Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Postcard from Summer: Slow Food Nation


This is what happens when a group of foodies — some very socially and politically minded, some ... not so much -- converge in a very food-centric city over a long weekend. I can't divulge all the details (only because I would bore you with policy talk), let's just say, we ate. A lot.


First up: some policy-making. Those familiar with Slow Food USA may know that the organization is trying like hell to define itself more clearly. Those unfamiliar with it may discover why you haven't heard of it in the first place. I admit, I have my qualms about the organization and worry about its effectiveness. But in the end you have ask yourself who else out there is doing what they're doing. Enough said. Besides, how else can I see some food advocates on the white marble steps reading the verse of the Declaration of Food Rights. The only way I can explain it is what a basketball fan would feel at the annual All-Star Game, courtside seats in full view of Marion Nestle and Alice Waters.


Then, we eat. Leave it to the likes of us to create a dining room in the Civic Center gardens. Two huge rows of craft paper-lined tables, set between an edible garden. Each place setting stamped with a role: "Server," "Busser," "Sommelier," "Host." Everyone eats and everyone helps get the organic grilled chicken and wholesome porchetta, with haricots verts in vinaigrette, heirloom tomatoes, just picked greens. Then cookies -- biscotti, chocolate meringues, chocolate chips, macaroons. Simple, unfussy, unpretentious -- this is an event that critics should see. There's no room to be stuffy under the Indian summer sky.


This was the view from our table, an organic garden planted by volunteers that replaced generic flower beds in front of City Hall and the Civic Center. Lettuces. Brassicas of all sorts. Herbs. Butterfly flowers. Marigolds.


The next day a food expo for nerds of the culinary sort. A coffee "cupping" with artisan beans from different parts of the tropical growing zone as explained to me by the very hip and very tattooed barista. And yes, there are differences between the same beans brewed as coffee or as espresso.


There were some familiar faces in the huge warehouse at Fort Mason. The fellows from Amano Chocolates explaining why good chocolate can be made in Utah to the hordes waiting in line to taste America's finest artisan bars.


Chocolate appeals to everyone, young and old. In addition to tasting them, you can fondle the raw product in crates to see what exactly creates these bars. Beyond chocolate and coffee was of course, tea, liquor (hooray!), preserves, cured meat, fish/seafood and wine.


I had to make a stop at the Cheese pavillion that was decked out with bales of hay and a world's worth of red milk crates. A striking visio. But it couldn't compare to seeing the Rockhill Creamery gang represented as Utah's artisan, raw milk cheese producer. (Listed just above the guy's head.) Since Pete and Jen couldn't make it out, I represented them during a few cheese sessions. I don't know if the audience was more shocked that farmstead artisan cheese comes from Utah or that Asians do, too.

The place was packed with producers, special guests and the public grazing from foodstuff to foodstuff. Frankly, it ended in a bit of a blur, swirled with the yeasty scents from the Italian wood and Indian tandoori ovens of the food booths that sat by the exit. When I opened my eyes, the salty coastal air was gone and I found myself in front my computer downloading these images to save forever.