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Get your slow, sensual subversiveness on

Slow Food Cycle Sunday: not just another pretty ride



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In the summer of 2001, Petrini visited Mexico after attending the first national meeting of Slow Food USA, held in San Francisco. In Tehuacán, he visited a "tiny family-run farm" to see amaranth being grown, which was part of one of Slow Food's many projects to improve biodiversity worldwide. In this case it was re-introducing amaranth, which, along with beans and corn was once the foundation of the Aztec diet, to one of the poorest areas in Mexico. Accompanying Petrini was Alicia De Angeli, a well-known European chef from Mexico City and an expert on native Mexican cuisines. After looking at the amaranth field, De Angeli and the farmer's wife were walking back to the farmhouse when a big leafy herb caught De Angeli's attention. She pointed it out to her companion, but the native Mexican woman didn't know it was edible or how to use it and had to ask the European chef for instructions. Here the impoverished family's home was surrounded by freely growing plants their ancestors has used but they weren't even aware they were edible. Later, a truck arrived down the street delivering Pan Bimbo, sliced white bread made by Grupo Bimbo (note that "Bimbo", a conflation of "Bambi" and "bingo", doesn't connote the same way in Spanish as it does in English. Bimbo went on to buy Weston Foods Inc. in the U.S. for $2.4 billion, making it the largest national bakery in the States. It also owns and produces Sara Lee baked goods.) The Bimbo truck pulled in under a huge billboard advertising Coca-Cola, which owns the largest spring for bottled mineral water in Mexico. The bottling plant is only a few kilometres away, across the dusty desert from the farmers' home.

Even though a Sara Lee cheesecake or two can likely be found in some Pemberton Valley fridges, it's unlikely the place will be seeing Bimbo bread delivery trucks, huge Coca-Cola billboards, or bottled water manufacturing plants anytime soon. But when Anna started Slow Food Cycle Sunday, the nub of this sad tale was nipping at the heels of Pemberton farmers: The loss of farmland and the depletion of local food supplies.

Although the factors impacting B.C.'s dwindling local food supply are complex and vary throughout the province, one fact says it all: In 1946-47, B.C. imported three per cent of its food supply. By the 1990s, we were importing up to 40 per cent.

"There is a lot of development pressure on this farmland," says Anna by phone from her family's 76-acre certified organic and biodynamic farm in Pemberton Valley. "Even though it is in the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve)... we really were feeling like it was going to slip away from us like Richmond, and these other places that are having a tough time keeping their farmland."

And while you're indulging your sensory-cycling self on August 18, touring farms and sampling amazing local products and chefs' creations, around Pemberton remember that the event has another key purpose.

"It (slow food) is all about trying to link different people from different kinds of positive food communities together," says Sinclair Philip, co-owner/-operator of the renowned Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island, which has devoted itself to local foods since 1979 (In a stroke of serendipity, he and three others decided on the spot to start Slow Food Canada when they met up at Whistler's food and wine extravaganza, Cornucopia, in 2001).

"Putting people in touch with local farms in (Pemberton) will help support the local economy, the sustainability of those farms, and — something that's really important to slow food — rebuilding a sense of community in a society where there seems to be less of that.

"This whole event is a really, really positive one from that standpoint."

But slow food isn't just about pleasure, politics and community; it's also all about hard work. The degree varies, but you have to admit even cycling the 56 km, if you go the full slow food cycle distance, is hard work.

On a day-to-day basis, sourcing good food that's "slow" takes extra effort, too. It usually costs a bit more, as Anna points out, which means you have to work harder to get it, or you might have to make a hard choice, like eating less meat in order to afford those delicious $3-a-pound organic potatoes.

In most cases, you have to get yourself to a farmers' market or farm gate operation or wait for the delivery of your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce box to get your good food. These aren't major efforts, but neither are they as mindless and easy-peasy as running up to the mall whenever you want.

However, the toughest part of slow food is producing the food itself. The strategic and operational logistics — like being out on the tractor until 10 o'clock at night or maintaining a second job — to get those farms to produce like they do and keep enough cash flowing to live on and pay the mortgage can be a ridiculous amount of hard work.