Chef's Table - Will work for (slow) food

When Julie Shaffer returned from a vacation in Italy, it spurred a culinary journey that resulted in her founding of the Atlanta chapter of Slow Food (www.slowfoodatlanta.org), an international, nonprofit organization that began in Italy in 1986 with the aim to "protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life." The organization now boasts over 80,000 members in 100 countries and membership is growing here. Mangia!

Creative Loafing: How did this all start?

Shaffer: I just love the way Italians do food and life in general. When I returned from Italy, I called the national office and they told me there were chapters in Chattanooga, New Orleans and Greenville but not in Atlanta. In late 2000, I started Slow Food Atlanta. We became the 47th of 150 chapters, called conviviums, nationwide.

How many members were there at the beginning?

There were 33 card-carrying members: restaurant owners, farmers, chefs and people who cared about food and food heritage. Now we have 400 members. There are activists, foodies, environmentalists; some join to eat and drink with like-minded individuals. Slow Food means different things to different people. We have quite a few farmers as members these days and that really pleases me. Part of what I want to do locally is connect the consumer with the producer.

What's a membership cost? What do you get?

The annual dues are $60 per person, $75 per couple and $40 for students. Ninety percent of the membership dues go toward the quarterly publication Slow Journal, which is translated into five languages. It's really beautiful. You get a Slow Wine publication, a cheese of Italy publication and four issues of the Snail Newsletter, the journal of Slow Food USA.

How many and what kinds of events do you hold?

We have 12 to 15 events a year. We just hosted cookbook author Joyce Goldstein, who recently published Italian Slow and Savory and we held a dinner in her honor at Woodfire Grill. We've done all kinds of tastings: hand-harvest rare salts, chocolate, water. We have an annual potluck. We also have an edible school garden project at the Friends School. This summer we will have a weeklong Slow Food Camp for kids. We'll go to farms, farmer's markets, caterers' kitchens. On the last day, the kids will cook a feast for their parents.

This sounds like a lot of work for a volunteer. And you're a mom.

It could be a full-time job, but I love it. I'm a high school art teacher. I take the summers off — and from Slow Food as well — and go to Italy. But I love it.

Does your daughter eat fast food?

India is in seventh grade. She's never been into fast food, although I haven't made it taboo. I figured out she really wanted the toy. She'll eat anything. There are kids whose palates are so limited. They think a Happy Meal is the standard of good taste.


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