• May 28, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Before the lunch hour rush, chef Scott Vivian prepares locally grown leeks to accompany his slowly braised short ribs from a Bradford, Ont., farm.

Vivian, executive chef of Jamie Kennedy on the Gardiner restaurant atop Toronto’s Gardiner Museum , is an advocate of the international Slow Food movement which has been picking up steam in Canada. Its Toronto-based chapter has grown from five volunteers to more than 200 in six years, joining the 100,000-strong Slow Food movement in some 150 countries.

Slow Food movement supporters believe that access to good, clean, fair food is “an irrevocable human right.” Carlo Petrini started the movement in 1986 as a grassroots protest against fast food and the lifestyle it came to represent.

“We define good food as food that tastes good, based on the original genetics of the food production as opposed to modern genetics,” said Slow Food Toronto co-leader Paul DeCampo.

Good food also means food produced in a way that respects the environment, he said. In essence, it means good food with good intention.

For DeCampo, eating food that we cook — and sometimes grow — has benefits beyond health. Taking time to buy local produce also helps farmers. By advocating for fair trade, farmers locally and around the world can earn a decent wage. On the family side, sitting down for a meal also builds relationships within families and communities, DeCampo added.

And then there are the environmental gains. Vivian said buying or growing local fruits and vegetables helps reduce our carbon footprint because out-of-country produce usually travels for many kilometres on trucks, trains and planes.

While slow food skeptics say the movement can be “elitist” because local food is more expensive and too time-consuming to fit into an already busy family schedule, Vivian counters that not all local or organic food is expensive and that with higher demand, prices for these goods would likely go down.

From a Catholic perspective, this “slow food” philosophy makes sense, says Jesuit Father Bill Ryan, interim director of the Jesuit Forum for Social Justice and Faith . Food holds a special significance for Catholics.

“It becomes our Eucharist,” Ryan said.

And so taking care of the Earth and ensuring that everyone has access to food, especially the poor, echoes Gospel teachings and Pope Benedict XVI’s call for environmental stewardship, he said. 

Although there isn’t a formal Slow Food movement connection at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, its Angel Foundation for Learning borrows from the movement’s belief in equal access to food. Each day the foundation provides 20,000 students with healthy snacks, breakfast or lunch. Students can’t learn and do well in class if they’re hungry, said executive director Sara Camilleri.

St. Joseph Elementary School in Richmond Hill is also making the social justice connection to food. Marie Baker’s Grade 3 class expanded the school’s garden by planting more carrots, potatoes, beets and onions last month. Students will be harvesting the vegetables by October, just in time for Thanksgiving, and donating the produce to the local food bank.

Back at Vivian’s kitchen, the timer chimes to indicate that the braised ribs are ready. The 31-year-old chef checks the meat and then returns it to the oven, keeping it warm for the lunchtime crowd.

Vivian, who is set to wed fellow Slow Food enthusiast and pastry chef Rachelle Cadwell at Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Church this summer, says he’s looking forward to the Slow Food spread at their reception. The couple plans to continue the Slow Food, sit-down dinners they’ve been sharing for years and the philosophy behind it.

“The most important thing to ask is, do you want there to be a future for your children and future grandchildren?”

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