I am a huge advocate of the slow food movement. Don’t know that that is? In short, the slow food movement was formalized with the creation of an organization by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1989. The mission of the organization is to “work to defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives.” The idea is to “counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” Read more at www.slowfood.com and www.slowfoodusa.org
I try to live the mission of Slow Food by growing as much of my own food as I can, buying as much of the rest from producers in my area, and cooking or going to restaurants that support local producers. It is important to me that each meal be healthy, taste good and have as little impact on the earth as possible. I can’t always achieve all of these goals in each meal, but I try to be conscious of the choices I am making.
Growing my own food gives me a sense of accomplishment, while buying sustainably grown food from a rancher or grower that I know gives me a sense of connection. In the former instance, I have transformed a seed into a nutritous and tasty snack or meal. In the latter, I have established a personal connection with the person who has nutured the food to maturity and have gained a closer connection to the earth than possible by going to Safeway or even Whole Foods.
None of this is that different from the sense of accomplishment I experience when I have transformed a lump of clay into a mug, vase, plate or bowl. In all these cases I feel a greater connection to my surroundings. And when I marry the home or locally grown food with my own pots or pots made from artists I know, I feel even more connected to my world.
I have been struck in the last several years about how important it is to me to serve the food I grow in a dish I make. The pull is strong. It just doesn’t feel right to serve my tomatoes and cucumbers in a massed produced bowl. I must serve it in something I made, or at a minimum someone else’s handmade pottery. This has gotten me thinking about why this is so important. And whether others feel the same or similar about the contribution of handmade art to a slow food experience.
I posed the question of the importance of handmade tableware to a slow food meal to some slow food members. My favorite response was from Michelle Miller at the University of Wisconsin. Michelle wrote:
This gets to one of my pet issues – the culture of the table. It is not just about the food, but really extends to all the associated things done to make the table experience enjoyable and prolonged. . . . Handmade items on the table personalizes the experience, of course, and I liken it to knowing the farmer who made the cheese and butter on the table. It shortens the “gratitude chain”, or in another way extends it because people are encouraged to think beyond the food. I used to think about how much easier it was to say grace at my grandma’s table where most of the food there was produced on their farm…..
I just love the phrase “gratitude chain”. When I am using my own food and pottery, I am expressing gratitude for all the things in my life that make it possible for me to bring these gifts to the table. When I make lamb stew with lamb from Cliff, my local grassfed rancher, and serve it in a bowl made by me or a fellow potter, I am grateful for Cliff’s work and effort and for his sense of stewardship of his land. I am also grateful for my community studio and everyone there that works so hard to make it function.
Of course to be grateful for these things is to slow down enough to recognize all that goes into to bring the meal to the table. It is about being conscious – in the true Buddhist sense of the word. That is what I love about the slow food movement and making my own pottery – you have to be conscious. And of course, as the REO of Claybourg International said, handmade pottery makes your “food taste better” Perfectly stated.