Natural Perspectives: Life in the slow lane

Vic and I had "slow food" this past week at two events. One was the annual Harvest Potluck by the Huntington Beach Community Garden. The other was the annual picnic in Bommer Canyon in Irvine put on by the Orange County chapter of Slow Food U.S.A. We attended the latter event with Dave and Margaret Carlberg.

Slow food is the opposite of fast food. It is food that is cooked from scratch and savored with family or friends instead of mass-prepared food that is ordered at a drive-thru window and eaten on the run in the car.

I have been a member of Slow Food U.S.A. for a number of years and really enjoy their emailed newsletter, but this is the first event that Vic and I have attended. It certainly won't be the last.

Slow Food International was founded in 1989 in Italy, in part in opposition to the inexorable spread of fast food and, with it, the hectically-paced life that plagues modern life. There are things in life that need to be taken slowly, and food is one of them. Food should be savored and appreciated, not just bolted down. It should be attractive and nourish our souls as well as our bodies. But there are other, loftier goals of the Slow Food organization, not just personal ones, but societal.

Slow Food aficionados care where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how food choices affect the environment and the world around us. Sustainability of food supply is a major goal.

The menu at the Slow Food picnic in Bommer Canyon was a prime example of the principles of Slow Food. The appetizer was a choice of oysters on the half shell with a spicy wash, or grilled oysters with nicoise butter, basil and tomato relish. The oysters were farmed at Carlsbad Aquafarm and were both locally grown and sustainably farmed.

The picnic tables were set with centerpieces of late summer fruit, which exemplifies eating locally grown foods that are in season, rather than food that was shipped across the equator. The fruit was accompanied by baguettes from the OC Baking Company and the most delicious goat cheese spread that I've ever eaten. The cheese was a goat cheese from Drake Family Farms in Ontario, Calif.

In keeping with foods that were in season, the salad was watermelon, tomato, mint feta and cucumber with onion vinaigrette. Side dishes were grilled heirloom potatoes with bacon, garlic, onions and marjoram, as well as buttered corn with parsley, garlic and a hint of chile.

The entree was Mary's Free Range Chicken (, which was grilled over a wood fire. This fabulous meal was topped off with stone-fruit upside-down cake. The meal was accompanied by organic wines from the Organic Cellar in Laguna Beach. They sell only organic wines.

Every group brought its own reusable plates, glasses and tableware to reduce waste. There was a prize for the best set table, and Margaret and I hoped to win it. We selected a tablecloth, placemats and napkins from her extensive collection, and used my inexpensive but attractive blue plastic plates that Vic and I have used for camping for nearly 30 years.

Margaret made a pumpkin centerpiece with living succulents glued to sphagnum moss on top. The Amigos de Bolsa Chica are taking orders for these lovely creations for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas centerpieces. See their website at for photos and ordering information on the shopping page.

We thought that we had the prettiest table setting there, but the judges selected a different table. It really was a difficult choice, as many people had gone all out in decorating their sections of the picnic benches.

The guest speaker at the Slow Food event was Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a group that supports a sustainable food policy for California. The goals of this group are to ensure "healthy, affordable, safe, just and ecologically responsible food and agriculture in California by the year 2030."

Dimock pointed out that the pursuit of food by humans has resulted in loss of wild habitat. And as our population grows beyond today's 7 billion people, that situation is only going to get even more dire.

"Our plates are where we intersect with nature," he said.

Dimock said that 18% of greenhouse gases are generated by agriculture, and thus growing food for humans is a large component of today's global warming crisis. He encouraged us to think about how our food choices affect both biodiversity in the wild world and our health.

"Good, clean and fair" food is the mantra of Slow Food. Clean food means food grown without pesticides, food that is healthy for us and for the environment. Fair food means that the farmers who grow it receive a fair wage in return for their labor and investment. Fair food also means making healthy food available to low-income people.

Roots of Change also supports the concept of community gardens. I am thrilled that we once again have a community garden in Huntington Beach where people can grow their own organic vegetables. But demand for plots is high, and we need another one in the north end of town.

So here is a message to the Huntington Beach City Council: Please expedite a new community garden at Irby Park. It would be the slow food thing to do.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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