Years ago, The Zimbabwean biologist and environmentalist, Allan Savory of the Savory Institute, believed that large roaming animals, such as elephants, were destroying Africa’s great plains, leading to desertification.

In the years that ensued, some 40,000 elephants were killed in hopes of saving the plains. But, much to Savory’s dismay, the culling of these animals didn’t make a significant difference. After years of additional research, he determined it was poor management–not overgrazing–that led to desertification. In fact, Savory explained, he found that by allowing livestock to graze and roam across the plains, the natural cycle of what he describes as “birth, growth, death and decay,” actually has the potential to restore the world’s grasslands. Read more

Somalia is a tough place to build a community garden. Between drought, warlords, a near-absence of infrastructure and a prevailing mood of powerlessness, it takes commitment, and ideally some help. Sid Ali Mohammed, 65and Mohamed Abdukadir “Mudane” Hassan, 26, have both. They’ve managed to build 15 community and family gardens in Somalia as part of Slow Food’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project. But it hasn’t been easy. Read more

When Josh Viertel took the helm at Slow Food USA in 2008, the organization had a reputation—at least in this country—as a club for foodies. Under Viertel’s leadership, though, the organization has dispelled this image with an increasing focus on food justice issues such as improving the abysmal quality of cafeteria food and fighting “ag-gag” bills that would’ve made it illegal to take photos or videos of farms. Last month, Slow Food organized its members to “take back the happy meal” by showing that it’s possible to cook a nutritious meal for less than $5 a person. Over 30,000 people came together at over 5,500 events to participate in Slow Food’s $5 challenge.

When I spoke to Viertel a few weeks ago, he had just returned from a board meeting in Portland, Oregon, and was full of praise for both Andy Ricker’s Thai restaurant Pok-Pok and Portland’s energetic food justice scene. As I talked to him, I came to the happy realization that Slow Food is a flourishing network of people from all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels—from advocates of Native American fishing methods to radical kimchee makers in Indianapolis. All these members are coming together to overthrow the industrial food system and buy and make food that is good, clean, and fair. Read more

By keeping the size, colors, and flavors of foods consistent, large-scale producers are elbowing out the fragile, juicy, and region-specific foods that used to make our fields and plates exciting. The U.S. Ark of Taste, a program of Slow Food USA, seeks to reverse this trend. The Ark is a growing list of foods that are flavorful, culturally rooted, and at risk of extinction. Slow Food members from around the country nominate foods to the Ark and mobilize volunteers to keep them in production.

Why is food diversity important? For one, interesting new flavors can entice even the pickiest of eaters to try more fruits and veggies. On an environmental scale, ecosystems thrive when they include a diversity of organisms. And while some genetic adaptations might not have immediately apparent benefits, preserving a deep gene pool is critical for long-term food security. Read more

The terms “local” “organic” “sustainable” and the like have become so mainstream that as someone who writes about these issues I find myself searching for new ideas to explain the tenets of why changing our food system is important.  Even if you are not involved in the “good food movement” at all, a McDonald’s aficionado who revels in hydrogenated oils and spraying your lawn with Roundup, you have heard of “local” “organic” and “sustainable.”  But while this now cliché vocabulary runs rampant even in Walmart, why then do we not have the same exposure to the term “fair”? Read more

The theme of “food and place” led this year’s Terra Madre while a particular workshop, “Women’s Rights and Land Ownership,” best demonstrated its focus: How does the place of women in developing societies determine food security? As this question was brought to the fore, stories emerged from around globe shedding light on the resilience and creativity of women in their pursuit of both freedom and food.

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Causing no end of difficulties in our national discourse is the steadfast belief held by both the right and the left that everything is either right or left: bad or good, strong or weak, despotic or patriotic.  You’re either with us or you’re against us.  President Obama addressed this very effectively before both House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent days.  It is media driven to a large extent because the media need controversy to sell papers, or bytes or views or whatever it is they’re selling these days.

The most common form this takes is the old build’em-up-then-tear’em-down routine.  Perhaps the only thing many Americans enjoy more than the uplifting emotion of a success story is the schadenfreude of watching that success come tumbling down.  So when an idea comes to the fore, the critics ooze from the woodwork and their primary tactic is divide and conquer.  Label it, frame the debate, and the fight is won or lost before the story is even told.

For a long time in the circles I travel in this was not a problem because the ideas embodied in what some have come to call SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local, & Ethical) were not perceived as a threat to the established paradigm.  Recent successes such as Michael Pollan’s work have, however, shined a very bright spotlight on advocates of real food.  As a result, people who have been toiling at these ideas for decades are becoming targets of powerful interests in the Big Food lobby.  Such is the case this week at, where Missouri Farm Bureau vice president Blake Hurst has found his most recent audience. Read more

Through the end of today you can become a member of the organization Slow Food and pay whatever amount you wish.

The organization began in Italy as a political stance against the way fast food was changing the local eating culture, and has since grown to 100,000 members in 132 countries, all interested in building a food system that is good, clean and fair. There are groups, called conviviums, in cities across the US that meet to discuss and enjoy food together. Much of the focus of Slow Food has been on protecting biodiversity: their program Ark of Taste promotes plants and animal breeds that have been dying out as industrial agriculture spreads a handful of species through standardization. But now, they’re rolling back their sleeves and setting their sights on food justice. Read more

Like victory gardens, home canning, and depression-era resource conservation, Slow Food USA’s Gordon Jenkins believes the idea of healthy school lunches is one worth revisiting.

“The school lunch program was created in 1946 as a measure of national security,” says Jenkins. “The goal was to make sure that our nation’s children were healthy, because only then would the whole nation be productive.”

Four decades later, most of us take for granted the fact that schools serve lunch, and that the federal government subsidizes many of them. Whether they have anything to do with students’ health is another story. “A lot of today’s adults remember school lunch when it was institutional Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes,” says Jenkins. “It wasn’t delicious, but no one expected it to be. Now, the cheapest fast food and junk food is in our cafeterias and it’s fueling the obesity epidemic.” Read more

At the most recent Kitchen Table Talks session on August 25, the challenges affecting school lunch programs, particularly in San Francisco, was on the menu. With the impending reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and recent articles in The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle, it seems that now is the time to capitalize on the momentum and advocate for healthier school lunch food policies. Read more