When McDonalds threatened to open its 2nd branch in Rome in 1989 – destined to be the biggest Mickie D’s in the world – an anti-fast-food socialist group rallied in protest, leading to the formation of a 12-nation pact called Slow Food International. This group, in true socialist form, created a manifesto for Slow Food (as opposed to fast food), centered on the tiny 22,000 person town of Bra, Italy, a true locavore’s haven where people swap vegetables in markets and raise goats in their backyards.
Since 1989, Slow Food International has grown to include 150 chapters around the world. Kathryn Andersen ’08, a senior in the department of French and Italian, became enamored with the Slow Food movement since her sophomore summer after interning for “Greening Princeton,” an organization of Princeton grads and undergrads who work with the administration to improve environmental sustainability practices on campus. She petitioned to make Princeton one of the first four Slow Food International chapters based in University campuses.
Andersen’s major effort for the organization has been a three-year project to bring a farmers’ market to Princeton. The first market came to Princeton’s Firestone Plaza this past fall and returned for spring on Tuesday, April 14, 2008. The market will continue through mid-May every Tuesday from 11AM to 3PM. The market features many Princeton- and New Jersey-based organizations that practice the tenets of the Slow Food movement: produce from Terhune orchards, ice cream from Bent Spoon, and cheeses from Valley Shepard Creamery. This season’s market has expanded to include seafood, eggs, flowers, and such seasonal produce as strawberries and asparagus.
This nascent market is now the most profitable farmers’ market in New Jersey. Any leftover perishable goods are purchased at full price by Dining Services. Dining Services has played a huge role in this crossover to “Slow Food” at Princeton. Obviously, big changes such as the renovations of Whitman and Rocky-Mathey Dining halls are the most noticeable, but small changes toward slower food have been enacted as well, such as the incorporation of grass-fed beef and the offering of “bids” – only five food trucks per week are allowed onto the campus — to support local farmers rather than huge national food providers.
The Slow Food movement is not just anti-fast-food, a misconception that Andersen notes has led to many people associating “Slow Food” with rich people enjoying exotic gourmet meals. Although a major component of Slow Food is the act of enjoying food for what it is, this appreciation stems from the food’s origin – small farmers in the local area. The second major aspect of Slow Food is that it is international: a pact among many nations to enjoy the fruit of the land, from their own little plots of land.
Although the term “Slow Food” emerged through an anti-fast-food movement, the tenets reflect an attitude towards food that has existed many centuries in countries like Italy and France, where enjoying food is a leisure activity in itself, where the idea of picking up a slab of fat between two pieces of bread to fill up your stomach on the road is unheard of. Andersen wrote her thesis about the Slow Food movement, combining insight from various chefs and experts, mainly in Italy, to describe what she calls the “second gastronomic renaissance”. This movement has become something of America’s new “food culture”; springing from a culinary history once marked by using Jell-O molds for everything and innumerable drive-thrus in the ‘50s, we are now the nation of farmers’ markets and the normal occurrence of the common(ish) man asking if there is any “prosciutto” or “arugula” at their local Trader Joe’s.
Andersen stresses the importance of locally grown food and sustainable resources as not just “being good” for supporting small farmers but also just tasting better. If the food is handled with care, and the energy is spent in growing it rather than transporting it over long distances, the food will taste better. Her efforts have not ended with the Farmers’ Market. She also spurred the idea for an upper-level Italian class, ITA 401, “Italy: The Land of Slow-Food,” a seminar that analyzes literature from the 12th century onward with a focus on the emergence of slow food. The new café under construction in Frist will be wholly sustainable, featuring coffee from Small World and ice cream from Bent Spoon. Café Viv will be turned into a salad, sandwich, and food shop that also stocks from local vendors.
The renaissance at Princeton is not complete, though. Schools such as Yale overshadow Princeton in its efforts to provide wholly sustainable dining services. And the eating clubs, Andersen notes, are “the final frontier.” Since eating clubs are privately funded, it is a tough fight to convince them to care about where the food is coming from as long as it fits the budget. The Sysco trucks that line up on Prospect hint that the clubs do not receive goods from the local goat-farmers of New Jersey. However, the Farmers’ Market shows no sign of letting up, and as long as there are students who want to eat and enjoy good food, the slow food movement at Princeton will continue to grow.