Taking a gorgeous bike ride through a gorgeous valley on a gorgeous August day to hang out with your pals and enjoy delicious food and drink at the front gates and under the shady barn roofs of some of the most beautiful working farms in Canada is seductive, sensual and just plain fun. The last thing on Earth you'd think is that it is a political act.
But it is.
However, when I press Anna Helmer, whose family has been farming in Pemberton Valley for over a century starting with her great-grandfather on her dad's side — Walter Carey Green, called Grandpa Green by the family — about why she started Slow Food Cycle Sunday eight years ago, she hesitates to call it political.
But it was. A wonderfully pleasurable, powerful political act any Trojan horse builder would be proud of, one comparable to the sly and sensual Trojan horse in this story:
"When my friends and I opened the doors of our new restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971," writes legendary food activist, Berkeley activist, active activist — and sensualist — Alice Waters, in her intro to Carlo Petrini's classic, Slow Food Nation, "we thought of ourselves as agents of seduction whose mission it was to change the way people ate. We were reacting against the uniformity and blandness of the food of the day. We soon discovered that the best-tasting food came from local farmers, ranchers, foragers and fishermen who were committed to sound and sustainable practices. Years later, meeting Carlo Petrini [founder of the Slow Food movement] for the first time, I realized that we had been a Slow Food restaurant from the start. Like Carlo, we were trying to connect pleasure and politics — by delighting our customers we could get them to pay attention to the politics of food."
Then there's politics of slow food in its home and native land, Italy, where the cap "S," cap "F" Slow Food movement works on things like developing political programs to preserve family farms, lobbying to include organic farming concerns within agricultural policy, and lobbying against government funding of genetic engineering and pesticides.
Here I can't help but think of Pemberton's Jordan Sturdy, Blackcomb ski patroller turned family man who, when looking for a suitable home for his family in the early 1990s came across a beater of an A-frame in Whistler and a 52-acre farm in Pemberton for the same price. He went for the farm, something of a political statement itself, but it didn't stop there.
North Arm Farm went on to become legendary and organic, working closely with chefs throughout Sea to Sky to grow specific crops for their menus, essentially re-shaping the way they and others sourced at least some of their food. Jordan eventually became the local mayor and, recently, the local MLA, sitting on numerous boards of influence along the way, including the Squamish Lillooet Regional District and BC Association of Farmers' Markets, the politics of which are obvious, especially when he is able to effect Petrini-like changes.
Then we have the slow food tales with a political backstory told by Carlo Petrini, a celebrity in his native Italy as is the Slow Food movement itself, says Anna, who attended the mothership of Slow Food events, Terra Madre, which is held in Torino, Italy, every year and attracts thousands. There, Carlo was fawned over by the paparazzi and public like an Italian Brad Pitt, something hard to picture in Canada where the official Slow Food movement, with its membership of around 1,000, has barely captured the collective Canadian consciousness.
Nonetheless, here's one of Carlo's stories from Slow Food Nation that nicely illustrates what we've all been up against in the world's food supply over the last 50 years or so: