We got divorced. It was an amicable split. In the end I bit my tongue and went quietly. Years later I still grieve for what could have been. It was good in the beginning, but the disappointments gradually mounted. Five years in and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I left.
It was back in 2000 I bought my first Slow Food membership. Inspired by founder Carlo Petrini and his Slow Food Manifesto, I signed up to the organisation’s Australian convivium convinced that our shared values would make a lifetime bond. In the early days I devoured the publications, relished the events, and met some extraordinary people. All too soon, though, the relationship stalled.
My discontent was not to do with the values of the movement or the aspirations of its leadership, but with the priority of the local gatherings. It felt to me like our conversations became increasingly privileged and indulgent. While we mouthed more noble commitments, we were more concerned about the taste of the oysters and the provenance of the olive oil that we ever were about matters of food security and justice. Unable to face another tasting of goats cheese, I quit.
Good food is about more than the aesthetics of taste and place. It’s even more than the values of slow. While I love my Maffra red wax cheddar, am fussy about the quality of my sourdough, and value the routines of food preparation, surely the designation ‘good’ has to go further. To determine food’s goodness requires an intelligent, moral engagement with the systemic issues of food’s production, distribution and consumption.
In her book Good Food, the North American writer Jennifer Ayers makes this point well. She argues that the quest for good food requires “moral attention” to those farmers and labourers swamped by an increasingly industrialised food system, to the urban and rural poor who struggle to find healthy food at an affordable price, and to the long-term wellbeing of the earth that produces it. According to Ayers. what’s needed is a social and environmental movement that addresses the deepest needs of “the poor, the laborer, and the earth.”
It’s not long ago that Australian writer Rebecca Huntley made the same plea in our context. For a food-related movement to be truly revolutionary, she argued, our vision must go beyond “artisan-crafted goats cheese” to address the needs of the most disadvantaged — those marginalized by place, poverty and race. It’s a new “republic of food” we need, she wrote — one in which all are fed and a table at which all are welcome.
Now that’s a movement I can be part of.
Jennifer Ayers, Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology, Baylor University Press, 2013.
Rebecca Huntley, Eating Between the Lines: Food & Equality in Australia, Black Inc., 2008.