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Slow Fish: Finding My People

Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day.
— E.B. White

by Amanda Swinimer, BSc+ Marine Biology, Dakini Tidal Wilds

Amanda sustainably harvests, by hand, wild edible seaweeds in the waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada.  Amanda shares her love and passion for seaweeds and the rare ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest through teaching and presenting to a diverse audience.

Slow Fish…good, clean and fair seafood. Simple, right? Yet, when you explore all of the connections this implies, it is so much more than it seems.  In today’s world, it is a lofty ambition indeed.

While peddling my local, hand-harvested seaweed one spring day in 2015 at the new local restaurant in Sooke, British Columbia, I met Brooke Fader and was introduced to Slow Food. Brooke is the convivium leader of Slow Food Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands and a founding member of Slow Fish Canada. Her husband, Oliver Kienast, is a member of Slow Food’s ‘Chef’s Alliance’, an alliance of chefs committed to Slow Food values. Together, sommelier and hostess Brooke and chef Oliver run Wild Mountain, a restaurant that works with local food producers and fishers to offer a seasonal menu that celebrates the local bounty of southern Vancouver Island.

Brooke sent me an application in the fall of 2015 to become a delegate at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, the biannual international Slow Food gathering that happens in Italy. At her insistence that I would be ‘perfect’ for the position, I sent the application in halfheartedly, knowing next to nothing about Slow Food and knowing precisely nothing about Terra Madre. I was accepted and asked to speak at the Slow Fish area of the gathering in September 2016.

I began to suspect there was something uniquely different about Slow Fish when I was communicating with the coordinator about my presentation.  A typical, informational slide show was not what they were looking for. I was encouraged to tell my story: My love of seaweed, love of place, how I harvest and why I harvest. No one had ever requested any kind of presentation like that before.

Terra Madre broke apart any preconceived notions I had about how to heal the global food system, the crisis in the oceans and just how many people were working toward this goal.  The forward momentum at that gathering of thousands of people from 143 countries working in a diverse way toward a common goal ignited something inside me that I felt compelled to explore further. When I heard that Slow Fish was gathering in San Francisco in 2018, I juggled being a single Mom, finances, work and I got myself there.  I knew I had to be there.  

I excitedly told Brooke about my plans to attend Slow Fish San Francisco.  I admitted to her that I felt starstruck when I had read beforehand what some of the attendees and presenters were doing. I had never known such innovative, inclusive and practical ways to tackle the myriad issues facing the ocean and the people most connected with the ocean. These were true heroes promoting Slow Fish values, values that speak to the core of what I believe in.

Good: delicious, fresh, local, prepared well, honored.

Clean: a healthy ocean and healthy ecosystems, unadulterated seafood free of chemical additives and preservatives

Fair: A livable wage that preserves the dignity, lifestyle and cultures of small-scale fishers 

The connections I made at Slow Fish San Francisco and Slow Fish Terra Madre have been life- altering. I have made close, personal friends, and have aligned with like-minded ‘ocean heads’ to bring about change and awareness in line with Slow Fish values. I have felt seen and supported in what I do and how I do it. 

Slow Fish is a vision, a community, an ‘on-the-ground’ and ‘in the water’ happening:  right here and right now. It is a grassroots network of people passionate and committed to a healthy, ocean ecosystem…one that includes people.  Slow Fish does not believe in a ‘one-size-fits-all solution’, but rather in ‘local solutions’ that are as diverse as the ocean itself. We cannot survive without the sea. 

The Slow Fish network is global and diverse, and includes environmentalists, scientists, indigenous peoples, policymakers, chefs, foodies, fishmongers, non-profit think tanks, social justice groups, seafood processors, educators, documentarians, journalists and, of course, fishermen and fisherwomen…and even the odd seaweed harvester.

Slow Fish assumes joy first, and the will to act stems from this fierce and intrinsic joy. A joy as primal as sucking the briny juice of an oyster from the smooth pearly-white of its inner shell.

Slow Fish sees people such as small-scale fishers as part of, rather than separate from, the local ecosystem. Slow Fish cares first and foremost about the story of how their delicious seafood ended up on their plate. 

Attending a Slow Fish gathering is like lighting your soul on fire and believing deep in your gut that we CAN achieve our vision: a healthy ocean, healthy small-scale fisheries and healthy, ocean-dependent cultures. The hopelessness and despair at the magnitude of the challenges we face transforms to hope and belief at a Slow Fish gathering.  Most important, it fills up the fuel tanks necessary for each of us to go back to our corners of the world and keep on fighting fiercely for good, clean and fair. 

With the Slow Fish New Hampshire 2020 gathering a month away, I feel full of anticipation for four days of storytelling, problem solving, validating, stock-taking and eating some of the best local seafood New England has to offer among good friends, old and new.

photo by Emma Geiger