Sunday, June 7, 2015

Debrief from Canada's National Slow Food meeting 2015

Slow Food Canada's National meeting was held in Montreal April 22-26th, 2015. Members from Slow Food Convivia from coast to coast came together to strengthen their understanding of Slow Food concerns and to connect and share the stories from our local communities. Here are my reflections and take aways for those who you who were not able to join us in Montreal! - Jen Reiher, Communications for Vancouver Island & Gulf Islands

Ariel Tarr for Flytographer

For those of us involved in food activism on Vancouver Island & Gulf Islands it is easy to be a bit spoiled when it comes to our food; our climate and geography create a little microcosm perfect for the proliferation of 'Slow Food' principles. Life on the islands is ideally set up for a "slow" lifestyle. Our geography is practically designed for the "100 mile diet," we have a community innately drawn to supporting small & local and our growing season is longer than pretty much anywhere else in the country.

Visiting Montreal and hearing the challenges and successes happening in other provinces across the country really was an eye opening experience. In many ways our hopes for the future are so much the same - but in many ways we are truly a massive country with a diversity of experiences, perspectives and food cultures that shape the work that we do on our local levels.

Welcome to the incoming National Board President, Heather Pritchard!
What really hit home in the conversations and presentations is that there is so, so much work to be done. In many ways the food policy (or lack there of) in Canada is completely backwards and working against the philosophical agenda of Slow Food for good, clean and fair food where there is a strong connection between consumers and producers. From coast to coast I heard stories from farmers, fishermen, food activists and small producers — their small successes and big fears. We were also lucky enough to have the founder of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, visiting from Italy who expressed that these destructions to our food systems are truly happening all across the world.

There were many threads of conversation throughout the few days we spent together that constantly emerged, and here are the big learnings that we can apply to our own activism and actions on the local level.

Ariel Tarr for Flytographer

Consumer pressure is powerful!

Every presenter who came and spoke to us spoke in some way to the power of consumer actions to make a difference on a larger scale! We make decisions every day about how to spend our money on food. Those dollars do make a difference when it comes to the actions of governments and big business!

There are several consumer-focused food activism topics that Slow Food Canada is focusing on at the moment:

Slow Fish

The Slow Fish Canada committee has really done some amazing work recently! This video sums up brilliantly the voices of the Slow Fish network & the thoughtful, passionate way in which they are navigating the challenges of consuming and producing ethical & sustainable seafood.  Bravo to the team working on tackling complex and controversial topic in a Canadian context! 

Slow Food Canada & Slow Food USA are also supportive of the Okanagan Salmon Community Initiative which, after decades of hard work and re-innovation, has started to reinvigorate the Sockeye Salmon Fishery in Osoyoos Lake. The conversation has started with the community to create a cross-border nomination of the Okanagan Sockeye as a Slow Food Presidia product. 

GM Foods

It was fabulous to hear more about GMO from the folks at CBAN (the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network). I was surprised to hear how much Canadians have played a huge part in GMO policy worldwide!

This was a very eye opening presentation for me. While there have been relatively (although I am sure some would disagree) cautious use of GMO foods for production around the world (see the full list broken down here!) there are two big changes poised that are quite shocking...

The first is that the first genetically engineered animal being produced for consumption is currently happening right here in Canada. Although it is not on the market yet, there has been any studies on the safety of the fish for either human consumption or the potential risk to ecosystems. 

The second is that although genetically modified alfalfa is not available in Canada at this time, it is available across the border in the US. What is troubling about this is that this is the first GM plant that is a perennial. This vastly increases the risk of cross-pollination between GM and non-GM plants. This is terrifying for farmers, as precedent has already been set for farmers to be sued by the companies that have patented their GM crops if cross-pollination occurs. Alfalfa is a critical crop for the production of cattle, and this is potentially a challenging position for any organic farmer with a field near to farmers growing GM alfalfa to be in! 

It is consumer pressure that has kept other GM crops off the market in the past. Find out how to contact your MP.

Raw Milk

Raw Milk has been a political issue here in BC lately, but I wasn't aware that Canada is one of the only G8 countries that bans the production & distribution of Raw Milk across the board. The independent and unfunded researcher, Nadine Ijaz, spoke very eloquently about the relative dangers of raw milk. While there are real dangers associated with consuming raw milk, her analysis shows that these dangers are statistically less likely than cooking foods like hamburger or chicken.  And yet... farmers who produce & distribute Raw Milk are being arrested. This is an opportunity for positive consumer pressure to effect change!

More on this topic can be found at

Passionate about any of these topics? National committees of Slow Food members from across Canada are being created now! Join by emailing

Ariel Tarr for Flytographer

Slow Food is a convivial & positive kind of activism

Slow Food is such a unique organization to be a part of! While food is the center of our activism, we recognize the political, social, economic and environmental pressures that shape this activism. But... we also do not lose sight of the importance of celebration and of coming together to each and truly enjoy what we consume. 

Carlo Petrini spoke so eloquently on this topic, and I think this rings true for me personally when I think about why I choose to be involved in this food movement, and this movement over any of the others I could choose to participate in! 

Ariel Tarr for Flytographer

Slow Food's strength is a network 

Sometimes, working on our local levels, it is easy to forget that Slow Food is a National & International movement as well! But we truly are - and there is so much power in tapping into our collective network to really leverage change to happen! One member of Slow Food alone will not have all the answers, but by tapping into our membership across the country and across the world in all the different projects & branches of Slow Food we CAN really make a difference.

Youth are the future of Slow Food

For the first time across Canada we had a strong representation from youth members! Several conviviums at College & University campuses have emerged, and their perspective throughout the weekend was extremely valuable. 

It stood out for many of us was how important it will be for younger generations to be connected not only to where to purchase local food, but also skills on how to use it. Many youth are lacking in cooking and food production skills, even very basic ones! Slow Food can play a part in shifting this and helping our future generations become conscious consumers. 

Ariel Tarr for Flytographer

Canada's terrior is diverse and delicious

What would a Slow Food event be without some really delicious, really locally-sourced food? It came in suitcases, by Canada Post and by foot... but it came! Here is one night's sample of the diversity of food being produced across our delicious country. 

Terroir is a bit of a foreign term in anglophone parts of Canada, and I know that we use it often in Slow Food with a little bit of explanation needed... but in Quebec the word seemed to be commonly used.  It was so delightful to be surrounded by such a strong food culture. I cannot think of a better place to experience a Slow Food meeting! 

Each course of our dinner was representative of a different regional cuisine of Canada

Top middle - Alberta charcuterie
Middle left - BC Okanagan Sockeye Tartare and Celebration Salad greens
Middle middle - Maritime fish cake in an oyster broth
Middle right - Alberta Bison & Saskatchewan lentils
Bottom left - Ontario cheeses
Bottom middle - A cheese-centric dessert from Quebec

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