By Anna Mulé, Slow Food USA executive director
Last week, we sent an email that talked about our commitment to tackling oppressive food systems. We received a few comments back in the spirit of, “Slow Food has become too political. I’m out. You should stay in your lane.” I want to make it very clear: Slow Food has always been political. Slow Food began in Italy over 30 years ago with a group of activists protesting a fast food chain opening in the heart of Rome. Communities rallying against capitalism is our lane.
When Slow Food International launched the Ark of Taste in 1996, they made it clear that biodiversity is in danger due to industrialization and conflict. In the United States, our conflicts are rooted in slavery, Indigenous exploitation, and racist food policies. Standing up for Black lives and Indigenous rights is our lane.
Slow Food talks a lot about joy and exquisite flavor. The Slow Food Manifesto from 1989 says, “A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.” If we interpret this only as elitist, fancy white tablecloth dinners, then we have a shallow understanding of joy and pleasure. Joy is rooted in love — love for people and love for the planet. As bell hooks writes, “There can be no love without justice… When we are loving we openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust.” Pairing joy with justice for all is our lane.
I remember huddling as staff last year to write a blog post, “Black Lives Matter: An Open Letter to the Slow Food Community.” Soon after we published that, 72 network leaders signed on in support, and nearly 30 chapters submitted specific action plans for Equity, Inclusion and Justice. One year later, the question at the forefront of my mind is, How can we truly embed our historic and core values for Joy + Justice through policies and programs?
The work ahead of us now is collective and bold visioning for what our vast network can be, and rooting the work of every Slow Food chapter and national program in solidarity and liberation. Each of our 115 chapter leadership boards have unique dynamics. Some of our chapter leaders are burned out with COVID-19, demanding (or lost) jobs, childcare, and other external pressures. Some boards are having complex internal conversations about race and power, and that creates division, attrition and — sometimes — closure. And some chapters have successfully re-energized their boards, embraced difficult conversations, and are launching innovative programming that combines joy and justice.
Too often, chapters and leaders face these dynamics alone. We are designing a strategy to support the network in six very specific ways:
1. We have hired Slow Food leader and member Dan Mueller as our Equity, Inclusion and Justice (EIJ) Strategist. She is now available to train and advise chapter leaders in the SFUSA network on how to create equitable, inclusive and just spaces in your local communities, through both individual and group sessions. Any leader can book a call with Dan here.
2. We have hired longtime Slow Food leader Mara Welton as our Biodiversity Strategist. She will be integrating EIJ values into all our biodiversity programming, including the Plant a Seed campaign, Slow Seed Summit, Ark of Taste, and partnerships.
3. Dan, along with Felix Wai (director of network engagement) and Victoria Ojeda (network engagement coordinator) are developing toolkits for leaders about board governance, conflict resolution, EIJ-centered programming, and more. These will be available in our new Slow Food Leaders Portal (a work in progress, launching in the next six months), and presented during the Virtual Leader Summit in January 2022. This includes new documents like a Code of Conduct.
4. Along with a group of leaders, we are revising the National Statute to remove policies that exclude people, and to add policies that flatten network hierarchy and create better spaces for network collaboration.
5. We have launched a BIPOC affinity group to create an intentional space for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders across our food system to feel supported.
6. We are working on forming a new Antiracist Cohort for White Slow Food Leaders, as a space where we can be vulnerable about the parts of EIJ conversations that confuse us, and together understand how white folks can be key partners in transforming the food system and uprooting racism. I am personally excited to join this group!
This work to embed joy and justice into everything that we do is not new, and it is not the end. The process of transformation is messy and multilayered. But we are excited to funnel our actions in positive and fruitful directions. We are eager to collaborate with all Slow Food leaders throughout the process, and to be completely transparent about what we are doing, and why. After all, collaborating meaningfully is our lane, too. We will be hosting a national meeting this fall to continue these conversations, and we look forward to seeing you there!
MEET DAN MUELLER
Dan Mueller is a community organizer, social healer & systems disruptor with an aptitude for equity, inclusion, liberation and justice. Dan works at individual, organizational, and community levels to highlight through-lines between people, places, organizations, ideas, and movements to facilitate social change.
MEET MARA WELTON
Mara’s passion for farming, cooking, sharing and eating food is what led her to Slow Food over 15 years ago. Hailing from the American Southwest, she has been a Slow Food chapter leader, SFUSA Governor, Ark of Taste Committee member and is based in Vermont where she shares the food of her Southwestern heritage through her food cart. Mara brings diverse experience in Slow Food chapter leadership, production farming & seed saving, food entrepreneurism, and lived experience to the network.