Before the lexicon of local foods was commonplace, the international movement called "Slow Food" encouraged people to reconnect with authentic regional flavors and food traditions. Launched in Italy in 1986, it came in response to the rise of fast food and industrialized food in Europe, and local chapters were formed around the world.
New Orleans food maven Poppy Tooker started the first local Slow Food chapter in 1999. That branch was disbanded two years ago amid turmoil over the direction and goals of Slow Food USA, the national organization headquartered in Brooklyn. The new chapter of Slow Food scheduled a launch party Monday, Oct. 1, at Rock 'N' Bowl. Annual membership (details at www.slowfoodnola.com) costs $25, and members get invitations to events, discounts on food at those events and other perks.
"You get to join a movement," says Gary Granata, a local sports nutritionist who chairs the new Slow Food New Orleans chapter.
Just where that movement is headed has been a source of contention for Slow Food nationally, however. Members, former members and supporters of Slow Food have been debating its future, with some urging the group to stick to its original purpose — supporting artisanal food producers and regionally specific foods — while the organization has been increasingly active in "food justice issues," such as access to healthy foods and the gears of government food policy.
The new Slow Food New Orleans chapter hopes to bring in elements from both sides.
"One thing that Slow Food teaches is that consumers can be co-producers," Granata says. "When you buy food, the decisions you make, that gives you a hand in how food is produced. It's creating that connection between producers and consumers."
Health and food-access issues are an important part of the new chapter, which has formed a partnership with the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit that provides free medical, health and wellness services to local musicians. Granata says the partnership is intended to link Slow Food's work with the foundation's efforts to promote healthy diets and lifestyles for musicians. As part of the partnership, the groups plan to hold monthly events benefiting both Slow Food and the Musicians Assistance Foundation.