justice chair), emphasized the importance of food in who she is as a person. “In our family, food is how we show that we love each other,” she explained. “Good food shouldn’t be a luxury; we want everyone to experience good food and I believe that is a universal right.” Shirley (chapter advocacy chair and resident grandma), shared these sentiments, stressing that their family values have always been aligned with the mission of Slow Food.

The chapter grew organically, built on their foundation of activism, social justice and community. All three women stressed the importance of working with communities and stakeholders, and ensuring they are involved in decisions being made about them. They are also passionate about bringing Slow Food to Las Vegas specifically, something they find important to its legacy as the hospitality capital. While there are numerous famous chefs that have created landmark restaurants on the well-known Las Vegas strip, it’s crucial for the chapter to also highlight the restaurants, farmers, producers, and diversity of the community beyond. 

Cluck it Farm, Alex explained, operates a regenerative farm in Las Vegas and a robust CSA program. There are also innovative pop-ups like Desert Bread, a place I’m told is worthy of an early rise on a Saturday morning to attempt to obtain a coveted pastry or sourdough loaf. Vesta Coffee is a local favorite for a caffeine fix or quick breakfast. Esther’s Kitchen is a family favorite for dinnertime. And, of course, there are plenty of places to take advantage of Las Vegas as the city that never shuts down; Stephanie happily recalled memories of midnight outings for ramen in Chinatown with the whole family.

Food in this family, like so many others, is the main avenue for gathering and joy. Their faces lit up as stories poured out about some of their favorite food memories, recipes, and ingredients. I was transported to their kitchens, which I envisioned as big enough for everyone to gather but intimate enough to make everyone feel like family, full of laughter and enjoyment, and a blending of cultures. Alex, whose mother is Latinx and father is Filipino, shared memories of making and eating lumpia—a traditional Filipino recipe—with her family, something she is eager to do again once it is safe. She described lumpia as a family activity, like making tamales, where the rule is that if you want to eat it, you have to help. Alex talked about her love of salty dishes, which she has transformed into a podcast on all things salty snacks, called the Crunch Factor. Stephanie shared her love for guanciale, a traditional Italian cured meat, which she was introduced to by her husband, who came from Italian origins. Shirley recalled some traditional dishes from New Mexico like calabacitas, which highlights the three sisters trio of corn, beans and squash, as well as sopaipillas (savory, fried pastries). The family gathers around holiday traditions, albeit reimagined during the pandemic, like preparing the Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes, Christmas prime rib and decorating Christmas cookies as a family.  

As for the future of Slow Food Vegas, they have several guiding ideas; Las Vegas is battling climate change and has the third highest rate of food insecurity, the work these women are setting out to achieve couldn’t come at a better time. They are excited to collaborate with community partners like the University of Nevada, Reno Extension, Youth Horticulture Education Program to promote access to good, clean and fair food and to connect with established chapters willing to share their ideas and advice.

We congratulate Shirley, Stephanie, Alex and the rest of Slow Food Vegas as they embark on this journey. We’re excited to see the impact they will have on the Las Vegas community. And I can’t wait to one day gather together for lumpia, guanciale, pizza, calabacitas and sopaipillas.   

Quick Pickle in Montmorency
Cherry Rice Wine Vinegar 

All you need is a great tasting onion and your faovrite vinegar from American Vinegar Works for this very simple pickle that will add delicious flare to, well, just about any dish.

Ingredients:

thinly sliced onion or shallot

AVW vinegar of your choice

PREP:

Place thinly sliced onion or shallot in a small bowl or mug. Cover with vinegar. Let stand at least 20 minutes. Remove onions and use on salads, burgers or sandwiches. Reserve remaining vinegar for salad dressing!

Recommended Vinegars from American Vinegar Works: Ultimate Red Wine, Rose Wine, Cherry Rice Wine, Pear and Apple Cider

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