Slow Food Nation put on an amazing celebration of the local, sustainable, delicious food we all value – with a beautiful Victory Garden in front of City Hall the most moving and memorable element.  It convinced me it’s time to put a kitchen garden of my own in my backyard.  And the whole event inspired me to redouble my efforts here at Chefs Collaborative.

The event was kicked off with a plenary session called, “The World Food Crisis.”  Moderated by Michael Pollan and featuring Vandana Shiva, Carlo Petrini, Raj Patel, and Corby Kummer, this opening discussion placed our work in the U.S. to promote a more sustainable food supply in the context of a global movement.  It looked at how U.S. international policies adversely impact the availability of local, fresh, healthy food in developing countries.  For example, when our country provides poor quality grains to developing countries at low prices local farmers can’t compete.  This has relevance for our own policies here at home – especially when it comes to farm subsidies, which benefit industrial farms and have consequences for the survival of mid-size and small farms.

I was moved to learn about the Bay Area Community Services “meals on wheels” program where they switched to a “Farm to Table” model, which costs more, but not much more.  With fresh local food, the ingredients cost 5 cents more per meal.  The kicker is this: With every meal comes a little envelope, into which people are gently encouraged to place a donation if they can, to help cover costs.  In the three months since the farm to table service started, donations have gone up by $20,000 – a 23% increase.  This is from the poorest people in the Bay Area, in the middle of an economic crisis.  This says something about people’s willingness to pay for fresh, healthy food and the need for educating people about the real cost of food.

And finally, I walked away with a greater understanding that for a new food system to be successful – one that does a better job distributing local, fresh food – we need two things in place:  1) “Right relationships,” where each player has a stake in the well being of others, and; 2) An infrastructure to support distribution of local, sustainable products.

Chefs Collaborative views chefs as vital conduits for changing our food system.  We are part of a greater movement to promote a more sustainable food supply and national events like Slow Food Nation that bring stakeholders and experts together provides valuable opportunities for sharing new ideas and inspiring one another.  Hats off to the organizers of Slow Food Nation!

Melissa Kogut, Executive Director