Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Slow food movement’s Charity Kenyon

Charity Kenyon has seen the slow food movement catch on faster than a snail’s pace. Maybe that’s not as quickly as she’d like, but the Galt-based advocate for healthful eating and sustainable farming realizes Sacramento is a productive place for foodies to network with decision makers.

As a Slow Food USA governor, Kenyon represents the Central Valley, where scores of chefs, farmers and consumers have embraced the organization’s concept of “good, clean, fair food.” Slow food members work to preserve heirloom varieties of foods while striving to help the environment. They also want to make sure everyone has access to healthful, flavorful food. Restaurateurs, growers and purveyors earn a “Snail of Approval” for living up to those goals.

Launched in the 1980s in Italy, slow food started as a reaction to fast-food culture. It’s now active in more than 150 countries.

Slow food leaders are in Sacramento today for a weekend statewide conference with international overtones to discuss how to grow their movement.

On the eve of this conference, we chatted with Kenyon.

What is a slow food governor?

We have 20 governors in Slow Food USA, each representing a region. … There are four regions in California: Bay Area, Northern California, Central Valley and Southern California. ... The Bay Area in particular is a hotbed with Alice Waters and other chefs doing so much.

Each governor is responsible for about 10 to 15 chapters. I represent the Central Valley, as defined by somebody in Brooklyn. My 15 chapters include Reno, Siskiyou County and Lake Tahoe. Sacramento actually is one of the most active (chapters) in the country.

Who will be at this conference?

We have 70 leaders coming for the conference representing 35 chapters. ... There are a lot of interesting things going on; slow food is a network, not a silo. Is there a project we could take statewide? Or the total West Coast from Canada to Baja?

We think of ourselves at the center of this thing, but there’s a lot going on worldwide. I’m one of the (slow food) international counselors, so I’ve met all these great people from all over. … In some ways, we have some catching up to do.

What are some of those international programs that impressed you?

Slow Food Italy started master classes where you learn everything you need to know about meat, cheese, wine, whatever. (It spotlights) all the things slow food is trying to promote. It’s local – and global.

Slow Food Youth organized an “Eat-In” in Berlin and 100,000 youth came; that’s pretty neat. The youth factor is important. We need more young farmers. In the United States, we need a million new farmers if we’re going to have sustainable farming and good, clean, fair food for all. So, we’re all looking for ways to energize youth. (That’s why) we’re bringing in school garden expert Andrew Nowak; we have 40 people signed up for his workshop.

What’s next on the slow food table?

Our president, Matt Jones, is coming to the event. His brainchild is slow meat. He promotes the slow food initiative as an alternative to the industrial meat complex. It’s healthier for people and better for animals.

We have examples here. We have local farms involved in preserving heirloom meat varieties such as Karakul sheep (believed to be among the world’s oldest domesticated breeds). ...

They’re not just ancient and rare – they’re delicious. That’s why we’re saving these things.