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'Slow Food' book misses the point about local items

By Kathleen Purvis
kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com
Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

The title of a new book that arrived last week caught my eye: Slow Food Nation's “Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living.”

Slow Food started out as an international organization, but it has gotten more active in America. There's a Slow Food chapter here in Charlotte now, and I've heard another one is starting in the Lake Norman area. In San Francisco a few weeks ago, there was a national gathering that drew thousands of people.

The book tells the stories of 12 small family farms. It has a foreword by Alice Waters.

But flipping through the book, I noticed something:

All of the farms are in California.

Why would a book by a group with the title Slow Food Nation focus only on one state?

Now, I'm not complaining about California. I've been to Northern California several times, and it is an inspiring place for any food fan.

People treat their farm products with a reverence that borders on obsession.

A sports fan cradling a Babe Ruth-signed baseball can get less carried away than a San Franciscan talking about a Frog Hollow peach.

And yes, it is true that California's massive amount of farm land produces an equally massive amount of America's food.

But the notion that one state plays a more important role in local food than the other 49 combined almost seems quaint. It misses the point that the best food is the food that is grown the closest to you.

As I flipped through the book, I remembered when Alice Waters came to Charlotte a year ago.

Her schedule was so packed that I got an interview only by riding along while a Slow Food Charlotte member drove her up to Grateful Growers Farm in Denver.

My favorite moment came when the driver said she felt Charlotte was behind the rest of the country in food.

“But you aren't,” Waters said earnestly. “That's the beauty of it.” She started talking about a visit to Chapel Hill several years ago and how amazed she was by what was going on there.

And she told us about the people she had met the night before in Charlotte, people like Lynn Caldwell of the Tailgate Farmer's Market.

Sometimes I get a little frustrated by Waters, by her stubborn insistence on not looking at the impediments real life throws in the way of better food systems.

But in that moment, sitting in the backseat, I found myself liking her very much.

Something tells me that if Alice were sitting in Charlotte, looking at a book that claims to be about the Slow Food Nation, she'd want it to look past the California state line, too.

E-mail Kathleen Purvis: kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com.

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