Slow Food NOLA Community Garden

gardenWinter has finally yielded a few pleasant days & we have been getting to work at the Slow Food NOLA garden, located at the corner of St. Philip and N. Dupre in Faubourg St. John. The garden will grow seasonal foods and flowers for sale at local markets and to be freely picked by neighbors in the community. Proceeds from the sale of produce will, in part, go towards Slow Food NOLA’s effort to adopt a Slow Food Garden in Africa. Please contact Slow Food NOLA chair Gary Granata if you are interested in volunteering in the garden.

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Slow Food Youth Network Retreat at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo

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Slow Food NOLA will be hosting a Slow Food Youth Network Retreat May 12-19. Approximately 20-25 college age Slow Food Youth leaders will come to New Orleans to explore our incredible food culture and also staff the Slow Food NOLA Food Demonstration Stage at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo. The retreat will feature a tour of the disappearing wetlands and coast so that our future leaders can experience the devastation that is due, in large part, to our broken industrialized food system. The youth will also independently explore and volunteer at numerous establishments and agencies around town that exemplify and promote Good, Clean and Fair Food. Please contact Gary Granata if you are interested in volunteering with the retreat. We will soon announce our expanded role at the Boogaloo.

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Slow Food Container Garden at the Raphael Academy

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Slow Food NOLA recently built a container garden at the Raphael Academy, a new Camphill inspired school for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The garden will grow seasonal vegetables, herbs and flowers with an emphasis on Ark of Taste products.

Slow Food NOLA will be serving Gumbo Z’herbes at the Raphael Academy’s Soraparu Soiree, Saturday April 5, 7p at 517 Soraparu. Please make plans to support a great school, eat some fabulous food and see the 2nd garden created by Slow Food NOLA.

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SlowBoys named Winners at the Oak Street PoBoy Fest!

Slow Food NOLA’s SlowBoys won best PoBoy in two categories at the November 24 Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. Our Roast Beef & Fried Potato SlowBoy was named Best Beef PoBoy while our Chaurice & Kimchi SlowBoy won Best Sausage PoBoy. The not-so-secret ingredients to this success were the fabulous meat provided & prepared by Cleaver & Co and the incredible crusty handcrafted bread from Bellegarde Bakery. Our Kale, Sweet Potato & Basil SlowBoy might have made it 3 for 3 had the fest judged a veggie category. Thanks to all of the volunteers who braved the cold and windy conditions to champion Good, Clean & Fair Food at New Orleans’ largest food festival.

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The Need for Slow Food in Coastal Louisiana

New Orleans sits on a crescent shaped bend of the Mississippi River, approximately 90 miles from where the great muddy river empties into the Gulf of Mexico.   The alluvial soil, on which the Crescent City is built, was deposited over several millennia as the mighty river shifted and meandered to form the boot of Southern Louisiana.   French explorers, commissioned in the mid-1600’s to explore the river in search of a suitable site for the port, reported seeing 300 ft tall cypress trees and herds of buffalo at the mouth of the great river.   These cypress giants, with their network of roots or “knees”, would catch the river’s silt as the land continuously grew into the gulf.  As recent as the early 1900’s, 40+ miles of cypress swamps stood between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.  These swamps created an impenetrable fortress against hurricanes as 1 mile of cypress swamp will absorb up to 1 foot of storm surge.

The culture of New Orleans is a unique blend of African, European and Native American influences.  The French founded the port city in 1718 on the high ground along the river that had been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. The era of Spanish rule (1769-1803) played a profound role in shaping of New Orleans’ culture.  The French Quarter’s famous stone buildings and iron balconies were actually built by the Spanish during this period.  Under Spanish law, slaves were given Sundays off, allowed to gather at Places de Negres and were able to purchase their freedom.

The most famous gathering place was Congo Square, located in the “back of town” which is now the site of Louis Armstrong Park in the historic Faubourg Treme neighborhood.  African rhythms and cultural traditions, which were forbidden in U.S. colonies and states, were celebrated every Sunday at Congo Square.  Gumbo, the African word for okra, was prepared in iron kettles over open flames and sold along side African spices & vegetables that were unknown in the New World.   Europeans were drawn to the sounds, sights and smells of the Sunday markets and rituals.  European brass instruments soon found their way into the African drum circles. These musical elements blended together to eventually give rise to Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, Funk and Rock’n Roll.  The french roux soon became the base of many dishes that were seasoned with African spices and native foods to create the Creole cuisine of today.   Spanish paella made with local ingredients became known as jambalaya.  The world that created New Orleans, in turn, was forever influenced and changed by the cultures that grew out of Congo Square.

The great flood of 1927 drastically altered both the geography and culture of Southern Louisiana.    The  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, created in response to the great flood, channeled the river with levees under the auspices of flood control.  In actuality, the levees were were built to prevent the river from naturally shifting towards the Atchafalaya Basin and away from New Orleans, which estimates indicate would have happened by 1950.   By channeling the river and preventing it from shifting and flooding, the levees halted the natural deposition of silt which had created one of the most fertile wetlands in the world.  Southern Louisiana was furthered scarred by the emergence of the oil and gas industry that dug channels through the wetland.  The channels allowed salt water to infiltrate the wetlands, which killed cypress trees and other natural plant species that are dependent on fresh water.  Dead cypress swamps now exist within the New Orleans city limits and in the surrounding areas.   The combined effects of destroyed wetlands and a channelled river has resulted in Louisiana losing nearly a football field of land every hour.  Entire communities have disappeared into the Gulf of Mexico in a region where the great plains once grew into the Gulf a mere 200 years ago.

What has happened down here is the winds have changed                                                                                                                                                                                   Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain                                                                                                                                                                                                   Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time                                                                                                                                                                                                         Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline                                                                                                                                                                                                               

The river rose all day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The river rose all night                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Some people got lost in the flood                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Some people got away alright                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines                                                                                                                                                                                            Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train                                                                                                                                                                                                        With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand                                                                                                                                                                                                              The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done to these poor crackers land.”

-lyrics from “Louisiana 1927”, Randy Newman (1984)

The 300 or so miles of Louisiana coastline contains over 7,000 square miles of wetlands, the largest wetland in North America.  Approximately 70-80% of all marine and bird species in the Gulf of Mexico breed in the fertile wetlands of Louisiana, which also produces the vast majority of all shellfish consumed in the United States.   In addition to this fertile region being destroyed by man-made erosion, the region is being poisoned by commercial agri-chemicals that are carried down by the very river that once built this amazing region.

The Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone is the most notorious hypoxic zone in the United States. The Mississippi River, which is the drainage basin for 41% of the continental United States, dumps high-nutrient runoff into the Gulf of Mexico.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 70% of the nutrients that cause the hypoxic dead zone are the result of agricultural runoff of this vast drainage basin, which includes the heart of U.S. agribusiness, the Midwest. The discharge of treated sewage from urban areas combined with agricultural runoff deliver 1.7 million tons of potassium and nitrogen into the Gulf of Mexico every year.

Louisiana, Louisiana                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                They’re tryin’ to wash us away                                                                                                                                                                                                                              They’re tryin’ to wash us away

The Louisiana coast suffered two devastating blows when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall in 2005.  Geologists estimated that the land lost during the two storms was equal to 50 years erosion at the current rate.  Katrina made a last minute shift to the northeast & narrowly missed New Orleans before slamming into the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  However, the federal levees failed under forces that were significantly less than they were designed to withstand, resulting in the flooding of over 50 neighborhoods and 200,000 homes in New Orleans.  A city that was home to 500,000 people and employed 1.8 million before the flood, had a population estimated at 40,000 three months after the levees broke.

Communities were slow to recover, hampered in large part by bureaucratic politics.    The people who were able to return home found that their vibrant neighborhoods had turned into abandoned food deserts.   Out of tragedy grew an increased sense of independence and self-reliance among residents.   This bond of independence was further fueled by the influx of people that came to assist in the recovery, but soon found themselves at home in New Orleans.

The 2010 BP/Gulf Horizon oil disaster dealt a devastating blow to the fishing industry and economy of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, just as the region was showing positive signs of recovery from the 2005 storms.  P&J’s Oyster House, the oldest oyster shucking establishment in the U.S, was forced to close its doors for the first time since it was founded in 1876.  The city that gave the world Oysters Rockefeller no longer had any oysters to shuck or serve.

The New Orleans of 2013 can be best described as a boom town.   Forbes Magazine recently named New Orleans as the fastest growing city in the U.S.  Several publications have listed the Crescent City as one of the top cities for entrepreneurship.   The present population is estimated at 350,000, ~150,000 less than before the flood.  Yet, the restaurant industry is prospering with over 1,000 establishments in a city where approximately 700 existed before the levees broke … and P&J’s is once again supplying  Louisiana oysters to the restaurants of New Orleans.  However,  Louisiana continues to lose wetlands at the accelerating rate of a football field of land every 38 minutes.

Louisiana, Louisiana                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                They’re tryin’ to wash us away                                                                                                                                                                                                                              They’re tryin’ to wash us away

 Growing seasonal fruits and vegetables has always been a part of New Orleans’ culture.  The recovery efforts increased the sense of self-reliance that always existed in New Orleans and fueled the desire of residents to grow their own food.   The local food movement has been further boosted by the influx of young people and green business entrepreneurs that have come to New Orleans in search of ways to make a change in today’s society.  Gardens and urban farms increasingly dot the landscape in today’s New Orleans and surrounding communities.  New Orleans East is home to a vibrant Vietnamese community that is farming the swamps and fishing the local waters according to Vietnamese traditions.  Several restaurants and groceries are now sourcing from their own gardens and local farms in addition to locally produced food.

While the New Orleans local food movement is growing by leaps and bounds, it presently lacks a cohesive force to allow all parties to work collectively to advance Good, Clean and Fair Food.  The possibilities for growing local food are truly endless as nearly 4,100 blighted and abandoned acres presently exist within the city limits.  New Orleans truly has the capacity to be growing and sourcing its own food.

New Orleans is getting back to the “slow roots” of its African, European and Native American ancestors.  New Orleans will benefit from being part of Slow Food and Slow Food will most definitely benefit from being part of New Orleans.

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Slow Food NOLA Hosts Intern from Italy’s University of Gastronomic Science

Slow Food New Orleans has established an internship agreement with the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.   UNISG was founded in 2004 by Slow Food International and the regional government of Piedmont Italy. Ruben Novello, a 23 year old graduate of UNISG, will be the first intern to come to New Orleans.  This internship is the first in what we hope to be many exchange programs between UNISG and Slow Food NOLA.

Slow Food NOLA is seeking housing for Ruben from March 1, 2013 until the end of May, 2013.   Please contact Slow Food NOLA Chair Gary Granata (gary@performwell.net) if you would like to host Ruben and assist Slow Food NOLA in furthering our partnership with UNISG.
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Ruben is a native of Torino Italy and will be working to develop the Snail of Approval program in New Orleans.   The Snail of Approval program was created by Slow Food NYC to recognize businesses that align with Slow Food’s mission of Good, Clean and Fair food.   Ruben has experience with the Snail of Approval program and will be a great asset to implementing this program in New Orleans.   Ruben will also assist with Slow Food NOLA’s food demonstration tent and programming at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo Festival.

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Slow Food Thanksgiving Quiz

Slow Food Thanksgiving Quiz

Take the Slow Food Thanksgiving Quiz and learn some tips for making a Slow Thanksgiving Day meal … and also check out the bubble-blurb by Slow Food NOLA’s Gary Granata.

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Decadence & Resonance

My Italian Experience – Gary Granata

Al Bicerin, located in the old section of Torino Italy, is known for creating the world famous Bicerin, a coffee beverage made with espresso, warm chocolate syrup and topped with chilled cream. This decadent caffeinated delight originated in 1763 when Italian ladies would walk across the small piazza after mass, at the Santuario Basilica La Consulata, and treat themselves to a Bicerin.

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The incredible taste of my daily Bicerin and the slow pace of this quaint cafe combine to create the perfect setting to write these blogs, something I am often challenged to accomplish in my faster paced life in the U.S. where “productivity” is the daily mantra. Thus, indulging myself with decadent taste has been the catalyst to slowing myself to a pace that allows me to accomplish more work … kind of an hedonistic spin on the tortoise and the hare.

The references to decadence and hedonism may not resonate with some Westerners as both self-indulgence and striving for pleasure are often considered to be more vices than virtues. Hedonism, a school of thought in which pleasure in the only intrinsic good, is actually central to one of the four major themes of the early Slow Food movement:

“To research and promote the pleasure of gastronomy and conviviality,in a genial and tolerant manner that encourages an approach to food based on the hedonistic advantages of deeper knowledge, the education of the senses, and harmony around the table.”-Carlo Petrini, Slow Food (2003)

The taste of food has become the central focus of my journey to Italy. While I have devoted most of my professional life to the intellectual and scientific study of food and nutrition, I somehow allowed “Good” food to take a backseat to food that is “Clean & Fair.” Curiously, I have been an avid cook since childhood and most of the food I prepare either comes from my own garden or from a local farmer that I have come to know personally. Yet, I somehow grew to take for granted the good taste of food as my food always tasted good, in addition to being healthy and nutritious. Thankfully, Italy has opened my eyes to the importance of taste and how taste plays a major role in sound nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

I had the good fortune to be a graduate student of Dr. Dan Benardot during his tenure as Nutritionist to USA Gymnastics in the 1990′s. Dr. Benardot’s research with the team demonstrated how eating frequently (every 2-3 hours) and avoiding hunger increased performance and optimized body composition. The proof was in the gold medal when the women’s team stepped onto the floor in Atlanta as muscular dynamos, rather than anorexic pixies, and won by the largest margin in Olympic history.

Dr. Benardot’s research also delved into untangling the French Paradox of why the French have such low rates of obesity while indulging themselves in a diet rich in butter, cream, white flour and refined sugar. The very foods that have been labelled as “bad” in the US where the obesity rate continues to proliferate as an epidemic. In general, Europeans eat frequently and do not skip meals, as is the norm in the U.S. Furthermore, portion sizes in Europe are modest, if not petite, compared to the super-sized bargains in America (Kudos to NYC’s mayor Blumberg for outlawing soft drinks > 16 oz!). So, Europeans indulge themselves more often, with smaller portions of delicious food … which is unfortunately changing with the locust-like invasion of western fast food into Europe.

But, back to taste.

I am completely and utterly satisfied by my daily indulgence of Bicerin, though the serving is a mere 6 ounces. The fresh espresso mixed with warm liquore al cioccolate and topped with cool cream … the real stuff … renders my body and soul blissfully satiated. Each sip is a hedonistic adventure to be slowly celebrated and thereby lingers long after the sip is past my lips. Thus, I have little need nor desire for anything else for the 2-3 hours. At which point, I might indulge myself in a petite plate of thinly sliced meat, or possibly some fresh fruit and cheese, or even a small cup of rich gelato. Good taste comes first in whatever I eat in Italy, and thus I have no need to over indulge … and I definitely have no desire to miss an opportunity to eat something delicious.

Contrast this to Americans in their SUV, pulling up to Starbucks’ drive-thru and ordering a “skinny” super grande frappa-crappa-cino topped with artificial, yet cholesterol free whipped cream. Then proceeding to guzzle the 1,000+ calorie caffeine fix while driving, and likely texting, in rush hour traffic, only to hurriedly arrive at work, often late, prompting the need to work through lunch. No worries, as more caffeine, these days in the form of a sugar-free “energy” drink, suppresses appetite, which is somehow considered a virtue in the U.S. (Note: Don’t get me started on “energy” drinks that contain no caloric energy). If the need arises to leave the office, another trip to Starbucks is a good possibility. Then back to the office to work late, followed by the long commute home. The reward for such and arduous and fast-paced day is typically a couple of lite beers, that are mostly light in taste, which are soon followed by the massive consumption of food-like substances that were either foraged at a drive-thru window or gathered from the freezer and popped in a micro-wave to render it semi-palatable.

The quantity and shear volume of food has increased exponentially through the industrialization and standardization of the food supply. But, taste has fallen by the wayside as quality inherently diminishes when quantity is rapidly increased. Thus, people now eat large quantities of food, now abundantly available, in a futile attempt to satisfy their innate need to enjoy the taste of Good food. The result in America is an obesity rate that has risen from 10% to over 30% in a mere 20 years, and a diabetes rate that now tops 10%. The cost of the obesity epidemic needs to factored into the equation when proponents of industrialized food tout how they have decreased the cost of food and somehow increased the quality of life in America. I have seen only one morbidly obese person in Italy during my two week visit and have yet to see an obese child.

The discussion of quantity versus quality brings to mind my background in drumming. The original drums were nothing more than dried animal skins loosely stretched over hollow logs or simply hollow logs themselves. Yet when struck, the naturally resonant sound of these primitive drums could be heard for miles. The resonance or ringing quality of these organic instruments is due to the overtones, the sounds that continue to emanate from acoustic instruments for several seconds after being played. Thus, drums were commonly used to communicate between distant villages and tribes.

Today’s drums are made from a wide variety of materials, many of which are dense and do not resonate. For example, drum heads are commonly made from Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used to make bullet proof vests. Since Kevlar heads are designed to withstand repeated impacts, they produce a dead and non-resonant sound. Thus, drummers fall into bad habits of hitting them too hard, which often leads to tendonitis and other chronic injuries of the wrist and forearm.

However, this dead drum sound has become the popular norm in professional studios and large concert arenas where microphones are placed less than an inch from the drum head. Sound men, the guys sitting behind the large board of control knobs, prefer a dead drum as it is easier to amplify to loud volumes that are typical at concerts performed in large arenas. The World Health Organization has deemed these loud volumes to damage hearing and be a hazard to human health. Once again, quality is sacrificed for quantity with irreversible damage to human health being the result.

The industrialized western world has given us an abundance of loud music, that is hazardous to our health and totally absent of the resonant quality that moves the soul. The industrialized western world has given us an abundance of food-like substances that is central to the epidemic rises of obesity and related diseases and is totally absent of pleasure of taste that we all desire.

Life is all about choices. I choose to listen to music that naturally resonates and moves my soul. I choose to grow and eat food that provide me with the decadent taste that nourishes me with please. And just like the Italian women of the 1700′s, and the four ladies that sat next to my friend and me yesterday, I choose Al Bicerin.

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Slow Food NOLA Chapter Meeting

Slow Food New Orleans is hosting a chapter meeting on Monday November 5, 6pm at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, located at 1618 OC Haley.  Many thanks to the NOLA Locavores for hosting our chapter meeting.   Please plan to attend and bring friends as the meeting is open to the public.   Also, bring your ideas and energy for spreading the message throughout New Orleans of Good, Clean & Fair Food!

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Milano’s Mercati della Terra, by Gary Granata

The Mercati della Terra or Slow Food Earth Market is held every other Saturday in Milano Italy at the Fabbrica del Vapore, an old fabrication warehouse that has been transformed into shops and restaurants. I traveled via il treno veloce, fast train, from Torino on the 3rd Saturday in October. I arrived at the market at 10 am and was warmly greeted by market managers Alessandro and Paolo.

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A gustatory tour of the market began with espresso from l’Art Caffe who served us presidia coffee from Guatemala. Presidia are projects that involve food communities in safeguarding native breeds, plant varieties and food products (bread, cheese, cured meats, wines, etc.). We then sampled Tipico Lodigiano, a delicious aged cheese produced in nearby Lodi, the hometown of mia nonna (my grandmother) Secondina Granata.

Around 11am, Alessandro asked me if I wanted to try some local handcrafted bier, to which I replied “it’s noon somewhere” … and the real slow food market soon ensued. I took a seat at a nearby table, which was quickly covered with cups of bier, large round loaves of fresh bread, sausage & cheese. Even though I am gluten intolerant, I could not resist trying, and eventually gorging myself on, the fresh bread made from locally grown and milled wheat. Note: I am writing this 2 days after visiting Milano and have yet to suffer the ill effects of my gluten intolerance. Thus posing the question, am I truly gluten intolerant or simply can no longer stomach the GMO merde cranked out by US agribusiness?

We were soon joined by three generations of Alessandro & Paolo’s families, in-laws and friends … each of whom would shop the market and add to the ever growing feast that now covered three tables and included countless bottles of wine. Wine appears to be the essential catalyst for slowing any meal to a savory pace. We ate, drank and shared stories, many of which were about New Orleans and crawfish, until the market closed at 2:30.

Alessandro and Paolo spoke of their motivation for working at the Earth Market to preserve and promote local the food of Milan and the Lombardy region. They both have infant children and became concerned by the westernization and degradation of their native food culture. They are keenly aware of the incredibly high obesity rate in America and how poor quality industrialized food is a major contributor to the epidemic. Most importantly, they enjoy the taste of good food, which they found missing in the American fast food that was overtaking their culture. They appreciate how good food energizes the body while commercial food leaves one with a bloated and listless feeling. They understand that food is only truly good when it is both clean and fair. Thus, they dedicate themselves to Slow Food’s mission of Good, Clean and Fair Food … both for themselves and their young families.

Milan sits at the crossroads of the old and contemporary worlds. The city is well known for its ornate old world architecture, much of which was crafted by the famous stone carvers of Milan. Milan is also Italy’s financial center and one of the world’s most influential cities for contemporary design, particularly in the fields of fashion, furniture and architecture. However, the juxtaposition of old and new influences creates a visual tapestry that is quite difficult to digest or comprehend as contemporary sky scrapers obtrusively dot the landscape where historic old neighborhoods once existed.

After the market, Alessandro drove me to the center of the city so I could play tourist before making my return to Torino. I was rendered breathless by my first sight of the Duomo di Milano, the gigantic and ornate stone-carved cathedral in the city’s center. Yet, I was totally dumbfounded by Trenitalia’s brand new bullet train sitting in the middle of the piazza in front of the Duomo. This tacky marketing campaign made me briefly wish for the second coming so I could witness Jesus overturning the bright red choo-choo onto its side. The gorgeous fountain outside the Castello Sforzesco was overshadowed by a gargantuan Time Square-like billboard of a male fashion model. Milano Centrale train station is also a beautiful old carved stone building that is adorned with countless marble statues. Yet, every single turnstile is an advertisement for the golden arches.

I now understood why Alessandro and Paolo were so driven to preserve their culture. I now understood why Carlo Petrini and friends were driven to launch the Slow Food movement in Northern Italy in 1986.

The alliance between America and Northern Europe became considerably stronger in the 1980′s, largely due to the strong ties between the Reagan and Thatcher regimes. The American fast food industry invaded Europe in the 80′s in a manner similar to the Allied invasion of WWII. Small farmers and artisan food producers soon fell under the onslaught of burgers, sodas and buckets o’chicken in a manner similar to which the Nazis crumbled beneath allied troops, planes and tanks. The fast, disposable and convenient “American Way” was marketed as making life easier and therefore better. Thus, the run for the border was met with little resistance. That is until the clown and the colonel crossed into Northern Italy and ran into a group of idealistic traditionalists that valued the taste of good food over the transparent promise of a more convenient way to live.

Good, Clean and Fair Food is well-worth the effort … especially when it is shared with good friends and lots of wine on a gorgeous day in Milano.

Epilogue: The 3rd Saturday in October is special to me as that is the traditional day when Alabama, my alma mater, plays our oldest rival Tennessee. I wore my crimson to Milano for two reasons; 1) it was game day and wearing anything else would have be blasphemous, and 2) my Italian grandparents Ettore and Secondina came from small villages near Milan and I wanted to represent my home in their hometown. The tailgate party that my Italian hosts shared with me at the Milano market is one I will never forget and hope to one day return when they come to New Orleans.

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