A number of our members are upset that Slow Food Charlotte has chosen to patronize a restaurant that has no visible means of supporting our local farmers. I would like to take the blame for that mistake. I’ve received multiple requests that the members of our convivia gather together frequently to get to know one another and to enjoy the pleasures of the table. It was my idea to go to a different restaurant each month and to learn about the food cultures of many of the ethnic restaurants in our town and to keep the price reasonable in hopes of including more people. I will admit that outside of Thai & Vietnamese there aren’t a lot of ethnic menus that I can navigate with confidence, nor could I tell you much about the origins or evolutions of their cuisine. So out of hunger and curiosity I did not stop to think that diversity, taste experience, and camaraderie fell short of what is expected from this organization. I can’t say I went onto this totally blind though and it is absolutely the intention to inquire of the restaurant’s owners whether they support our local farmers and if not why. We will always have at least three choices when we want to bring about change:
We can negotiate inside the tent or attempt to bring change from within, which translates into asking the restaurants you attend to support our farmers.
We can negotiate outside the tent or attempt to bring change by demand, which translates to supporting only restaurants that support our farmers.
Or we can do nothing, which sadly is the option we take every time we eat out and not make an inquiry to the restaurant management that they support our farmers.
Enough philosophical gibber gabber…
What does this mean?
There are a dozen of us going to Intermezzo tomorrow night and we hope to start a conversation about farmers from the customer side as well as have a good time together.
Next month we will find a restaurant that does support our farmers first and the cuisine they serve may be secondary.
Here’s a challenge, is there an ethnic restaurant in or around Charlotte that supports local agriculture? I know that in the summer many Asian restaurants grow their own herbs. But what else?
Would you like to be the committee to inquire about future gathering spots?
Thank you Thom for that statement. I just learned of your group yesterday when I heard through the grapevine that some of your members had some less than favorable opinions on the restaurant you are visiting this evening. I commend this group’s purpose, but I do not commend those members that have the single mindedness to discount any restaurant that does not use local farmers.
If you are a non-profit group and your purpose is to bring about a specific change then you should study your market and see where you should put your resources to bring about that goal. What an activist is to do is to educate to create a change. Maybe more local restaurants will support local farmers if your group reaches out and educates them about the local resources that are available to them. Let us also keep in mind running a restaurant is one of the hardest entrepreneurial ventures to keep afloat in the United States. The odds economically are stacked against them. Obviously, these people care about their communities and the local economy, because they opened their own restaurant and did not buy in to a corporate franchise. Therefore, we as a community must support them and help them to become fully invested in our entire community!
I suppose the point I am trying to get across here is that your mission may be larger than what you see right in front of you. If you want restaurants to support our local farming industry then you must build relationships with them and educate them about the local resources that are available to them and the benefits of using them. You have to create a foundation and build upon that with both the farmers and the restaurants. If you insult a restaurant because at the moment they are not using local resources than you have just stepped on your own toes, by closing the door to an opportunity.
Having said all that I wish your group great success and I hope everyone with start supporting all local industries.
I just want everyone to know I am not being closed minded. The two brothers that own Intermezzo are and always will be great friends of mine. In fact I have known them for 12 years and even offered my services to help them open and offered my advice to help them stay open. I applaud their efforts as a small business and will help them succeed in any way I can. That being said what I am talking about is not the fact that Slow Food chose to go to Intermezzo. It is the double talk of people saying the support Local Food that is Good, Clean and Fair and when it comes down to it they don’t. It seems to me it is a trendy see and be seen social club that likes to say one thing and do another. As I have said in other post there are small family farmers and small independent restaurants out there that are closing down each and everyday that people say they are supporting and are not. If we don’t support the local restaurants (ethnic or not) that support our local farmers that grow your food it will all go away! We have the richest soil in this country and the government pays farmers everyday not to grow food on it. Big conglomerates would love nothing more then to see the independent businessman squashed under their shoe like a bug. I will do my best not to let that happen. It is time to get off our duffs and instead of talking about doing something and actually doing something about it. Talk is cheap. LETS GET MOVING!!!!!!
I have to say, at first I was disappointed to find out that Intermezzo doesn't serve local food. I took for granted that Slow Food would pick a restaurant, which serves local food. Having said that, I agree with Lee and think that we must be open minded. We are also on a mission. We want to spread the word about local food. We should take this opportunity to talk to the owners about local resources and the increasing demand for restaurants using local foods.
I think we can have an ethnic restaurant tour under the Slow Food banner even if the food isn't always local. After all Slow Food also stands for tradition and authentic food. It is nice to know that there are restaurants out there that serve authentic ethnic fare. We need to support them, too. And if we can get a few of them to use local ingredients, even better.
I am looking forward to tonight and I would love to discuss this some more.
In my opinion, one of the primary purposes of Slow Food is to support and nourish the idea of locally grown and prepared food.
I would have to agree that restaurant visits in the name of Slow Food should only patronize those restaurants that try to source at least part of their ingredients locally. Currently, this would restrict the number of restaurants to only a handful in Charlotte, and high-end restaurants at that.
Looking at it from a restaurant's point of view though, it is logical why they do not use more local ingredients. The supply is not there. High-end restaurants can take a bunch of heirloom beets or a lb. of baby squash and spread it across 8-12 plates as accents or highlights to the meal. Medium-priced restaurants that cook in a more simple/rustic/peasant style, need volume and a steady supply and, frankly, it is not available.
Currently, there is a lot of buzz, support, and demand for local food. Folks are waking up. The one thing that is often overlooked though is the available supply. The key ingredient to a local and sustainable food system are the producers of food. An assumption is made that there are all these farmers out there and all that is needed is to connect the farmers with consumers. That is simply not the case. There is a huge shortage of food producers.
One thing that struck me at the Friendship Trays Luncheon last Monday was the fact that all these folks wanted to support us so we could build another greenhouse or expand our acreage. That is a dis-connect and an assumption that growers want to expand. The exceptional food that small-scale growers in this area provide is because we are small-scale and hands on on a daily basis. Personally, I do not want to get to the point where I am administering workers and filling out paperwork rather than farming.
In my opinion, the #1 priority for a local food system in the Charlotte region is more growers of food. It is too early to bash restaurants for not buying local when the supply is not there. Restaurants and local growers have two different agenda's. Restaurants want to serve good food and pay the bills. Local growers want to sell what they grow and pay the bills. Restaurants we be more receptive to locally grown food when it becomes more readily available and can be counted on as a source.
How about potlucks or hosted dinners, using local food in season, from both local growers and community gardeners?
More specifically, is there any interest in having a Slow Foods Local "Banquet" at the Urban Ministry Soup Kitchen some evening during Charlotte's long harvesting season? There is a full -semi-commercial kitchen there that's used only at noon.
We could get a local chef (J&W faculty? CPCC?) to run the kitchen and plan the meal.
The proceeds could partly benefit The Center and partly Slow Food.
We call the folks who come to us for help 'neighbors'. You might want to select some neighbors to work with the kitchen prep crew to learn skills.
Personally, I'd like to see a 'floating' prix fixe, where if you can afford it you pay a fair price, but some plates are reserved for people who are hungry.
Of course, supporting good commercial restaurants is very important. But, here in Charlotte, nobody knows what a true local feast would look like. Pick the right time of year, and, you know, it might be pretty cool.
It would be a long way before turning it into reality (have to get the Center on board, for starters), but, just a thought -
Don, I love the idea of a potluck! We could have one a little later in the spring when local produce is plentiful. Everybody could afford to participate.
I also love the idea of a local banquet at the soup kitchen.
A city’s restaurant scene is only strong as its true ethnic restaurants. One of the most easy and viable forms of income of first/second generation families moving to the USA is the food service industry. Besides they get to enjoy their own cuisine instead of eating America’s culinary fast food trademark. Charlotte has very limited ethnic choices, or maybe they are off the radar because they’re unable to pay inflated leases.
So let’s think about the priorities of immigrate business owners and ethnic restaurants. And let’s face it, buying locally at the moment is expensive and most ethnic people are in the mode of hunting for deals, especially restaurant business owners! Look at the busiest stands at Yorkmont on Saturday morning. The bottom side of the second warehouse is full of immigrant buyers. Why.......because they are the cheapest and have a larger variety! If roles were reversed we were moving to another country looking for work, I believe we would be just as frugal.
Do our members who are willing to pay extra for local food consider themselves the majority in Charlotte? I think not because we are a small group tied to a larger agenda trying to promote a healthy community lifestyle. If we were the majority then Slow Food would have won its battle, and there would be no more meddling in such food movements.
Ethnic restaurants try to survive financially just like the farmers’ markets do and organic food is priced much higher than conventional, plus local food is heavily taxed. The clientele of ethnic restaurants – immigrants – can’t afford organic food. One of the common threads among cultures is the desire for a good meal that's reasonably priced.
It is time we start including a larger portion of the community in our activities. I remember Alice Waters mentioning "that it was nice to see all present, but where are the CEO's, mayor, and politicians of Charlotte"? Slow Food members, are we really trying to help the community in its entirety, or are we trying to evolve Slow Food Charlotte into an exclusive social network? It’s a no-brainer, we should continue to pursue the ethnic restaurants internally and educate those interested on local food and its connection to a healthy community cycle. It's the first time I've seen Slow Food Charlotte make roads into the masses, and is that not the point? Educate not isolate!
I find that some people are quick to become upset and offended for almost any reason. Please reserve your outrage for those who knowingly do evil or are slighting others on purpose, not for someone who is trying his best to improve the world. If someone in our group makes a mistake or you disagree with a decision, try to point out your concerns in a more loving manner and try to help us all do better next time. If we have to analyze every source of possible offense before anything we do we'll end up paralyzed.