Long before the lexicon of local foods was commonplace, the international movement called Slow Food was encouraging people to reconnect with authentic regional flavors and food traditions. Launched in Italy in 1986, it came in response to the rise of fast food and industrialized food in Europe and it grew with chapters across the world.
New Orleans food maven (and now local radio personality) Poppy Tooker started the first local chapter of Slow Food back in 1999. That branch was disbanded two years ago amid turmoil over the direction and goals of Slow Food USA, the national organization run from Brooklyn. But now a new chapter of Slow Food is forming in New Orleans, and a launch party is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 1, at Rock ‘n’ Bowl.
The event begins at 6 p.m. in the venue’s parking lot with music from the Onward Brass Band, food from local restaurants and food trucks and cooking demonstrations, then it moves inside Rock ‘n’ Bowl at 8 p.m. for more music from the Full Steam Jazz Band. Slow Food New Orleans will be signing up new members throughout the night. Annual membership costs $25. Join at the event and you get free admission to Rock ‘n’ Bowl ($5 admission otherwise), free food from the cooking demonstrations and discounts from food vendors.
And, “you get to join a movement,” says Gary Granata, a local sports nutritionist who chairs the new Slow Food New Orleans chapter.
Just where that movement is headed has been a source of contention for Slow Food nationally, however. Members, former members and supporters of Slow Food have been debating its future, with some urging the group to stick to its original purpose — supporting artisanal food producers and regionally specific foods — while the organization has been increasingly active in “food justice issues,” such as access to healthy foods and the gears of government food policy. In the midst of the controversy, Slow Food USA’s executive director resigned in June.
The new Slow Food New Orleans chapter hopes to bring in elements from both sides.
“One thing that Slow Food teaches is that consumers can be co-producers,” says Granata, who is also a “mentor farmer” at Hollygrove Market and Farm, helping others grow garden plots at the urban farming hub. “When you buy food, the decisions you make, that gives you a hand in how food is produced. It’s creating that connection between producers and consumers.”
But health and food access issues are also clearly an important part of the new chapter, which has formed a partnership with the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit that provides free medical, health and wellness services to local musicians. Granata says the partnership is intended to link Slow Food’s work with the foundation’s efforts promote healthy diets and lifestyles for musicians. As part of the partnership, the groups plan to hold monthly events benefiting both Slow Food and the Musicians Assistance Foundation.
“They’re all about preserving and promoting the traditional music of New Orleans, and we’re about doing the same thing for our food, so it was a perfect marriage,” he says.