This weekend marks the return of Slow Food Nations, a three-day festival of what organizers are calling "good, clean and fair food for all," inspired by the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto anchored in Turin, Italy. In planning the festival's second year, the Slow Food USA team has several goals in place to convey its message to the projected 25,000 fest-goers. The grassroots Slow Food movement includes one million members from 160 countries, including activists, chefs, farmers, teachers, writers and food enthusiasts. In the U.S. alone, there are currently 150 Slow Food chapters. This weekend, passionate members and curious minds will join forces with the common goal of taking the path of slow instead of fast, in the name of preserving traditional and local foods.
With more than eighty events spanning free tastings and demos, hands-on seminars, family-style dinners and in-depth summits, there’s a taste for every attendee. Richard McCarthy, executive director of Slow Food USA, and Krista Roberts, director of Slow Food Denver, shared their five objectives for this year’s Slow Food Nations installment taking place in and around Larimer Square.
1. Communicating the importance of regenerative agriculture vs. agricultural confinement
Even though climate change is a global concern, the current wildfires sparking up around Colorado are a front-row reminder of its effects on our own backyard. “The fires are currently impacting Colorado’s agricultural economy, and we must consider how fragile the land is, and how fragile our lives are," says McCarthy. "The economy is both regenerative and extractive, and we are excited to highlight the regenerative model, because it promotes ecology and agriculture. Bison are running wild all over Colorado improving the quality of the land, as opposed to the agricultural confinement of the industrial meat industry, which is so problematic.”
According to McCarthy, the fact that Colorado is so close to the agricultural vision Slow Food Nations promotes makes it the ideal setting for Slow Food Nations. “Colorado is harnessing a very dynamic agricultural tourism taking shape that values the farms, taking people away from the city,” he adds.
By allowing participants to connect with rural economic development outside of Denver, the festival is able to step outside the host city and into live pastures. Thursday evening’s preview event, the Community Table Farm Dinner, invites guests to roam a seventeen-acre farm in Longmont, where a dinner of slow-cooked Colorado meats and farm-fresh produce will be served to ticket holders. In addition, the West Bijou Bison Ranch Dinner on Saturday night takes place at the Savory Institute's bison ranch thirty miles outside of Denver, complete with a tour and an open-fire field dinner prepared by local chef and sustainability advocate Daniel Asher. Those interested in learning more about the topic at hand can attend Intro to Regenerative Agriculture, a free talk taking place Saturday at noon in Larimer Square.
2. Appealing to various attendees on different levels
“Our mission is good, clean and fair food for all, and we want to reach and meet people where they are,” McCarthy says. For example, attendees just entering the sustainable-food landscape may not be ready to commit to an in-depth summit, like The Buzz About Biodiversity. “Although we have folks who are ready for that, and we are bringing some of the best minds, it may be that these patrons want to touch and taste new things out on the street with their families,” says McCarthy. “There is the light touch and the heavy touch, and one of the great things about the activities on Larimer Square is that it’s a bit of an amuse-bouche of Slow Food Nations.”
Individuals, couples and families of all ages are encouraged to stroll through the Larimer Square Taste Marketplace, beginning at 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, and to visit the Family Pavilion, which will feature games, veggie tattoos, karaoke, a selfie station and hands-on events, like the DIY Herb Garden Kitchen. In addition, there are plenty of free introductory talks to get your feet wet. However, those interested in digging a bit deeper can bookmark the Slow Food Leader Summit all day Friday, the Farming for the Future and When Disaster Strikes summits on Saturday, and the Seed Saving to Save the World talk on Sunday.
3. Conveying that great food is served beyond fine-dining establishments
On Saturday night, the Global Street Food Social will take place on the illuminated Larimer Square. “This is one of our international opportunities to remind the world that great food isn’t just served on white tablecloths,” says McCarthy. “It is served on the streets, in fire pits on the side of the road; it’s where culture meets food and food meets grassroots, and we have some well-known names who are coming and some surprising combinations of people and things, and we are excited about those who will encounter them for the first time — and hopefully not their last.”
The $65 ticketed event includes familiar vendors like TAG Restaurant Group, Tavernetta and Uncle, while new tastes to try include yaka mein from Linda Green from New Orleans, and a sweet treat collaboration from Slow Food Mexico and Fortuna Chocolate from Boulder.
4. Celebrating the bustling hub of Denver
Denverites were what originally attracted the Slow Food Nations camp to our burgeoning city. “There are a lot of stories to share in Denver — right here, right underneath you,” explains Roberts. The Denver dining scene has embraced SFN with open arms, along with this year’s Food for Change theme. “This particular group of people attends a lot of festivals, and they are excited, because they care about what Slow Food stands for and its values. The local food community has influenced the whole festival, bringing together chefs who are part of the alliance and beyond to connect and learn.”
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The Slow Food takeover is slated to envelop Larimer Square (Larimer Street itself will be blocked off between 14th and 15th), where the majority of the weekend’s talks, tastings and interactive offerings will unfold. In addition, guests can pose in the Food for Change photo booth and take part in the Slow Food mural project. Next, take a stroll down Edible Beats Street, a culinary pop-up from the Edible Beats restaurant group (which includes Linger, Root Down, Ophelia's and Vital Root), where you can chow down on a banh mi burrito, a Colorado lamb burger or a hemp cookie. Then grab cocktails and craft beers from the on-site bar, and stay a while for complimentary live tunes in the Music Lounge, courtesy of Ophelia’s.
5. Educating on ways to eliminate waste
According to Roberts, “Slow Food Nations doesn’t all come together without the celebration of food and beverage” — but there are more serious tones of which to take note, one of many being the impact of waste on our environment. “There’s so much waste in the ways in which we live, and we have got to find ways to change how we live our lives, and the best way is to learn to do,” says McCarthy.
Consequently, there are three major events planned surrounding the topic of food waste. On Saturday at noon, Food Waste 101 will touch upon solutions and how to take action. Sunday afternoon’s Waste Not, Want Not Summit, helmed by Massimo Bottura, chef/owner of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, and writer/activist Raj Patel, will tackle the causes and impact of food waste on a global scale, including an interactive conversation and tasting. And, to conclude the festival Sunday evening, the sold-out Zero Waste Family Meal — using all of the unused food from the weekend’s workshops, parties and demos as the main ingredients for a grand-finale feast — will commence.
If you can’t make it out and about in Denver this weekend, fret not. You will still have access to online educational summits and talks throughout Slow Food Nations. Visit the livestream schedule and join the virtual conversation!