The Eat with Care blog
Writing on humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian.
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Reflections on Slow Meat 2014
Yes, there were luminaries at the inaugural “Slow Meat” conference in Denver a couple weeks ago: Wendell Berry’s daughter, grasslands guru Allan Savory, superstar farmer Will Harris, newly-minted Slow Food USA president Richard McCarthy.
But a bison was the true star. A particular bison born and raised on grass in Colorado. A bison that lived the way Lewis and Clark might have seen its ancestors roaming the American plains a couple hundred years ago.
The bison was served at a celebratory dinner for conference participants, prepared by local chefs. It was also the centerpiece of a fascinating butchering demonstration. More significantly, it symbolized what the Slow Meat conference was trying to advance: a system of American meat production in which animals are raised humanely in their natural surroundings without causing harm to the environment or human health.
Ok, that’s a lot of symbolism to put on a bison. But we were in Denver, in American ranch country — it fit.
I don’t think there’s been a gathering quite like Slow Meat before. Sure, there are regional meat conferences, and organic food conferences, and conferences
for different tradespeople in the meat business. But Slow Meat 2014 was national in scope, focused solely on sustainable, humane meat production, and featured a wide range of people in the meat biz — ranchers, butchers, policy advocates, scientists, owners of small meat companies, farmers raising heritage breeds, and folks like me educating consumers about the better choices available to them.
Organizers at Slow Food USA wanted that kind of breadth. They’re starting to make meat issues a focal point of the organization and gathered all of us together to provide some guidance. For those who don’t know, Slow Food USA has chapters around the country, its members devoted to learning about, and sharing, local food cultures. As a branch of Slow Food International, which has 150,000 members, Slow Food USA is part of a worldwide movement to restore a sense of place to food, support farmers who engage in best practices, preserve foods and flavors that are at risk of disappearing, and encourage a slowing down in the production of food and its enjoyment (read: the antithesis of fast food).
A few workshops were held at Slow Meat but it was the networking and socializing — and eating! — that revved up the metabolism of the weekend. A few highlights:
- Allan Savory and Mary Berry: These two very smart, very wise activists were a joy to hear. Allan Savory has spent years observing the ecological benefits that properly-rotated grazing animals have on grasslands. He is now devoting his time to persuading ranchers to take up holistic management. Mary Berry is a rural and local foods activist in her beloved Kentucky. She shared tidbits about her father, Wendell Berry, and spoke eloquently about the decline of rural culture at a time when urbanites are looking to rural areas to produce ethical food.
- Paying a visit to some friendly cattle: The Lasater Ranch graciously let us visit their cattle ranch in the high plains of eastern Colorado — best bus tour ever. The Lasaters sell 100% grass-fed cattle to Whole Foods (at the GAP 4 rating), as well as to other stores. Their friendly breed of cattle came right up to us and charmed us shamelessly.
- Eating charcuterie and drinking beer: A typical Slow Food experience, this tasting was put on by Vermont-based food consultant Jeff Roberts. We were invited to sample various hams and salamis and try to guess how they were made and where they were from. I was happy that a new salami from my home state’s Black River Meats (made in collaboration with Daniele of Rhode Island) won rave reviews!
Repeatedly, conference attendees expressed appreciation for Slow Food USA’s focus on community building, sensory enjoyment, and place-based
food education. As it seeks to find its niche in the sustainable meat movement (it is debating how much policy work to get involved with), I trust that Slow Food USA will stay true to its core values and I bet it will end up being an organization that can continue to effectively gather disparate players for discussion and brainstorming.
Personally, I was happy to engage with people at Slow Meat 2014 who I wouldn’t normally run across, folks who aren’t necessarily focused on animal welfare but who totally get it, and who would be great to collaborate with as Humaneitarian moves forward. I was especially excited to meet blogger Rebecca Thistlethwaite, Tom Parks and Joe Maxwell of the Humane Society of the U.S., Kendra Kimbirauskas of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, Marissa Guggiana of the Butcher’s Guild, Jeannette Beranger of The Livestock Conservancy, Elisa Demichelis of Slow Food International and, as always, the folks from Animal Welfare Approved and the American Grassfed Association.
If you’re an average consumer reading this, just know there’s a myriad of people working to get ethically raised meat to your plate. And we are moving forward together.