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There Will Be Tacos, There Will Be Compost

August 27, 2008

By Sebastian Howard

Residents of the Bay Area have put a premium on good, healthy, sustainable food since Hippies began adhering to macrobiotic diets. This weekend, San Francisco will become the country’s undisputed capital of ‘slow food’—as in, the opposite of ‘fast food.’

Pickle pavilion at Fort Mason
Image courtesy Sagan Piechota Architecure

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Slow Food Nation ’08, a festival being held from August 29 through September 1, will celebrate local, organic, and artisanal food. The event is the work of Slow Food USA, an organization that “envisions a food system that is good, clean, and fair.”

From Super Size Me to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, food politics have been on the American table lately. We’ve heard debates about the Farm Bill and we’ve shunned tomatoes for fear of salmonella; we’re more likely to suffer from obesity and diabetes than ever before; we’re beginning to understand that the specters of climate change and rising gas prices are poised to alter our petro-intensive diets. In short, the agricultural-industrial complex needs rethinking, and among some Americans, there “has been a movement towards slowness,” says Slow Food Communications Director Naomi Starkman.

The brainchild of Alice Waters (owner of Berkeley’s renowned Chez Panisse restaurant), Slow Food Nation’08 aims to harness the energy of that movement. By bringing together chefs, farmers, architects, urban planners, and designers, Slow Food’s organizers hope to encourage people to eat better—tasting food that’s better for the environment.

“The idea is to not make it an elitist thing, but rather a people’s thing,” says the festival’s master planner Cathy Simon of SMWM. “At Fort Mason,” in the north of the city, “there will be an educational component, while the Civic Center will be the hub.” Fourteen pavilions at Fort Mason (“Pickles and Chutney,” “Charcuterie,” etc.), each designed by a different Bay Area architectural firm, will showcase artisanal food. Firms involved with Slow Food Nation ‘08 include SOM, Natoma Architects, Min/Day, and envelope A+D. Visitors will be able to attend lectures, visit nearby restaurants for symposia, hear music, and of course, sample and purchase the goods.

They’ll also be able to walk through John Bela’s 10,000 square-foot Victory Garden, an orchard and vegetable garden at the heart of the Civic Center, in a space that has previously held a carpet lawn, a reflecting pool and, yes, during World War II, a Victory Garden. This is “not the cardboard tubes in P.S. 1,” says Simon, referring to MoMA’s exhibition Public Farm 1. “This is a serious garden. It’s already been harvested 2 or 3 times, and the food was donated to homeless shelters.”

The firms involved donated their services, and agreed to create inexpensive, environmentally sustainable designs. The organizers encouraged the architects to think about the lifespan of the materials they used—where they came from, and where they’d go after the festival’s conclusion. So Macy Architecture created its Cheese Area largely from milk crates borrowed from a local creamery, while SMWM made the tables in the “Slow on the Go” area (where visitors can buy slow food served quickly—not fast food) from eucalyptus boards that will be recycled at the festival’s conclusion.

Starkman was happily surprised by the enthusiastic reception the project got in the architecture community:  “the architects are obsessed with their pavilions—it’s like they’re building museums. The amount of care and detail is remarkable.”

With the recent media attention given to green roofs and urban farms, Design and Content Coordinator Talia Dillman sees “a link between the spaces we inhabit and food and sustainability. Architecture and land use are so connected” that architects and slow food advocates are natural allies, she argues.

It’s all enough to make you hungry for some good, clean, and fair food.  

 

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