By Jackie Bannon
The Slow Food movement was founded in 1989 to reconnect people with local cuisine and to combat “fast food” culture. Today, 4,500 miles away from the Slow Food’s origins in Italy, UW-Madison students are working to achieve the movement’s goals.
Slow Food embodies a holistic approach in which people slow down their lives to reconsider the cultivation, production and distribution of what they eat. The movement attempts to increase respect for farmers, consumers and the environment by indulging in local food.
Local food is defined as agricultural products that remain within the state in which they were produced or travel less than 400 miles from their origin, according to the 2008 Farm Act. On average, local food only travels 45 miles from farm to consumer, according to the Worldwatch Institute. In contrast, regional food travels an average of 1,500 miles. In the process, it emits four to 17 times more greenhouse gases than local food.
UW-Madison’s Slow Food branch encourages local eating by working with farmers and producers to serve locally sourced, affordable meals to the community, which in turn supports local businesses.
By serving dinner on Mondays and lunch on Wednesdays, Slow Food attracts a diverse group of students, professors, parents and other community members, according to former Slow Food intern Katherine Franz. Their menus feature creative dishes and desserts each week, such as pear gorgonzola balsamic pizza and cranberry orange French meringue pie.
The UW-Madison student organization F.H. King also embodies the goals of Slow Food by fostering connections between the Madison community and the land.
Each year, the organization harvests crops on its 1.75-acre farm in Eagle Heights Garden. Through a program called “harvest handouts,” the organization distributes free, organic produce to the Madison community every Friday during the harvest season. Last year, they handed out 6,000 pounds of produce, and according to their Outreach Coordinator Jackson Froliand, they hope to give more this year.
F.H. King also teaches people to grow and care for their own food by hosting a variety of workshops, such as rooftop gardening and pruning demos. Froliand explained that as consumers, people have the choice to indulge in foods that will influence the community differently.
“If you buy something, you’re voting for it. You’re supporting it,” Froliand said. “Everyone is part of a bigger system and the way you choose to be a part of it affects the system as a whole.”
Although these programs make healthy, local foods more accessible, UW-Madison Professor of Consumer Science, Lydia Zeepeda, explained that much of the community has yet to tap into these resources.
“I’m struck by the number of students and people who are working full-time and struggling because they have debt or bills to pay,” Zeepeda said. “They make the choice to pay bills and eat ramen for weeks. It’s unhealthy, and it’s really sad.”
While Slow Food and F.H. King are supported by a strong base of interns and locals, the organizations still have many seeds to plant to make these programs and local agriculture flourish among the student body.