Thursday, February 21, 2008

Slow Foods' Memo: Plans for Huge 'Slow Food Nation' Festival in San Francisco Starting to Take Shape

The artisanal and sustainable-food organization Slow Food USA plans in the next few months to transform (with the mayor's permission) San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza into a 15,000 square foot vegetable garden, as the group begins preparing for this summer's huge Slow Foods Nation food festival in the city by the bay.

The four-day festival featuring artisanal, specialty, natural and organic food producers--along with cheesemakers, farmers, vintners and others--is scheduled for Labor Day weekend in San Francisco. It will be held August 29 -to- September 1, 2008.

At a planning session last Friday, the Slow Food group said the festival will be held at two venues in the city: the Civic Center, which is home to San Francisco's Beaux-Arts style city hall and the large Civic Center Plaza and a park; and Fort Mason, a large mixed-use facility on the edge of the city with views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge.

The Civic Center venue will be devoted primarily to the farming aspects of the festival, with the 15,000 square foot garden and a farmer's market featuring nearly 100 vendors on each of the four days of the festival. In addition, "Slow on the Go" food stands will sell a variety of "slow food" ready-to-eat items like tacos made with grass-fed beef and homemade organic tortillas, grass-fed beef hamburgers, slices of pizza with tomato sauce made from organically-grown heirloom tomatoes and locally-produced artisanal cheeses, and other similar delights.

Speakers at the Civic Center space will discuss food issues of various types, and food activist groups will meet to devise ways the make the U.S. food system more sustainable.

The focus at Fort Mason will be primarily on food and eating; and enjoying it the "slow food" way. Hundreds of American artisanal, specialty, natural and organic food purveyors will set up booths and offer tastes of their products. The various foods at the venue will be organized by category by a local Bay Area specialist. For example, the group says Steve Sullivan of the famous Berkeley, California Acme Bread company will organize the bakers, and Tom Worthington of Berkeley's innovative Monterey Fish Market will be in charge of the seafood offerings.

The Slow Food Nation festival's most vocal--and perhaps most popular in food circles--spokesperson is Alice Waters, the founder and owner of the world-famous Chez Panisse restaurant in nearby Berkeley, cookbook author, specialty foods' producer, food educator, home garden promoter, and advisor on food issues to former President Bill Clinton and other U.S. policy makers.

Water's says part of her goal for the four-day Slow Food Nation festival, which the organizers' expect to draw tens of thousands of participants to, is to "make an impression on the next president of the United States."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom also is a big proponent of the festival and has thrown the city's resources behind it. Before being elected as the city's Mayor, Newsom was the owner of a high-end chain of restaurants in the Bay Area, as well as owning two premium wineries, and creating and marketing the Plumjack brand of premium wines.

Newsom says San Francisco is the logical place to hold the four-day Slow Food festival because of the city's (and nearby Bay Area region's) status as the sustainable and artisanal food movement capital of the U.S.

According to Anya Fernald, Slow Food Nation executive director, the organizing committee has raised 40% of its $2 million budget for the festival thus far. Those interested in making a donation can go to the Slow Food Nation website for information on how to do so.

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