A slow apology, of sorts

Our blogging e-pal Tana at I (Heart) Small Farms has the latest development in the face-off between Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini and the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers he dissed in his description of the market, its clientele, and their prices. Tana posts a conciliatory letter she received from Erica Lesser, head of Slow Food USA, along with a copy of the one that Petrini apparently sent to CUESA, which runs the farmers market in question. (Wish I’d gone over there today to hear the scuttlebutt, but I was gripped by an obsessive need to rearrange all the furniture in the house, and besides, I don’t look like an actress.)

The short version: Petrini apologizes to CUESA for any offense caused by the passage. He blames the translation for failing to convey the admiration he felt for the farmers in question, and also complains that reading the section out of the book’s context doesn’t help, either. This could indeed be true, but the damage is done. Farmer Steve Sando sums it up best in a comment over at his blog: “There’s a large portion of the population that is dipping their toes into these waters and to have someone like Petrini come along and confirm their suspicions that they may be getting ripped off, while also making fun of them, is beyond irresponsible.”

The passage gives rise to stories like this editorial in the Los Angeles Times today, which says that farmer “quoted in Petrini’s book admitted to inflating his prices so that he could support his family and still have time for surfing.” There you go: he “admitted” to “inflating” his prices. I’d put quoted in quotes too, but I think we have established that Petrini was employing some poetic license when writing about his conversations.

Petrini’s clumsiness didn’t do much to improve the state of the food system in this country, but it sure did inspire the best discussion we’ve ever had on this blog. (Boy, it’s really humbling when your readers demonstrate over and over how much more articulate and thoughtful they are than you.) I’m actually tiring of the contretemps, and now that it does at least seem that Slow Food acknowledges their gaffe — albeit with perhaps a little less culpa than Mea — ready to move on. The weather here today was breezy and sun-kissed. Peaches and squash and cherries have returned to the Berkeley farmers market, along with fresh basil. I’m excited to report that my first attempt at fermenting something — cabbage into kim chi — turned out delicious, so crunchy and eye-wateringly spicy.

Here’s to slow food … to good, clean, and fair food … to sustainable, organic, local, and ethical (SOLE) food … and especially to all the amazing and passionate people who grow, cook, and eat it.

3 Responsesto “A slow apology, of sorts”

  1. MFKsWolf says:

    Here is the letter Carlo Petrini wrote to CUESA. He wrote and sent this to CUESA BEFORE the meeting with the farmers which went so poorly. CUESA chose, for reasons unknown, not to share this letter with the farmers before that event. I don’t know if they have done so yet.


    Dear CUESA,

    I was quite surprised to learn in the past few days about some negative
    reactions to a passage called *Green California* in my
    just-published book, Slow Food Nation, and wanted to take a moment to
    try to explain my intentions and clarify what I believe happened.

    First of all, I want to apologize for any offense caused by this
    passage, whether to your organization or the many farmers who are your
    members and collaborators. It was absolutely not my intention to
    denigrate or attack the farmers of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – or
    of any farmers market, for that matter. I hope that you will consider
    the rest of my book, not to mention the range of Slow Food projects I
    have founded over the past twenty years, a testament to the deep
    admiration I feel for the farmers who grow sustainably and depend on the
    direct market economies of farmers markets, both in the United States
    and around the world. The network of farmers and food producers that we
    brought together at Terra Madre has only helped to reinforce how
    strongly I believe in the importance of farmers as defenders of the
    earth and stewards of our future.

    In part, I believe that the translation of this passage was,
    unfortunately, not as accurate as it should have been, and that the
    misinterpretation of certain phrases and the omission of a few key words
    resulted in a tone that differs significantly from the spirit of what I
    wrote in Italian. In fact, my original words were meant to demonstrate
    the positive impression I had of the two farmers with whom I spoke,
    based on their apparent success in making farming a viable livelihood
    for themselves.

    I have also come to realize that this specific passage may be
    vulnerable to misunderstandings when judged outside of the context of
    the chapter in which it resides, not to mention the book in its
    entirety. For this I can only apologize for the imperfections of my own
    writing, in my attempt to explore some of the contradictions that exist
    within the highly relative concept of sustainability.

    The loss of biodiversity in our food supply; the rights of migrant farm
    workers; the elitism argument against organic and artisanal foods; not
    to mention the twin epidemics of obesity and hunger that plague our
    planet, are all contradictions which we need to acknowledge and explore
    in a way that respects multiple cultures and points of view.

    I believe strongly that the only way in which we can overcome these
    contradictions is to create a dialogue where we face these issues with
    an open mind and a generous heart, and I hope that with this in mind, we
    can come to the table together to recognize our common values and chart
    a path forward that unites our work in the pursuit of food that is good,
    clean and fair.

    In friendship/Sincerely/With respect,

    Carlo Petrini
    Slow Food International

  2. Steve Sando says:

    Good lord! this letter is making the rounds as if it were the rosetta stone. We saw this almost immediatley. It’s very sweet that Petrini is sorry we were upset but it would be sweeter if he admitted he goofed. Alice Waters was able to do this but for some reason, Petrini can’t. Nor can Slow. I had a conference call last week with Lesser and a local director and they refuse to call it as a mistake. I bent over backwards helping them to come up with something acceptable, even “Based on numerous visits to the actual market, it’s clear that the market Petrini visited and wrote about in 2003 is not the same market today.” Anything!


  3. Steve Sando says:

    I am happy to almost stand corrected. I just got word that a response is being worded right now and there’s a very good chance this chapter will close soon. I’m as bored as you are, believe me.