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Ozark Slow Food: Take time to live the slow life

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By Jim Lukens and Cara Corbin

We have all heard the sustainability buzzwords- sustainable, green, carbon neutral. And we are also familiar with the guilt-inducing concepts and phrases that frequently accompany them – gas-guzzler, large ecological footprint, greenhouse gas, throw-away society. If you are not living “sustainably” then you are a bad person. Unpatriotic, even!

Horticulturalist Gerald Klingaman pointed out in a recent column in The Morning News that, “Outsourcing food production to California, Mexico, Chile or China is not a sensible policy, and even Homeland Security officials should be smart enough to see that as a bigger threat to our national security than a handful of terrorists.”

But now promoters are drumming about an alternative way to reach sustainability without taking a guilt trip. Sustainability is beginning to sound very modern and progressive. Full speed ahead. We can develop our way to sustainability!

Fayetteville’s Public Library is proud to call itself a “sustainable library” and it’s building a “green building.” Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody claims that his city “is charting a course to become a truly sustainable city” with the hiring of a sustainability coordinator.

As he welcomed the establishment of the Applied Sustainability Center within the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Chancellor John While has declared that the University of Arkansas will be a “sustainable university.”

Steve Rust, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council and Phil Stafford, president of the UA Technology Development Foundation see the emergence of a “sustainability cluster” of industries in Northwest Arkansas.

A new Arkansas organization, Ozark Slow Food, suggests that sustainability can be fun, but, that to achieve it we actually need to slow down and reach back for some values and social patterns from the past.

The Slow Food perspective is that a lifestyle shift is needed — one that involves stopping to smell the basil. Instead of grabbing a burger at a drive-through, and eating on-the-go, we will have more fun and advance sustainability at the same time if we get to know our farmers and buy local food, support local food traditions and heritage agricultural varieties and breeds, and re-establish meals as social events. Ozark Slow Food wants to both celebrate and promote local food and good eating.

The Slow Food movement began in Italy in the mid 1980’s when a McDonald’s restaurant was poised to open in the center of historic Rome. Carlo Petrini, already working to help preserve food traditions in Italy, realized that what the world needs is not faster food, but slower food! Petrini rallied his friends and community, and a movement grew. Then a nonprofit organization emerged, first in Europe but now in more than 100 countries. Today, Slow Food has over 850 local chapters (called “convivia”) with more than 80,000 members worldwide.

The Slow Food movement reached Northwest Arkansas before the name did. Although some people still believe that fruit and vegetable production departed this region many years ago, today a dozen farmers’ markets are operating in NWA. And the number of markets, growers, and shoppers continues to rise. Increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables comes at the right time. Concerns about obesity among all age groups in Arkansas is encouraging more people to eat more fruits and vegetables, and none are better than those eaten fresh from local farms.

The popularity of the Ozark Iron Chef competition at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, where local chefs compete by transforming locally grown products into beautiful and delicious culinary creations, has shown that the public is interested in good food. Many local restaurants are even on an “eat local” kick, with some chefs even shopping regularly at the farmers’ markets.

One of those chefs is Vince Pianalto. “I have always been a fan of the Slow Food movement as long as I have been in the foodservice business,” Pianalto said. “I was bolstered by the attendance at the first Slow Food event at my bakery in June, but never imagined the response. I expected around 50 people when over 130 arrived. Wow! Northwest Arkansas is obviously ready for a chapter of Slow Food.”

The Ozark Slow Food group was formed this year not to start movement, but to carry forward a momentum that is already started. Jim Morgan is the founder of Ozark Slow Food. He and his wife, Teresa Maurer, raise and direct market lamb at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, at Ozark Natural Foods and for special events at restaurants.

“We have been members of Slow Food USA for many years,” Morgan explained. “We kept hoping that others would organize a Slow Food convivium that we could participate in, but finally decided to put together a group of like-minded people. Slow Food USA is an excellent movement and model because it involves chefs, restaurants, families and consumers in buying, using and growing local foods. It helps farmers, helps the environment, and brings healthy food. Our goal is to increase awareness of where food comes from and encourage folks to know the farmer that produces it, to eat with the season, and buy local.”

Chef Joshua Byers and Ella’s Restaurant hosted the second Ozark Slow Food event. Byers said that Slow Food isn’t just for the rich.

“You can eat healthier and cheaper by using fresh local ingredients rather than eating fast food,” Byers said. “You don’t have to eat at McDonalds. It is actually cheaper to eat at home – cook at home. Americans have become lazy. We no longer sit down to dinner and talk to each other. Slow down!

“Using local food sustains the local economy. And local food uses less energy, since there is less truck to truck to truck.”

The next Ozark Slow Food event is scheduled for Friday at the Fayetteville Public Library. As with other “tasting” events, the event at the library will not serve a meal, but will feature samples of three seasonal products from local suppliers – shitake mushrooms, leeks and winter squash – prepared by Greenhouse Grille Chef, Jerrmy Gawthrop.

Gawthrop explained why his restaurant is involved with Ozark Slow Food. “The Greenhouse Grille makes a constant effort to feature organically grown and locally produced foods, so this Ozark Slow Food event fits well with our restaurant’s overall objective.

“It is very positive to celebrate and support the fine food that the Ozarks have to offer throughout the seasons. The Ozark Slow Food movement presents a unique opportunity to educate the public on bioregional sustainability and show how fabulous our local culture can taste.”

A new addition to the Ozark Slow Food tasting experience on Friday, will be a tutorial by Chef Vince Pianalto on how we can use four of our senses – sight, smell, feel, and taste – to get more out of our eating experience.

The Friday event will also point the direction toward a planning process scheduled for the winter of 2007-2008. The Ozark Slow Food convivium Board of Directors will gather input from other Slow Food members and community members, and plan for future activities and projects. The local board has determined that, while enjoying good food will remain important for the convivium, educational activities and projects will take the leading role. In this spirit, the event at the library will feature three programs that are currently teaching elementary school students in Northwest Arkansas about food and the food system in which they participate.

Another Ozark Slow Food event, scheduled for Nov. 3, zeros in on a long-standing American food tradition – turkey for Thanksgiving. At this event, participants will get to compare the taste of meat from slow-growing heritage breed turkeys with meat from faster-growing hybrid turkeys grown under similar conditions.

But Ozark Slow Food doesn’t pretend to be the only locally-grown food game in town. The strong customer support for area farmers’ markets shows that many people appreciate “home grown” food.

The chefs who have participated in Ozark Slow Food events already support locally grown food and feature it in their restaurants. Other area chefs and restaurants do, as well.

On Oct.12, Blackboard Café in Bella Vista will host a dinner featuring local food. This event has met Ozark Slow Food criteria to be promoted as a Slow Food Dinner.

Expect more Slow Food activity in the future. And maybe we should slow our own food down, as well! Take time to live the slow life.

Next Ozark Slow Food event
What: Food Tasting
When: 5:30
Ticket cost: $10
Tickets available: Fayetteville Public Library, Green Bean in Rogers, Farmers Markets in Fayetteville and Rogers
For event information call: 479-799-7985
For general information about Ozark Slow Food call: 479-601-2900

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