Sometimes, slower is better. This month for A Schooner with… we combed our contacts for a person who would appreciate the ethos of taking your time. Kate Smith from Slow Food Birmingham definitely fits the bill.
Q: Hey Kate, thanks for dropping in to talk all things Slow Food. What can we get you?
A: The plum porter if it’s still on. Otherwise I’m a big gin fan, and being an Aussie girl I love a gutsy red wine.
Q: Plenty to choose from, then! Plum porter it is, bottled. Let’s talk the basics of Slow Food.
A: Slow Food is a worldwide network of farmers, fishers, producers, chefs and anyone who, like me, just wants to see a better food system for everyone. It’s ethos is Good Clean Fair Food. We work towards a system where food should be good for us, produced in a way that is sympathetic with our environment, and that the grower and consumer get a fair price for produce.
It’s the largest food movement in the world, with over one million plus members in 160 countries around the world. It started in Italy when a group of people realised that they needed to be more vocal about the loss of traditional food culture.
Q: So it has some strong roots on the continent. When did it make its way across the channel or, more specifically, the canal to Birmingham?
A: I knew of Slow Food when it first started, I was working at the time as a cadet journalist in Sydney and my editor was married to an Italian. I learnt more about food from office chat than I did about journalism.
Around ten years ago I set off with my family to live in Hong Kong, we loved it but the food on offer at expat supermarkets was all imported and a lot was really processed. So I set about learning about local food and making as much as I could from scratch, this then lead to me taking food tours through the wet markets and teaching cooking.
In 2011 we moved to the UK and I had an opportunity to visit Salon del Gusto, in Turin Italy, the international biannual gathering of Slow Food. I saw on a global scale what working locally could do and from that point on I haven’t looked back. When we moved to Birmingham last year I was amazed to find our city didn’t have a group – so I set about meeting local people who also have a Good Clean and Fair philosophy.
Slow Food Birmingham was launched in January and the Youth Network officially began last month – Birmingham is now the fastest growing group in the UK!
Q: Birmingham is increasingly being recognised for its a burgeoning food scene, how easy has it been to get foodies of the city on board?
A: I’m loving the rapid development of food in Birmingham, or should I say, the fact the rest of the world is starting to realise the amazing food and drinks on offer here. When friends come to visit us they are truly impressed.
From people like Tom Pell from The Clean Kilo, Ann Gallagher from The Real Junk Food Program, Brad Carter from Carters of Mosley, John from 1000 Trades, along with so many others involved with promoting a better food system – this city has an open mind.
Q: We must stop John giving out free drinks in exchange for namedropping… We’re ready for the food revolution, how do we sign up?
A: Anyone can be a member for as little as £3 a month, even less if you are on a limited income, you just need to want a better food system. For over 30 years Slow Food has supported projects locally, nationally and globally through a volunteer base of local groups. Our members either set up projects or work with other groups who are doing good.
Locally, our Youth Network has just held its first Disco Soup, thats an event to raise awareness about food waste and some of our members are working towards a beekeeping scheme. Slow Food also wants be part of the conversation as Birmingham plans for the Commonwealth Games. As a city we have a great opportunity and we want it to benefit local food production, as well as be environmentally responsible.
Q: And do you see what happens here on Frederick Street as being a part of the wider Slow Food movement?
A: Without a shadow of doubt – YES! This is more than a great place to eat and drink. They offer so many chances for us to engage with each other and they are at the heart of the community.
Q: Right, last question before a beer in our favourite sunspot (the table in the corner by the open doors, if you’re wondering). Birmingham is a city of a thousand trades, if you could pick one other than what you do now, what would it be?
It’s not a fair choice, because so many of those 1000 trades are food related. What I love about the history of Brum is that you could set up here without having to be part of a guild, which meant it offered scope to so many people. That’s what has made this city such a diverse place.
You can catch Slow Food Birmingham at 1000 Trades on 9th June for a brew-your-own-beer-day special. Starts from midday, full details at the link.