Those in attendance chose between scallops, corn soup, pasta dishes, and pulled pork sandwiches from local eateries like Xochitl, Earth & Bread Brewery, and Spring Mill Cafe. Beer vendors like Dock Street, Victory, Earth & Bread Brewery and Philadelphia Brewing Company handed out generous tastings of their finest ales, pilsners and summer flavors. (In my palate’s humble opinion, highest marks go to Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Fleur De Lehigh. The unfiltered brew –comprised of ginger, lemongrass and herbs–was perfect for a sweltering evening. )
Though the array of good food and drink might seem like just a pleasant way to spend an evening, there was a purpose behind the gathering: to promote the idea of making eating a conscious activity. The first to share her knowledge regarding this pursuit was Lisa Bogan, a member of Philadelphia Slow Food’s Steering Committee, and volunteer at the Spring Mill Café booth.
The Slow Food Movement began in Italy as a protest to the construction of a McDonald’s, but served the larger mission of calling attention to the fast-paced (fast-food) approach to life that was contributing to the disappearance of local food cultures. At base, the movement creates an awareness of where our food comes from, how it should taste, and how our individual choices about food affect the world as a whole.
Bogan takes this history and sums it up in one word: sustainability. In Philadelphia, Slow Food followers seek to protect original breeds of livestock and plants (called heritage breeds) to keep them in their natural state (a pig should be fatty and full of flavor, not genetically modified to be lean). To eat Slow, Bogan encourages eaters to start with the menu: look for organic and locally grown meals and frequent establishments committed to sustaining local agriculture and food traditions.
Next on my educational food tour (after refilling my Fleur De Lehigh) was Bob Pierson, founder of Farm to City.
Farm to City is a small business dedicated to bringing fresh, healthy foods from local farms to Philadelphia by way of farmer’s markets. The goal of the organization, as stated on their website, is to use these markets to “unite communities, families, and farmers year-round through good locally grown food.”
Pierson opened the first Farmer’s Market in 1996 at South and Passyunk to fill a void where fresh food wasn’t previously available. There are now 17 farmer’s markets in the city selling over 500 produce items ranging from vegetables and herbs to eggs and meats. Some markets even remain open year-round as part of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
CSA programs allow local farmers and community members to explore the mutually-beneficial relationship of buying and selling farm produce through shares. Members receive weekly supplies of what’s in season, or in some cases, select crops in advance. The system works because members pay at the beginning of the season and share both the benefits of a prolific harvest and the scarcity of a harvest adversely affected by weather conditions.
True to the Farm to City mission, Pierson imagines an urban Philadelphia community that is united with its surrounding regions through the growing, harvesting, and sharing of crops. He described a certain kind of “magic” that takes place when a city resident pays a local farmer for fresh, sustainable food.
This magic pervaded this weekend’s event as discussions beginning in “what are you eating” matured into reflections on the neighborhood, musings about the city and the exchange of business cards and warm handshakes. The simple act of conscious eating naturally became a celebration of community and culture.