Slow food promotes healthier living

The Slow Food Movement encourages consumers to take greater responsibility for the food they eat by getting to know the
producer and his production processes, instead of relying on labels and misleading advertisements. Lindi van Rooyen spoke to Mike Crewe-Brown, Slow Food Magalies Valley convivium leader, about what the movement entails.

Slow food promotes healthier living
- Advertisement -

What is the Slow Food movement?
The Slow Food movement focuses on the promotion of good, clean and fair food. This also implies eating food that is in season and is sourced locally. We therefore also try to consume, source or grow food that contains no growth hormones, antibiotics, chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. All the producers (workers and farmers) must receive a fair wage and price for their products.

The Slow Food movement is not a marketing organisation, but rather a lifestyle. We’ll never be able to place a stamp on a product to label it as slow food. The movement is about a community of like-minded people coming together and exchanging ideas on how food can be produced according to the three principles mentioned before.

We also encourage consumers to get to know the farmer and understand production processes, so that they can make informed decisions about their food. We urge them to ask questions about their food – what it really means when a label says a product is free range, for example.

- Advertisement -

It’s about encouraging the consumer to ask the supermarket manager why he’s selling fish that’s on the sensitive species’ list, or why he’s selling cucumbers in winter that have been produced in greenhouses, thereby adding to pollution levels. The people in Europe already think like this and South Africans have to start doing it as well.

Free-range pigs, such as those produced on Mike’s farm, are an example of slow food.

Tell us about Slow Food Magalies Valley.
We started the convivium in 2012 and our aim is to educate the public on ethical farming practices. Our membership now stands at more than 50, consisting of restaurateurs, artisanal producers, consumers and small-scale farmers. Members come from as far afield as Rustenburg, the western outskirts of Johannesburg, and Pretoria.

Does produce have to be organic to qualify as slow food?
On the contrary, the whole concept of organic and even free range has been hijacked by big industries and has lost its meaning. Much of the commercial organic food, just like conventional food, is monocropped, and we have an issue with that. We do, however, believe in the founding principles of the organic movement. The whole certification process of food is questionable.

If you supply food to a supermarket, you need to comply with the Good Agricultural Practice standards of GlobalGAP. But I know of suppliers who sell their produce to those who do comply, and then they label it and sell it on to supermarkets.
Furthermore, why must farmers who use natural methods go to all the trouble and expense to certify and label their produce as such, but mass producers don’t have to indicate that their products contain antibiotics or pesticides?

Everyone is talking about being anti-doping and banning steroids in sportsmen, but we are doing it to our food. This goes to the heart of our organisation. If consumers got to know their farmers and suppliers, and identified with the production processes, they’d be able to make better decisions about which food to buy, instead of trusting a misleading label.

Do you believe in campaigning for lower meat consumption to reduce pressure on natural resources?
I believe we should be eating less protein, but I don’t think we’re going to feed the world on a vegetarian diet. The current problem with meat production is that we’re using fertile land to grow animal feed for feedlots. The animals should be feeding directly on the natural veld, but people get greedy and want animals to grow more quickly, so they place them on unnatural diets.

We believe in veld-reared meat and not rearing animals on pastures, as these areas often contain fertilisers and chemicals. As a result, this meat is often not much healthier than that produced in a feedlot. If the veld were properly managed by farmers who knew what they were doing, there would be enough veld available to feed cattle, and feedlots wouldn’t be necessary.

A herb garden on Mike’s farm provides food for household and retail consumption.

Is slow food affordable for the masses, or is it just a fad for the rich?

There has been an increase in the numbers of people who care about what they eat and are willing to go the extra mile to make sure it’s safe and wholesome. Members of our movement can’t keep up with the demand for our produce. People want to know where the food they eat comes from. When eating, people want to be entertained and there’s no reason why the farmer and his story can’t form part of the experience. If you print this information on the menu, people will read it.

But the rich aside, everyone, including the poor, can have access to slow food. They can start by growing their own vegetables. It’s easy to do and will help them to move away from mass-produced food. It will also help to keep the money in the rural areas.

Developing rural areas starts with keeping the money in those communities. We also need to start educating our children from primary school level about food production. Instead, schools that have food gardens send the naughty children to tend it as punishment. This results in them developing an immediately negative connotation to farming.

There are two main employment opportunities in rural areas: tourism and agriculture. But rural schools do not teach any of these skills. They teach children to become corporate animals, which very few of them will end up becoming. Only fruit trees should be planted at schools and all grey water – of which there is plenty – should be channelled into food gardens. If we are serious about feeding the nation, this is the kind of thing we should be implementing.

Squatter camps can also become hives of slow food production. Each household needs to cultivate a piece of land no bigger than the size of a door. A garden this size only takes five minutes a day to tend. Each household can focus on a single crop and then swop this out with neighbours to get a mix of vegetables. But a great deal more education is needed about nutrition to achieve this objective.

Unfortunately, the fast food industry perpetuates the idea that eating take-aways is associated with affluence. Instead, people become obese. If people ate properly they would halve their medical bills.

Do you think consumers know enough about the food they eat?

Definitely not. There are major health hazards that consumers are not even aware of. This range from poison on fruit and vegetables, to growth hormones and antibiotics in the meat and chicken as a result of poorly-inspected carcasses at large abattoirs. These are the kinds of things consumers are exposed to when they don’t know where their food comes from and think they can trust the supplier.

How can the cost of slow food be reduced to compete with mass-produced food, and ultimately feed the world?

Consumers can start by growing their own food, but farmers’ markets also have an important role to play. There are not nearly enough markets. People want the experience of being out in the countryside. Therefore, let’s create markets where people can come and spend the day and walk away with a week’s groceries that conform to the principles of slow food.
This also gives them a good opportunity to interact with the farmers and learn about the production process.

At this stage, Slow Food Magalies Valley has a market only four times a year, but we are hoping to introduce a regular weekend market soon. We are also looking at establishing a central distribution point for all of our members. 

Unfortunately, many of the markets in Gauteng are too far away to market our produce in a financially viable way. It costs about R5 000 to have a stall at a market on a Saturday. This includes transport, infrastructure, stall fees and labour. It means you must have a massive turnover to make it viable. I’d rather spend this money on delivering my products to ethical outlets that I trust with my product.

Slow Food international
Slow Food is a global grassroots organisation with supporters in 150 countries who aim to link the pleasure of food with a commitment to their community and the environment. The organisation was founded to counter the rise of fast food and fast lifestyles, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. There are nine slow food convivia in South Africa.

Contact Slow Food Magalies Valley at