July 14th, 2014 by Keith Schildt
Slow Meat Symposium
I was lucky enough to be one of the hundred delegates selected to participate in Slow Food USA inaugural Slow Meat Symposium from June 20-22 in Denver, Colorado. The delegates ranged from ranchers and other producers, food policy experts and advocates, to others involved in our food system related to meat. Representatives from Slow Food International were also in attendance. Delegates spent the better part of two days in facilitated discussions aimed at producing actionable items that Slow Food chapters across the country can implement to help create a more humane and sustainable meat industry with reduced consumption as well. These items are being cataloged by Slow Food and should be available in late August.
These informative and lively discussions among delegates demonstrated the range of issues that encapsulate meat production in our country. Some delegates focused on the importance of educating consumers while other stressed the need for policy action. The negative impact to rural economies of industrialized meat production as well as its environmental degradation was a frequent theme. The Michael Pollan line “nobody knows a farmer anymore” was often repeated as we lamented the disconnect between rural and urban Americans as well as the general lack of food knowledge in our country.
Interspersed between the discussions were several plenary sessions. Speakers included Allan Savory from the Savory Institute, who provided a fascinating international viewpoint on holistic ranch management; and Mary Dee Berry of the Berry Center (and daughter of author and farmer Wendell Berry) who spoke passionately about the need to revitalize rural communities through family farming.
My overall impression was that this was a wonderful initial start to correcting the problems and injustices in our country’s meat production and consumption. Importantly, there are plans underway for a larger, more inclusive Slow Meat Symposium in 2015 to continue and expand these efforts. Specifically, it was clear to me that California (as well as New York City) Slow Food is way ahead of the curve on policy advocacy, and other chapters are looking to us to model their legislative advocacy activities. Also, state and localized efforts are likely to be our best means to achieve success – there was a “Washington DC is broken” and “captured by big ag interests” consensus that will make federal opportunities unlikely. Lastly, the overarching theme that we must consume less but better meat will need widespread localized educational efforts in order to make an impact on our restaurant menus and home meals. Towards this end, the Slow Food California Policy Committee is thinking about teaming up with Friends of the Earth to do a marketing campaign aimed at fast food restaurants. The campaign will focus on two goals: to eliminate the use of meat containing antibiotics and to develop a consumer education program.