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Slow Food Leaders: Christina Ng

by Julie Kunen, Slow Food USA

For Christina Ng, food is the universal convener, a safe space that brings people together no matter their level of experience or sophistication with food. Christina works as a personal chef for a handful of clients who crave healthy and well-sourced food. On the side, she volunteers as an instructor at Olivewood Gardens, a garden-to-table cooking program serving largely Latino youth and adults from nearby neighborhoods between San Diego and Tijuana. At night, Christina sits on the board of Berry Good Food, a nonprofit that serves as a hub for strengthening relationships between consumers and food producers. There, she creates culinary education programming that invites farmers, food producers and other makers to interact and build relationships with participants in cooking classes.

After work, she comes home to her fiancé, whom she fittingly met at the local farmers market. Raised in El Cajon, his family are 3rd generation farmers, part of a slowly diminishing agricultural landscape in their part of southern California. Still, San Diego contains the most small farms per capita of any county in the country. Christina’s relationship with food has been fundamentally impacted by getting to know her fiancé’s family; she now has a better understanding of issues facing farmers and can see first-hand the lived relationship between producer and consumer. This knowledge has changed how she cooks.

Food: the ultimate connector

Christina was introduced to Slow Food by her colleague Stephanie Parker after she moved from San Francisco to San Diego. She finds more camaraderie in the south, and Slow Food San Diego was a natural fit for her. She found a network of like-minded people, and began to feel like resources were available to her to help make good food accessible to those around her. Slow Food made the world of food feel smaller, safer.

Christina felt fortunate to go to Slow Food Nations a few years ago, where she “realized that food was the ultimate connector.” It was a gathering that leveled the playing field, allowing people who already valued their relationships with food producers to meet and guide others who were totally new to the Slow Food concept. As she explains, “It is in everyone’s spirit innately to eat well. As a movement, we say, hey, this is what we should be eating, this is how we should be growing food. [Slow Food Nations] is a safe space for any enthusiast to find information and grow with Slow Food in whatever capacity they want. It’s not a marketing spectacle; it’s a non-pretentious forum. And this is very important, because whether you are a first timer at a farmer’s market or Chef XYZ, it doesn’t matter.”

Cultivating a seed

What Christina took away from her time at Slow Food Nations was that anyone can make a movement their own.  She cited the work of Chef Dan Barber and his company Row 7, which develops seeds based on chef-breeder collaborations. As she says, “Whatever your thing is, it’s a seed at the start, and you — the movement maker — decide how big it can grow.”

“In these modern times of hurrying to always get things done, it’s even more important to gather around food in the time you can make. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Only good comes out of breaking bread with people.”

Another way Slow Food manifests in Christina’s work is the creation of a safe, inclusive space for people to gather, regardless of their experience level with food. In her educational programming and classes, she is committed to respecting food as the convener. “In these modern times of hurrying to always get things done, it’s even more important to gather around food in the time you can make. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Only good comes out of breaking bread with people.”  

Recently, Christina ran a cooking class for East African immigrants near downtown San Diego, sponsored by the United Organization of East African Women. She felt that same sense of connectivity and safety, as well as pride in having germinated a seed, for the instructors were graduates of the adult program at Olivewood Garden, who had formed a movement of their own, called the Kitchenistas. They were passing along their cooking experiences, sharing and breaking bread — in this case chapatis — with the immigrant women in the class.  

Going viral with the Slow Food message

Looking to the future, Christina is mulling over technology and how, even though it can speed up our lives in negative ways, it can also be a positive force for slowing us down around food.  She finds that technology helps people, whatever their other differences, connect around food. She feels that Slow Food should not be “anti-tech” but rather use technology to bridge gaps between people with information and those without information, and among people who are forming their own movements. Sharing a message, “going viral” and seeing how quickly people grasp onto this message, is powerful. And the message is to slow down. Gather around the bread making or the smell of sautéing onion. Let that capture your attention, get involved. It is innate within you already.  

Christina describes her own pathways to food, relationships to growers, and connections within the community as branches of a tree. Her branches might be short, but they are very real, and she hopes to use them to channel people’s innate desire to like food and bring them into an authentic cooking and eating experience. IRL // In Real Life.  

Christina Ng with high school students in the garden-to-table program at Olivewood Gardens, making galette with freshly harvested vegetables and herbs from the garden.