V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Something to chew on
Published in Sun Media publications April, 2008.
It's a Friday night at a downtown church and a collection of the city's well-heeled are breaking bread and sipping wine.
Beautiful people dressed in their Friday night best are communing over food tables laden with little bundles of gastronomic miracles, while a live band belts out old-world jazz hymns. 
It's a congregation of like-minded foodies, celebrating the spring thaw and the culinary possibilities it brings to steadfast believers of more earthly faiths. 
"The slow food movement is traditionally grown foods, foods that your great grandmother would recognize as food," said Paul DeCampo of Slow Food Toronto. 
"It's about reorienting our priorities and making food a priority in our lives."
 The slow food movement was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 in response to the breakneck proliferation of fast food joints, and processed foods that contain scores of unpronounceable ingredients. 
 It was a peaceful revolt against the growing disconnect between food and pleasure, and the irreverent manipulation of foods. 
 Its members -- now 85,000-strong worldwide -- aim to preserve local food traditions and educate consumers about how their choices affect the rest of the world. It's a notion that gave birth to terms such as ecogastronomy and the locavore, which last year won the illustrious title of Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. 
A typical ingredient in any North American meal has travelled 2,400 km, becoming known as the carbon-spewing SUV Diet to authors of The 100-Mile Diet, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, who for one year committed to eating nothing outside a 160- km radius of their Vancouver home. 
That meant going without wheat for seven months -- no bread, no pasta, lots of potatoes -- until they found a local wheat farmer. 
"One of the most shocking experiences was going to the grocery store, one of those typical megastores, and realizing how little of the food comes from local areas we live in," MacKinnon said by phone from his Vancouver home. 
"The second shock was discovering how difficult it was to track down local foods." 
At the Brewer's Plate event at the Berkley Church in Toronto, celebrity chefs such as Jamie Kennedy are paired with local breweries to showcase seasonal, nearby ingredients as part of a Green Enterprise Toronto fundraiser, a network of local green businesses and consumers. 
Kennedy's offering is a simple and natural marriage of beer-battered pickerel fish and crispy, golden chips. He's long been a proponent of the slow food movement and laments the erosion of regional, indigenous cuisine because of convenience foods. 
"It's important to see where you come from as a cook," he said as he dished out chips for the long line of eager diners. "To stick to what's available to you in local markets, so if a traveller comes to Toronto, the cuisine should be distinct from Manitoba." 
But being local or organic doesn't mean the product is sustainable. A locally grown apple can still be drowning in pesticides, while an organic apple may have to travel thousands of miles before landing in the produce aisle. If he had to make a choice, MacKinnon said he would opt for the local product. 
"The most important thing is to reconnect with the farmer and find out how it's produced. In many cases, even the foods that aren't certified organic are produced in a much more carefully thought out way than anonymous, industrial methods." 
Local Food Plus is a national non-profit organization and certifies farmers and processors for products it deems sustainable. To get its stamp of approval, farmers must meet a rubric of strict criteria that includes the distance a product has travelled from farmer to consumer, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, the conservation of water, soil, wildlife habitat and the general use of fossil fuels within the food chain. 
"As a culture, we invest a small amount of money in food and time relative to the rest of the world," DeCampo said. 
North Americans spend 11% of their family income, he said citing United Nations figures, while families in Great Britain spend 15% and the rest of Europe spends about 19% on good ingredients for their families. 
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