This weekend, Slow Food Nation is taking over San Francisco’s City Hall with food vendors, conferences, workshops, and farming demos. All last month I got to watch as hearty volunteers turned the stinky, pigeon-befouled strip of concrete in front of City Hall into an amazing herb and vegetable garden. It reminded me of the sustainable, organic backyard garden I grew up with in Oregon, long before “green” was hip. There were the same kinds of vegetables—squash, cucumbers, tomatos, corn, beans—as well as flowers to attract birds and bees. The garden was such a welcome respite from the hot concrete surrounding it, I wondered, Why can’t we do this more often?
Slow Food Nation is attempting to answer that question, among others, via its many panels and workshops. I just got back from a roundtable on local foodsheds where I learned it’s basically impossible, and impractical, for San Franciscans to subsist entirely on foods grown within a 100-mile radius, as much as they might like to. The San Francisco Bay Area has a long growing season and a mild Mediterranean climate, but it is much better suited to producing fruits and vegetables than wheat or pork. It doesn’t make any sense to try to produce everything locally. If the Bay Area (which produces 20 times as much food as it consumes) were to convert its fruit orchards into wheat fields, the nation might not be too happy about it: the cost of strawberries, peaches, and lemons would spike.
So as much as I would like to be a total locavore, it ain’t happening anytime soon. And as one audience member today from the panel pointed out, just because your food is local doesn’t mean the people picking it are. Some of the many migrant farmers who work California fields in have been subject to exploitation and even slavery. But with so little transparency in the food process, it’s hard to know where your strawberries even came from much less who picked them. So I had to take it on good faith that the two rosy-cheeked young women who sold me a pint of tiny, sweet strawberries still warm from the sun weren’t enslaving anyone. At very least, I knew the berries were local and organic. And, as it turned out, totally delicious.
Photos courtesy Slow Food Nation on Flickr.