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by Gordon Jenkins

If the office workers on lunch break in Brooklyn Bridge Park could hear anything over the roar of Q trains crossing the Manhattan Bridge, then they were treated to a rare public performance: Slow Food USA Executive Director Erika Lesser, in makeshift headdress, giving a passionate reading of the Slow Food Manifesto. As she hit doleful lows (“We are enslaved by speed”) and soaring heights (“Slow Food guarantees a better future”), twenty of her colleagues cheered and hissed in unison. Eyewitnesses in corporate offices across the East River report seeing the industrial food system shake in its boots.

Lesser’s performance was a highlight of an event billed as a warm-up to the National Eat-In taking place on Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009. On that day, people in communities across America will gather for public potlucks that send a clear message to Congress: It’s time to provide our children with real food at school. As organizers nationwide prepare for their events, the staff at Slow Food USA headquarters in Brooklyn decided to practice what they preach and cook up their own favorite dishes for a lunchtime Eat-In.

Roast beef and fruit salad and pickled okra and homemade baba ghanoush appeared on the table, alongside plum cake and chocolate mousse for dessert. While they ate, staff members took turns giving performances to rally spirits in preparation for the final stretch to Labor Day. A school nutrition director named Margo Roundbottom made a brief but moving appearance to knight Leah Gorham and Callie Gleason in the Order of the Lunch Lady on their second-to-last day working on the campaign (it’s August, and they have to return to school); Jenny Trotter sang a very beautiful song; Deena Goldman, Jerusha Klemperer and Julia Middleton sang their bosses’ praise and folly; and Josh Viertel closed the meal by channeling his inner chain-gang member and leading a passionate rendition of a 1930s Mississippi work song.

If they couldn’t hear, the office workers sitting nearby did stare and smile appreciatively. Everyone likes to watch people enjoy a meal together, even if it’s a ragtag group of food activists who interrupt their meal with manifesto readings. On Sept. 7, many thousands of such food activists will impress many thousands of such passerby in parks and town squares across America. Join the effort today at http://slowfoodusa.org/timeforlunch.