Pro Food: Slow Food With an Entrepreneurial Twist



With my recent introduction of the term “Pro Food” and a definition of its core principles, several readers have questioned how Pro Food differs from Slow Food. Rather than try to answer this question on my own, as I am only somewhat familiar with Slow Food, I am opening it up to others to help decide.

Pro Food is primarily focused on driving entrepreneurial interest in solving the complex food system challenges we face. By attracting such talent and energy to sustainable food, from farming through retail to home cooking, it is my belief that the money will follow to support their efforts (new post coming on this subject).

Pro Food is not about debating the current problems by taking one side or the other. There is plenty of that already happening, and is my belief that the valuable time and energy being spent in such debates can be put to far better use if it is directed toward finding innovative solutions to our food problems.

For 20 years, Slow Food has been successful in reestablishing links between food and terroir. The most successful event at each Terra Madre convention in Bra, Italy, the birthplace of the movement, has always been Salone del Gusto. This event features local foods from around the globe, prepared and presented by the artisans themselves. In Europe, where the movement was born, the emphasis has been on reviving the culinary expression of local cultures.

When Slow Food crossed the pond to America it took some time to find its feet as our unique food cultures have endured decades of pressure to homogenize, thanks in large part to the dominant industrial food system. Every region has its specific culinary traditions, dating back in some cases to before the founding of the nation. In addition, our immigrant newcomers brought their respective food traditions with them, but soon found the need to adapt to locally available food stuffs.

Slow Food USA Vision: Food is a common language and a universal right. Slow Food USA envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet.

Slow Food USA Mission: To create dramatic and lasting change in the food system. We reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We work to inspire a transformation in food policy, production practices and market forces so that they ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat.

Slow Food USA recently started addressing food policy issues in earnest, sparked by Slow Food Nation, its first national convention held last fall in San Francisco. Policy-making efforts have been spearheaded by other organizations, working just as diligently to remake our food system, including Food Democracy Now!, Roots of Change (specific to California), Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), to name a few.

Pro Food stands apart in its efforts to revitalize the entrepreneurial side of the American food system, with the express purpose of re-establishing the link between food and source, bringing together eaters and farmers in new, innovative ways. This specific focus will make it possible to re-inject business sense into the sustainable production, distribution, preparation, and consumption of local foods with entrepreneurial savvy, adapted to each level of the entire chain.

Further information on Pro Food and Slow Food:

• Huffington Post: Sustainable Food Ripe for Entrepreneurs to Drive Forward
• Huffington Post: Closing the Farm to Plate Knowledge Gap
• Slow Food USA: Good, Clean and Fair
• Slow Food USA: From Plate to Planet
• Slow Food International: What We Do

I look forward to your comments regarding these two important efforts dedicated to solving our food system problems, in what I believe are unique and complementary ways.

Do you agree?

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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  1. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    I think you've hit it perfectly! For real change you need the advocates and the entrepreneurs. The advocates say, "we need to be doing X!" The entrepreneurs say, "Here's a great way to do X!"
  2. warren
    Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    i agree. one of the most overlooked aspects of re-localization is all the infrastructure that has been lost over the years of consolidation. I'm thinking cannaries, butcher shops, distribution ect. Farmers markets and Farm-to-table restuarants are great but opportunities abound in making connections between the farm and consumer. the question i have is how do entrepenurial start ups navigate a regulatory system wich favors big agra and big grocery/food service.
  3. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    Rob

    Another great piece, thank you to the Civil Eats team for posting this as Pro Food continues to be teased out.

    Now I am no ascetic, clearly, but I recalled a part of Corby Kummer's interview with Carlos Petrini in which Petrini talked about how it he and his lieutenants glorified bonhomie, conviviality and mistrust of "anyone who doesn't laugh."

    The elevation of conviviality is for me, one of the holy aspects of Slow Food. When I turn on my Slow Button, cooking for friends or family, or going for an extra special meal at a responsible, "Snail-approved" restaurant, I feel I am connecting with a kind of wisdom that has been passed down for generations. That wisdom says that there are few things better than surrounding myself with good people, good food and allowing myself to enjoy the company and the fruits of the earth. I have successfully slowed down my life, rejecting the impulses of the mainstream culture, to allow my soul top catch up with my body, even if just for a few minutes.

    Pro Food, in my reading of it, does not have this conviviality built into it, and that's a good thing. Not that Pro Food is for monks. It's clearly not.

    But I believe that ProFood seeks to bring about a Slow world, by being, in effect, rushing the natural process of a return to Slow Ideals. We could wait around and wait for mainstream culture to permeate with sustainable/ entrepreneurialism, or we could act like the avante-garde that the movement needs, and which there is also room for. I think this is the best way for Pro Food to act as a compliment to Slow Food.

    Another great piece Rob, keep em coming.
    Z
  4. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    Stated another way, Pro Food is about creating "market incentives for socially and environmentally responsible agriculture, and food processing and distribution practices"

    This is adapted from the mission of Food Alliance, a nonprofit organization that certifies farms and ranches, and food packers, processors, and distributors for sustainable agricultural and facility management practices.

    There are currently more than 320 Food Alliance Certified farms and ranches in 23 U.S. states, managing over 5.6 million acres of range and farmland. There are also six Food Alliance Certified distribution centers and 18 food processing facilities. The majority are mid-sized or smaller family-owned and operated businesses.

    Improved practices in Food Alliance Certified agricultural operations and food handling facilities have led to better conditions for thousands of workers, more humane treatment of hundreds of thousands of animals, reduced use of toxic and hazardous materials, and healthier soils, cleaner water, and enhanced wildlife habitat on millions of acres of range and farmland.

    Credible third-party certifications are an important part of the ProFood landscape. For more than 10 years Food Alliance has maintained the most comprehensive set of certification standards.

    Learn more, join our networks, follow our updates,and buy Food Alliance Certified.

    www.foodalliance.org
    twitter.com/foodalliance
    facebook.com/foodalliance
  5. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    Pro Food provides a missing complement to Slow Food and, in fact, frees up some of the many aspects of Slow Food’s growing agenda. Many of the organizations, named in Rob’s article, have been wrestling with the complex and compartmentalized aspects of the business of food, but only as side efforts to their core mission, whatever that may be: advocacy for healthy foods, reconnection to the terroir, organic vs. industrial, etc. . Pro Food squarely states its focused purpose on the revitalization of the business of food starting with the revitalization of food itself, with the necessary alignment of its business priorities only second to the fundamental natural requirements for the production of the highest quality of foodstuffs.

    This clearly unique purpose invites investments and separates the business of food production from ideological meanderings, and its principles are as simple as they should be: identify the mechanisms and align the corresponding business model to empower entrepreneurs who respect food throughout its production, distribution, preparation and consumption. It’s even better than “build it and they will come”… because “they” are already here, waiting to see the building rise.
  6. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    Ketzirah: Thank you for your crisp description of how Pro Food and Slow Food interact and complement one another. Well said!

    Warren: In some ways, I believe sustainable food as an industry can be compared to the Internet, in terms of its potential. Specifically, as early entrepreneurs help establish successful projects, more money will flow to infrastructure. Eventually, you can see a Pro Food 1.0, 2.0, etc. that will serve entrepreneurs and investors well.

    Zach: As a fellow leader in Pro Food, its great to read how you embrace Slow Food in your personal life, while embracing Pro Food's role in increasing sustainable foods in the US market.

    Fredo: Your knowledge of Slow Food and how Pro Food has the potential to "free up some of the many aspects of Slow Food's growing agenda" is great to read. Having been in Silicon Valley in the relatively early days of the Internet, what you suggest reminds me of the magazine Red Herring, which wrote about the "Business of Technology". Perhaps Pro Food, simply put, is about the Business of Sustainable Food.
  7. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    Are there examples of Pro Food in action? I like the idea of focusing on the business side -- that's obviously a key to success. How will the movement foster this in a way other movements haven't?
  8. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    This is a great piece. Perhaps it is not unusual that I think so since I was also in the Silicon Valley during the emergence of the internet economy, although I farm now. Your emphasis on on the entrepreneurial aspects of this movement is sorely needed to both complement an balance the advocacy efforts. I applaud and support these efforts, but we've got enough people telling us what needs to happen. This thing will change when we have people who can step up and say "This is how I'm doing it, and this is why it works for me." It reminds me of a joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? None, if the lightbulb really wants to change. Thanks to you for being a lightbulb, not a psychologist.
  9. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    Amanda: Thanks for your questions.

    The next post in the Pro Food series will focus on how the sustainable food industry might unfold. One thing I would say for now is that Pro Food is less movement and more business, which is how it will be fundamentally different than previous efforts.

    In my next post, I will highlight several existing businesses and organizations that are thriving based on their embrace of Pro Food principles, well before I wrote about them.

    One more sneak peak: I intend to draw parallels between sustainable food and the Internet, both of which center on democratizing and/or decentralizing industries once dominated by consolidated power.
  10. Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
    i just wrote a long-ish post about this. i'm not normally a fan of government intervention, but i do think that the existing system of subsidies has to be unwound before we can produce good food and produce it well. the price signals we confront in the grocery stores tell us to buy crummy foods produced with pesticides, herbicides, and illegal, underpaid labour, trucked in from across the country and the world, because it is so much cheaper than the alternative. (this even though the alternative, when externalities are internalised, is cheaper.) that said, we can make headway by radically rethinking how food is distributed and produced: being able to match point supply with point demand will be a huge part of moving the food supply closer to point of consumption. i have some ideas about this too, forthcoming; systems development of this variety should, i think, be part of pro food's charter.
  11. Thursday, July 9th, 2009
    Amanda: Thanks for your questions.

    The next post in the Pro Food series will focus on how the sustainable food industry might unfold. One thing I would say for now is that Pro Food is less movement and more business, which is how it will be fundamentally different than previous efforts.

    In my next post, I will highlight several existing businesses and organizations that are thriving based on their embrace of Pro Food principles, well before I wrote about them.

    One more sneak peak: I intend to draw parallels between sustainable food and the Internet, both of which center on democratizing and/or decentralizing industries once dominated by consolidated power.
    OH! You're my new favorite blogger fyi
  12. Friday, July 10th, 2009
    Chef Friese: It is an honor to be responding to someone of your stature within the Slow Food USA organization. What is even cooler is that I was born in Iowa and now live in Vermont just outside of Montpelier, and have used the term "certifiably insane" to describe my friends reactions when we left the west coast for the Green Mountains.

    Your Grist article should be required reading for anyone interested in making sustainable food mainstream (will post on Twitter later). Injecting yourself "smack in the belly of the agribusiness beast" took a lot of guts, but I also sense you knew it was the right place to be.

    It would be great to follow up offline, as I am working on some things in Vermont that I am guessing you will appreciate. I'll be in contact soon or if you get this first please shoot me an email at robert.b.smart(at)gmail.com.

    Cheers!

    Rob Smart
    Founder, Every Kitchen Table
    a.k.a., Jambutter on Twitter
  13. Aileen Liou
    Thursday, July 16th, 2009
    I am a Chinese from Taiwan who is now living on 2.2 acres on Olympic Peninsula. I've been frustrated about the lack of decent Asian restaurants. I think I can fill a need by starting a business which combines my food heritage, passion for cooking and sharing, food from my own garden and local farmers, but I'm very intimidated by the hefty investment, the regulations and "horror stories" about starting a food business. What are the options and opportunities for "pro-foodies" with ethnic backgrounds besides the traditional restaurant and catering route. Can you share some insights and success stories.