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Remembering Slow Food leader Katherine Deumling

Photos by Shawn Linehan

It is with great sorrow that the Slow Food USA staff, current Board, and former Board members announce the passing of Katherine Deumling, one of the lions of our movement. She passed away peacefully on Tuesday, July 12 in the company of her loving family.

Katherine was a founder and active member of the Portland, Oregon Slow Food chapter and eventually became its leader. She was Governor for the Pacific Northwest region. She was a director on the Slow Food USA board, its treasurer and, starting in 2012, its chair.

Katherine Deumling Memorial Fund

The Katherine Rachel Deumling Memorial Scholarship Fund honors Katherine’s memory by sending Slow Food community members to gatherings, events and conferences.

Read some reflections from Katherine’s Slow Food and food producer community below.

Kate Krauss, Slow Food USA Board Co-Chair

It’s true that the first thing you noticed about Katherine was her smile. But then you got a chance to talk with her, and you discovered her remarkable blend of kindness, passion, humor, and nimble intelligence. What a joy it was to know Katherine Deumling. I’m deeply saddened that the world has lost a woman of so much light and goodness, so much before her time. 

I first met Katherine when she interviewed me for a job. I got that job, and in a very real way, she gets a piece of the credit for the passion, purpose and amazing relationships I’ve developed through my long journey with Slow Food USA. I got to know Katherine somewhat distantly in the beginning. But then a few years into my time with Slow Food, when she was Board Chair, we went through a leadership transition, and I found myself Acting Executive Director. It was a difficult time. I was in over my head and the organization needed a lot of help. It was then that I received a gift that I treasure and benefit from to this day: Katherine as mentor! She was the most amazing blend of cheerleader, coach, friend, and confidante. We talked at least a few times a week, during which she helped me learn to navigate challenges and seize opportunities. I grew so much during that time, and I’m not sure I would have made it through, let alone grown as a leader, if it weren’t for her patience and insight. 

After that we became friends for a time, and I have fond memories of getting to know her more personally, over late night conversations at restaurants and at the home she shared with Brian and Ellis, where I stayed when passing through Portland and where I got to experience her legendary generosity and damn fine cooking. Katherine was an inspiration even as the years went by and we were no longer as close, as I watched online her commitment to making delicious, healthy food easy and affordable, and as I saw the way her sparkle and light showed through even the dark days of her long fight with cancer. I am blessed to have known Katherine Deumling, and I treasure the joy and inspiration she brought to my life. Like the good camper she was, Katherine definitely left this crazy world of ours a little better than she found it, and for that I hold deep gratitude.

Joel Smith, Former Slow Food USA Board Chair

Katherine’s talents and capabilities were legendary, and provided the foundation for much of SFUSA’s current work. Many of my colleagues recount below their stories of admiration, laughter, respect, and joy from their time spent, professionally and personally, with Katherine. I urge you to read their remembrances for the pleasure and inspiration they provide, and to remind you of the incredible person who anchored SFUSA for so many years.  

Although my own memories begin and end with her smile, always bright and radiating warmth and genuineness, it was also clear how much grit and determination there was behind that smile.  Katherine lived every facet of her life by a creed: to do the right thing for herself, for her family, for farmers, for cooks (especially home cooks), for her beloved Portland, for the environment, and for Slow Food.  Doing the right thing wasn’t always easy, but whatever difficulties she faced were always resolved with strength and consummate professionalism.

There were many dinners, lunches, and bus rides where I found myself lucky enough to sit next to Katherine for hours at a time. During those times, she shared stories about the joys and struggles, the pleasures and challenges, of making this beautiful movement coalesce into a real force for changing the world.  Nothing was more effortless than honest communication with Katherine, which is what made her such a great leader.  And her inviolable honesty about what to do, and how to do it, was the force that imbued SFUSA with integrity and commitment.  

During my early years trying to grasp what it meant to bring the power of good leadership to the work we were trying to accomplish, Katherine eventually persuaded me to join the National Board, despite a wavering diffidence on my part.  I will forever be thankful for that opportunity she gave me.  

Pretty much every action I considered in that role, and especially when I assumed the role of Board Chair, was informed by the examples Katherine so powerfully set.  She was my north star.  I will miss her terribly.

John Stewart, Former Slow Food USA Board member

The Slow Food community has lost a giant.

In her public life, Katherine was a leader of so many networks within Slow Food. In her private life she and her family practiced and lived the Slow life. Her business involved teaching people how to cook delicious food in a very practical way and introduced them to local farmers, seasonal food products, community-supported agriculture, minimizing waste, etc. in the process. She rigged up a kludgy but effective solution for hauling dozens of feet of lumber behind her bicycle for a home improvement project. With everything she did she made her home, her community, her causes and her planet better.

I was blessed to have joined the Slow Food USA board in 2012 when Katherine became chair. Soon after I joined the board we went through a leadership change and Katherine and I found ourselves working very closely together for many hours a week for many consecutive months. During this time we called each other our “Slow Food spouse.” I got to know her well enough to learn about her experiences in Mexico and Italy and the fact that she spoke English, German, Spanish and Italian. She embodied Slow Food’s mantra of “joy and justice” — being in her company was pure joy in countless dimensions, and her commitment to social justice and compassion for those on the margin brings tears to my eyes as I write this. My life is richer for having been in her company when she charmed our Italian waiter into gifting our table a cheese course, for serving her ratatouille for breakfast when she visited me in San Francisco (she loved savory breakfasts), for being inspired by hearing about her Terra Madre experiences, for learning how exciting beans can be, etc.

The world has lost a giant. I miss Katherine Deumling and I feel blessed to have known such an angel.

Mara Welton, Director of Programs, Slow Food USA

I first met Katherine when she gave the closing address at the SFUSA National Leadership Conference in Louisville. She was the incoming board chair at a time of transition, and I was so captivated by her steady, caring and personal delivery in that speech. She convinced me then and there that sharing my passion for food is THE way to connect with my community. At the time, I was a chapter leader and newcomer to my regional councilor role, and seeing someone as passionate about food (and beans!) as I was in a key leadership role in Slow Food was so inspiring to me. Her encouraging take on making food and cooking accessible and interesting informed programming at Slow Food Vermont for over a decade. Katherine was a true exemplar of how to show up for good, clean and fair in your own community, and I will miss her deeply.

Paolo Di Croce, Slow Food International

“I look forward to supporting Slow Food for many years to come.” This is what Katherine wrote in the beautiful photo book she sent me when she retired as Chair of the Board of Slow Food USA. 

Katherine supported Slow Food throughout her life; she did so both in her roles in our Association, but also in all her personal choices, in her work, in every moment of her life. I will never forget her intelligence, energy, friendliness, curiosity about the world, desire to learn and have fun. I will never forget our conversations, with her attempts to speak in Italian trying to help my English …

Yes, Katherine, you have always supported Slow Food every moment of your life, and now that you can no longer do so, as a global movement we have one more task: to keep fighting for good, clean and fair food for all on your behalf as well.

RIP Katherine. We love you.

Shawn Linehan, friend and food photographer and videographer

Katherine Deumling was a force of nature and a beloved member of the Portland culinary and farming community. I am honored to have called her a friend. For almost a decade Josh Volk and I met with Katherine monthly for our “Farm Trio” business group. Together we supported each other in navigating the trials and tribulation of being small business owners who cared deeply about supporting the local farm community and valued the 3 Ps: People, Planet and Profit, though we were always a bit scared of the profit part! Katherine and Josh always made sure we made business decisions based on integrity, fairness and heart. Of course we always ate well at the meetings thanks to her and Josh and I think friends may have envied our meetings.

Not only will I miss her personally, but our whole community will miss her vibrant, sparkling, quick-witted, caring personality. She was the head of Slow Food Portland from 2003-2008 and created a philosophy of cooking she called “Cook With What You Have” that turned into a website that hosts hundreds of recipes geared towards eaters of CSA shares. She taught classes at local colleges and institutions on how to easily cook healthy and delicious meals. She has forever influenced me and how I cook and I know she influenced many others and did a ton of other work in the community. She was always moving and doing and sharing and caring.

I love you, Katherine, and thank you for your advice and nurturing over the years.

Thom Duncan, Former Slow Food USA Board member

When I joined the board of Slow Food USA, we all gathered, of course, for dinner. There, Katherine asked me to join her and Lynne Frame for coffee the next morning, to introduce me to board duty. I expected to be a fly on the wall, observing and looking for how or where I might fit in. But in the company of these wise women, that was not going to happen. Immediately I was engaged. It was less duty and more “cheers.” That was Katherine. She had a knack for making you feel like an insider. She made everyone feel important and seen. She was moving the dial of change and she did it with joy. We all talked about it and wondered how one might pull that off. We laughed at ourselves for volunteering the Slow right out of our lives. Yet the time we spent in her company ticked at a different pace. Katherine didn’t need a compass to navigate, she was what we stood for, and her smile reminded us, and her drive led us. 

When she stepped down at the end of her term, we sought a way to make her stay, but wisely she had a more important calling. The calling of family and community and career. We were unsure for a time as she had been our strength for years. We hated to see her go. And now, all who knew her, all whose lives she touched, must feel a loss to know she’s gone. Katherine welcomed all, whether cherished or neglected, she had a place for you at the table of her friendship. When news of her passing came to me, I sat down, emptied out and felt the weight of our loss. I felt like I should not go to the market that week and just cook with what I have. If you were lucky enough to have known her, you have a trove of small moments where you felt seen and you were appreciated. If Slow Food were a church, Katherine would be our first Saint. Saint Katherine of the Community Table. Raise your glass. She was our best.

Photos provided by Thom Duncan and Shawn Linehan



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