Select Page

By Cortney Ahern

There is power in the act of gathering.

Every two years, Terra Madre demonstrates that power by pulling crusaders of good, clean, fair food from every corner of the globe, descending on Torino for a week of intensely meaningful connection. Even once the workshops are over and the tents have been taken down, the ripples of those interactions extend far beyond Italy’s borders in the months and years that follow.

The weekend before I boarded my flight to Italy, that collective energy kicked into high gear at Eat Retreat. A four-day creative retreat of 40 food leaders from across industries and disciplines, in many ways Eat Retreat feels like a mini, domestic Terra Madre (but with more marshmallows).

I first learned about Eat Retreat when the directors — Kathryn Tomajan and Heather Marold Thomason — came through Chicago in search of ideas, local producers, and ingredients to feature. The event would be held in the Midwest for the first time since Eat Retreat was founded in 2011.

If you know me, you know that I cannot pass up an opportunity to share the gospel of the Midwest, especially of the farmers and producers who steward the land, promote biodiversity, and carry on the Midwestern food traditions of our grandparents, and those who lived from this land long before them.

{{ image(4849, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”:800, “height”:600}) }}

Slow Food was present (directly or indirectly) in every aspect of Eat Retreat, not only in the spirit and shared values of conviviality, pleasure, and tradition, but also in the meals we planned and cooked together. The Ark of Taste was featured prominently in the ingredients expertly sourced by culinary coordinator Lesley Stockton. We dined on Beaver Dam PeppersTurkey Hard Red Winter WheatPawpaws, and Anishinaabeg Manoomin Wild Rice. Oh, and a fair amount of American Rye Whiskey

{{ image(4851, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”:800, “height”:600}) }}

There were Brandy Old Fashioneds and cheese curds. There was Malort. We talked about fish fries and meat raffles. We also talked about culinary appropriation, the food culture of poverty, and the connection between food/guilt/body image/sex.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised TSA allowed any of us to actually travel to Lake Delevan, Wisconsin. Attendees stuffed suitcases with citrus and mushrooms, knives and sharpeners, whole frozen fish from Alaska, sourdough starters, and cricket flour. And even a moldy heritage breed Tamworth ham cured in a basement for four years!

{{ image(4850, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”:800, “height”:600}) }}

I quickly learned that the Slow Food community has (unsurprisingly) been integrated into Eat Retreat for years! Jana Kinsman, the farmer and bicyclist behind Bike A Bee and 2016 Terra Madre Delegate attended Eat Retreat in Pennsylvania in 2015. Isabel Eljaiek, former Network Engagement Manager at Slow Food USA, attended Eat Retreat in the Finger Lakes in 2013 (and shared this Millet Muffin recipe!). Erdem Durgunoglu is a butcher and anthropologist who studied Slow Food in Turkey as a Fulbright Scholar. Eat Retreat co-founder Kathryn Tomajan attended the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra. Next year, when Eat Retreat 2017 rolls around, I would encourage the Slow Food community to apply and continue building on these national and international bonds.

Gatherings like Eat Retreat and Terra Madre sustain our spirits and inspire us to continue the long and hard work of fighting for the food system we all imagine is possible. Gathering provides us the opportunity to share our food identity and traditions with others, so we can continue to weave our stories together. Gathering shows us new ways of thinking and doing that we’ve never encountered before. And gathering sets the stage for the countless future projects, ideas, and collaborations that will come from the relationships formed in a particular place and time when we meet, eat, drink, and depart as changed people.


Cortney Ahern is a Midwest governor for Slow Food USA and served as a chapter leader of Slow Food Chicago for five years. Learn more about Cortney’s work at cortneyahern.com or following her on Instagram @ctahern.