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Slow food revolutions 

The eco-impact of food production is a huge issue globally and Nova Scotia food experts have travelled to Italy to better understand how we can help make it better back home.

click to enlarge Brooklyn Warehouse’s George Christakos - ANGELA GZOWSKI

“The first day of this conference was unbelievably overwhelming,” says Brooklyn Warehouse’s George Christakos of his trip to Turin, Italy for the 2010 Terra Madre Conference. “I just didn’t understand how to approach it. I felt like I was drowning in this wealth of information.”

Slow food is a complex subject. Speaking with Christakos on his adventures in Italy, one can understand how he feels, given how the particulars intersect with everything from Peruvian organic llama wool to sustainable fisheries.

Founded in Italy in 1989 to combat the rise of fast food, slow food is now a global grassroots organization seeking to preserve the dwindling status of local culinary traditions. It focuses on the principles of Good, Clean and Fair---uniting the more personal pleasure of enjoying a delicious, local and seasonal meal, with clean food production that has little negative impact on our environment or wildlife, as well as guaranteeing a fair wage for producers and workers.

Slow Food Nova Scotia has been active since the early 2000s, with additional local chapters forming in both Northumberland Shores and Acadia University. All three convivia work independently from each other and typically put on events throughout the year to share and educate on the principles of the movement. “You’ll find variation from convivium to convivium about what exactly they do,” explains Sheila Stevenson, secretary of the Slow Food NS convivia.

“It’s really easy to get frustrated and down about the average consumer’s choices when it comes to food and beverage,” says Christakos. “Slow food is a safe haven for anyone who cares about food.” For him, simply telling customers that local is important is not the way to convince them of its significance. “How do I convince them that they need to spend more time with food?” he asks. “If it tastes awesome, that is how you’re going to reach that person.”

Slow food is important for many different reasons. Stevenson urges one particular reason for Nova Scotians: “I grew up on a farm in the 1950s and as a little kid I knew that farmers were important because that’s where food came from,” she says. “Now I still feel the same way, and the fact that we produce only 10 percent of what we eat in Nova Scotia is really scary from a food security point of view.”

Possibly the most inspiring event in the world of slow food is the biannual Terra Madre Conference in Torino. Fifteen delegates from Nova Scotia were invited, which invited more than 5,000 producers, students, chefs, academics, activists and business owners. The conference touches on topics such as the preservation of indigenous foods, land-grabbing and school garden projects. Both Stevenson and Christakos were awestruck. “You suddenly realize,” says Stevenson, “with this many people it’s possible to make a difference.”

Though there’s a lot of information to digest, Christakos has a clear view of his place and future in this massive network of food and people.

“I’m in the food and beverage industry, so as a responsible business owner in this industry---and I think in any industry---you need to leave your industry in a better position than when you found it,” he says. “It’s about that progress and slow food gives me a huge amount of resources in order to do that, to promote the food culture of Nova Scotia. That’s why it’s important to me and that’s the answer.”

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