‘Slow Food’ movement advocates local cuisine
They are soft-bodied gastropods and a common delicacy in parts of Italy and France.
Snails are not only delicious, they are also the inspiration for a world-wide food movement.
Slow Food, which started in Italy in 1989, maintains that food, and the enjoyment of food, is a basic human right. It began as a reaction against fast food that aimed to preserve local culinary traditions.
“When it started in Italy, it started in this little town where people traditionally ate snails,” Rebecca Boone, founder of the Southeast Texas chapter, said. “They found that with fast food, all the kids were eating hamburgers and things like that, and they said, ‘Well, this isn’t good, because for hundreds of years this has become part of our culture to eat our local cuisine.’ So this was a way to sort of raise awareness that it’s important to protect local cultures and to just celebrate food.”
Boone, a Lamar history professor, said that she got involved in the movement on a visit to Italy in the early 1990s, where she was doing research.
“I guess a couple of decades went by, and I was wondering if slow food was still going on,” she said. “I looked it up and I found out that they had grown to be not only just in Italy, but also in America there is Slow Food USA. It’s all over the world.”
Boone said she was looking for something to do in the community that would focus on the strength of Beaumont.
“There is nothing better about Beaumont than our food,” she said. “We have the best food culture on this side of Paris, I think, because we’ve got Creole traditions, Cajun traditions, Texas barbecue traditions, Mexican traditions, and we got the bounty of the sea. We’ve got just a great food culture — nobody eats as well as we do.”
Boone is an advocate for food that is grown fresh and locally.
“I mean, you can get a tomato from the grocery store, but it’s going to be about two-weeks old because it’s going to be from South America,” she said. “Why two thousand miles for a tomato when we have such fertile land, and we can grow tomatoes here? A tomato grown here is going to taste better, so we want to foster locally-grown foods just because they taste better, and they have more nutrients — also it’s just good for everybody’s wellbeing to eat better fruits and vegetables the way they’re supposed to taste.
“We don’t really focus on health. We focus on taste, fun and pleasure.”
The local Slow Food chapter holds monthly meetings to plan events, focusing on two kinds, Boone said.
“One is a farmer’s market in a low-income area in Beaumont, and we sell produce at a discount, usually 50 cents a pound,” she said. “We do that the third Sunday of every month. The other thing we do is we plan events where we all get together and we eat and drink.
“We had an Oyster Fest, a Barbecue festival and a Chocolate festival. We’re planning, probably on April 23, a Texas Spirit Fest. It’s going to be on the Neches River, on a boat, and we’re going to sample local wines and spirits with local food.”
Boone said one of the missions of Slow Food is to boost the quality of life in cities, and to make people proud of their cities.
“We want people in Beaumont to think, ‘You know, we should be proud to be from Beaumont because you just can’t eat this way everywhere,’” she said. “Instead of saying. ‘Oh, we’re just this industrial city, we’ve got problems,’ say, ‘No, this is a great place to be.’ It’s really about civic pride and quality of life.”
Boone has participated in many Slow Food events, but one is particularly memorable.
“The one that stands out to me was a seafood and white wine festival,” she said. “We actually had it at the Port Arthur Yacht Club, so it was on the water. People brought food, and we had local white wines from Texas. Somebody bought a crab gratin dish, which had like cheese and crab she had caught that morning.”
The Slow Food Movement has established friendships that Boone is proud of, including Becki Stedman from the Farmer’s Market and Sade Chick who is the assistant manager for the Port of Beaumont.
“She’s from Maine, but she came on board,” Boone said. “Now she is our treasurer and she was like, ‘What’s wrong with you people? Beaumont is like the best place.’ She doesn’t understand why local people don’t appreciate what we have.
“We also have people like Paula Rodriguez who’s now our secretary, and so on. We all have developed good friendships, and we didn’t know each other before Slow Food. We will always welcome new people in.”
People who attend Slow Food events are willing to build friendships because that is what living in a community is all about, Boone said. The movement’s symbol is the snail because it was founded in the part of Italy where they eat snails, and also because it’s slow, she said.
“Instead of just scarfing a Hot Pocket down in your car, we’re for big dinners and things where people just slow down and take the time and cook and share,” she said.
For more information, visit the SlowFoodBeaumont Facebook page.