It seems that, once again, the train of change is moving forward. And in food retailing, that multi-dimensional train is rapidly picking up steam.
A couple of months ago, I got a glimpse of this happening in two different parts of the world. First, I was invited to speak in San Diego at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit conference, the largest conventional produce conference in the country. After giving the audience a look at the organic industry's past, present and future, I profiled organic consumers and what they are looking for in a shopping experience.
Then I sat down with some of the top players in produce marketing—vice presidents and directors from Wild Oats, Schnucks, Four Seasons, Driscoll and the University of California—to answer questions on how retailers could grow their organic produce program. It was great to add my 20-plus years of organic expertise to the panel and see the audience react favorably to the knowledge that the organic lifestyle is here to stay. One point the panel agreed on is that if you are going to sell organic, you'd better be committed to doing it right. As I left the room, I could hear a positive buzz among the crowd, and realized that a new group of people would soon be climbing aboard the organic cars of the train.
Soon after, I hopped on a plane and headed to Turin, Italy, to cover the Terra Madre conference for my radio show. As I flew from Frankfurt, Germany, over the Italian Alps into Turin, I knew I was about to board another section of the train myself—the slow food dining car. There, the food is good-tasting, is produced in a way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or human health, and brings a fair compensation to those who produce it.
Don't get me wrong—this wasn't new territory for me. I have been preaching the benefits of seasonal eating and improved work conditions, and I have been helping stores create strong local-grower programs for years. But this was different.
Terra Madre is a Slow Foods International meeting of 1,600 world communities that work for the sustainability and quality of their food, and respect the environment and people. Five thousand farmers, breeders, fishermen and traditional food producers, 1,000 cooks, and 400 teachers and university representatives all came together from five continents to promote the cause. And when spoken language was an obstacle, I pulled out my notepad, and we drew our way to an understanding of ideas and cultures and a hearty round of laughter.
At Terra Madre, I ate four- and five-hour dinners that offered the best food and conversation of the Piedmont region and the island of Sardinia. I tasted amazing oils, wines and cheeses from all over the world at the Salone De Gusto food show, which runs concurrently with the Slow Food show. I interviewed chefs from Brazil, caterers from England, goat cheese farmers from Australia and potato growers from Maine. Though we live worlds apart, we all found a kinship in advancing and preserving the ideas that Terra Madre and Slow Food promote, knowing that this is the future of food.
For those new to the train of change and those who have been riding awhile, we have lots of opportunity to promote the best of our regions. Believe me, it makes a big difference. Since Slow Food International was founded in 1989, it has saved 31 animal breeds, 81 fruit and vegetable varieties, 57 cheeses and 34 cured meats from extinction. What can you do? Join or start a chapter (known as a convivium). Work with your local convivium to promote food producers in your area. Sponsor a community dinner. There is a world of possibility.
For more information, go to slowfood.com or listen each Saturday to my radio show, "For the Love of Produce," where you will get a glimpse of Slow Food producers and members. The show airs every Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. Pacific time on KSVY 91.3 FM. You can stream the show on your computer at www.ksvy.org I look forward to seeing you on the train.
Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected].
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 12/p. 28