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The Slow Food Movement

On the cobbled streets of Rome, visitors and residents see what they expect: the Trevi Fountain flowing abundantly, piazzas crowded with locals and tourists, rows of vespas lining streets too narrow for even the smallest of Fiats. They expect coffee bars, bakeries, gelaterias, and salumerias sprinkled between the long established structures, like the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica. They expect the gastronomic experiences to be as traditional as the monuments and to taste the culture embedded in the food. They don’t expect the menus to be translated into English, but many are; they don’t expect the classic Italian recipes to be modified for an American palette, but some are; and they certainly don’t expect to see a McDonald’s only a few yards away from the Spanish Steps. But there it is.

Carlo Petrini was nearing 40 years old when the McDonald’s opened in Piazza di Spagna in the 1980s. He had been living in the Piedmont region, where the connection between producers and consumers was direct and clear. That relationship was fundamental to the culinary culture in all of Italy, a country that prides itself so much in the regionality of dishes that emerged out of the consumer’s familiarity with the ingredients sourced from farms in his or her region. With supermarkets and grocery stores acting as the middleman in that relationship, the Slow Food Movement regards this mediation as a hindrance to the joy in local food experiences.

In 1986, after the opening of that first McDonald’s in Rome, Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food Movement in Bra, Italy, under the motto: good, clean, and fair. Three years later, it became an international movement expanding primarily in Europe. Bra is in the Piedmont region, home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences, which, in 2004, was also founded by Petrini. The movement prioritizes gastronomic experiences that bring joy and feed our bodies well. Its manifesto campaigns for humanity to slow down; it claims that we move too fast for our own good in life, restricting the pleasure to be found in the necessities of life. It values sustainability and regionality and rejects waste and excess.

Slow Food Logo courtesy of EdibleIndy

For decades, the movement has hosted events around the world to give independent and local food producers a platform to market their products. In the 1990s, the movement began publishing the Slow Food Editore and held the first Salone del Gusto, an event that occurs every two years to showcase regional culinary practices in Turin, Italy. The 2000s saw intercontinental expansion, with national chapters opening in Asia, South America, and North America, and the launches of the Foundation for Biodiversity and Terra Madre, an international network of producers and chefs international cooperation across foodways. In the 2010s, the continental branches expanded within their nations through interconnected webs of local communities that hold their own events more regularly between the greater movement’s international events. Slow Food Boston, for example, posts links to farm shares, delivery services, and other resources to substitute for the lack of gatherings due to COVID-19 at this time. 

Image courtesy of SlowFood.com

Since its inception in the 1980s, the Slow Food Movement has been weary of the fact that we live in a time where industrialization has led to technological developments that feed into a moment in which instant gratification is at our fingertips. With the lost connection between producer and consumer, we can get anything and everything we need blocks away at our local supermarkets. To find ingredients out of season all year long detracts from the joy and uniqueness that these ingredients bring to seasonal dishes. According to NPR, grocery stores dispose of 10% of their food inventory every year, and the average American household throws away 20% of the food in their refrigerators. The movement asks us to deconstruct the mechanics of life that have led to unhealthy and excessive habits and to live off the land as the land intends.

Image courtesy of Slow Food Galleries

With the globalization of communicative practices and transnational trade, though, international borders have become permeable to cultural influence and foreign products. The ability to experience various ways of life pervades all aspects of culture, and we often see these experiences emerging in explorations of food. We are able to experience foodways and access ingredients that we might not ever have before. Years after the opening of the McDonald’s, Petrini recalled feeling “alarmed by the culturally homogenizing nature of fast food,” but that doesn’t mean that passionate chefs will allow culinary traditions coalesce into a homogeneous mess.

It is evident that chains like McDonald’s, which offers the same base menu at its nearly 40,000 locations around the world, establish a global network that does homogenize the nature of fast food. Not everyone, though, is in socioeconomic positions to regularly shop at farmers markets, where prices are higher and options are fewer. Not everyone has time to prepare meals for hours just to enjoy the experience of eating it for a moment.

On the one hand, Slow Food shrivels in its elitism. But on the other hand, Slow Food shines in its idealism: the idea of living an intentional life that considers the sources of the food one ingests and takes care to support independent regional producers is enticing. That it benefits the earth, independent and local producers, and our own bodies creates the illusion of flawlessness. Even so, the movement ignores how inaccessible it is to the masses. It neglects to recognize that it exists on the assumption that all people have the resources – time, money, space – to live with such intention. With the societal hegemonies we’ve created for ourselves, there will always be people who can’t afford to slow down to survive.

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Feeding BC: Dining Services’ Fall Plan

McElroy Commons has never looked so empty. There are no more than six seats to a table, but only half the tables are there. The other half are being used as barriers, turning the serving areas into mazes. Markers on the floor designate six foot distances, and even more plexiglass divides the servers from the diners. Sanitizing stations fill empty spaces, visible from just about anywhere in the room. BC Dining is embracing the new normal

Since July, Boston College students and parents have gotten an email a week (at least) from some administrator with some new detail about the school’s reopening. While these emails have provided much needed information, the constant contact becomes overwhelming and hard to keep in check; it’s all too easy to lose track of the new protocol and the ever-changing “new normal.” 

McElroy Commons, Corcoran Commons, and Stuart Dining are to be the main dining halls for students. They will each be open every day from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., with hour-long closures between mealtimes for deep cleaning. Each main dining location will have an additional serving area in the same building—Eagles Nest, the Heights Room, and the Yellow Room respectively—with the same menu to decrease density and expedite food retrieval. Corcoran and McElroy will serve the same menus to prevent students from trekking across campus and overpopulating one dining hall, and menu options will be limited, offering only a few of the more popular dishes at each meal while attempting to offer student favorites.

Image courtesy of bcheights.com

Other dining locations will be open periodically, as well. Brighton Campus’ Cafe 219 will be open. Lyons Hall, or the Ratt, will serve breakfast and lunch (8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) on weekdays. The popular location will have its iconic New England coffee, but, as with every other dining location, self-service will not be an option for students. 

Unfortunately, other favorites will be closed at the beginning of the semester, including Hillside, the Chocolate Bar, the Bean Counter, and the Eagle Marts. Late Night, too, will not be offered. BC Dining hopes to get some of these locations and services up and running once the semester begins; their reinstallation, however, relies on increases in staff. To substitute for the lack of Late Night, BC Dining recommends students purchase pre-packaged or grab-and-go items to keep in their dorms.

Right now, BC Dining’s largest concern is lunch, its busiest meal of the day. They have been subtly promoting the GET Mobile app to order meals for pickup in the emails and FAQs on their website—especially for midday meals. Perhaps to incentivize its use, GET Mobile will be the only way for students to customize meal orders. An email (yes, another one) from BC Dining will be sent the week before move-in begins with specific instructions about GET Mobile ordering. 

Until then, students can expect to pick up their food from the CoRo Cafe when ordering from McElroy, Addies when ordering from Corcoran, and the Yellow Room when ordering from Stuart. GET Mobile will be available from 10 a.m. until 8p.m. at CoRo cafe and Addies and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Yellow Room. Mandatory meal plan money, credit cards, and debit cards can be applied, but all meals must be retrieved—delivery is not an option. 

Image courtesy of bc.edu

Of course, BC will continue accommodating food restrictions, including vegetarian and vegan diets—the policies for meal accommodations and medically-restricted diets, updated last year, will be in place and can be found on BC Dining’s website. Menu items will continue to be labeled for allergens, with additional labels on the online menu, and BC’s nutritionist, Michelle Lucier, is still available this year for appointments.  

Many of the practices they are implementing this fall had been initiated in the last few weeks of the spring: markers on the floors, increased sanitation and grab-and-go items, required face covers, contactless payment, and plexiglass shields at all stations. Training and brainstorming for additional precautionary measures then continued through the spring and summer, Beth Emery, Director of Dining Services, and Michael Forcier, General Manager of Upper Campus Dining, explained in an email to Gusto. After the administration sent most students home in March, BC Dining was still in operation in McElroy. Dining employees cycled through positions for the small number of residents on Upper Campus while allowing management to evaluate the most effective practices for the future.  

For further safety, seating has been reduced in all dining halls. As an independent purveyor, BC Dining will be following Massachusetts’ guidelines for restaurants, seating at 50% capacity with no more than 6 seats per table. As everything is in to-go containers, students will be able to take their food to other locations, including their dorms, other physically distanced spaces, and— weather permitting—outside eating areas like Stokes Amphitheater and the outdoor tables on lower campus.    

Students will be required to follow strict measures when entering dining areas. Face masks are required unless eating; phones must be away while ordering to avoid contamination, and supplies—hand sanitizer and wipes—are available for students to disinfect as they enter dining halls and to wipe down their eating areas before and after use. For now, there is no limit as to how long students can sit in dining halls, but as BC Dining management observes students’ tendencies this fall, much is subject to change.

During the Massachusetts- and BC-mandated quarantine period—the day or so that students will be awaiting their COVID test results—students cannot leave their dorms, even to run outside to pick up delivered food. After receiving their test prior to move-in, students will also retrieve three or four meals for this period. Further, students who test positive and are placed in campus isolation will receive food from BC Dining. The isolation menu will offer at least one vegetarian option for each meal, but many of the details for the delivery of these meals remain unknown to students. 

While BC’s sustainability efforts have been all but erased in the wake of the virus, Dining Services is doing its best to implement practices that are as sustainable as possible. Containers will be compostable, and students are encouraged to bring their own reusable utensils and water bottles to dining halls. FRESH to Table demonstrations at Corcoran have been put on pause, but FRESH-approved dishes (Fairly traded, Regional, Equitable, Sustainable and Healthy) will be on the menu. The farmer’s market on Lower Campus is set to continue through the fall on Fridays, and students will be able to buy produce boxes through the community support agriculture (CSA) farm share. 

The team anticipates the most difficulty coming with speed of service and variety in the menu, but one of the biggest factors is completely out of their control. Much rests on the cooperation of the student body, and, as much as the staff tries, BC Dining cannot force students to comply with the protocol. If students don’t adhere to the Eagle Pledge, they put not only themselves but other students and staff around them at risk as well. While Dining Services will be doing their part to safely serve the student body, it’s up to the students to uphold their responsibilities. As much as BC Dining has anticipated for the fall, it really is impossible to know how things will go.

Image courtesy of bc.edu

“We are very excited to have the students back on campus since they inspire us to do what we do. Just like most people during the pandemic, our team members are nervous and anxious at times,” said Emery and Forcier in an email to Gusto, “but our team members are feeling confident about our safety protocols after their experience this spring and summer and have mentioned that they are pleased with our focus on keeping them as safe as possible.”

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Bon Voyage, Adam Rapoport

Apparently, there are at least 59 ways to cook an egg. Moreover, over 27 million people are willing to watch some guy present all of them over the course of nearly half an hour. 

That’s what Bon Appétit’s most popular YouTube video looks like. Their other videos cook up recipes with a bit more complexity but haven’t received quite as many viewers, yet. Largely due to its Youtube channel, Bon Appétit has become one of the most recognized food media outlets circulating magazine stands and web browsers around the country. Today, they boast 6.5 million print subscriptions, 7.6 million ‘unique users’ digitally, and 11.4 million followers on social platforms.

As such, Bon Appétit has received recognition for the direction in which it has developed in recent years. Since 2010, the magazine and its offshoots have received 15 nominations and 8 wins for James Beard Awards (often called “the Oscars of the food awards”). In the near 20 years that these awards existed before 2010, Bon Appétit totalled only 4 wins and 8 nominees. 

This is in part due to the numerical expansion of media categories in culinary awards, which followed the incredible proliferation of media forms that are now prevalent in the mainstream; Bon Appétit has successfully taken advantage of such growth. While its print circulation has more or less remained the same, digitally, they’ve made great strides, with over 6 million subscribers on YouTube. Bon Appétit has garnered what other magazines strive for in terms of a digital following. 

Previous Bon Appétit editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport

Perhaps more importantly, this growth largely occurred while Adam Rapoport held the title of editor-in-chief. Condé Nast—the global mass media company that parents publications from Vogue and GQ to Wired and The New Yorker—has been home to Rapoport for decades: before Bon Appétit, he was the style editor of GQ. Prior to his adoption into the Condé Nast family, though, he had food writing experience for a number of other publications, including the James Beard Foundation and Time Out New York.

Before Rapoport took over, Bon Appétit was, as a 2010 New York Times article about the switch in editorial leadership stated, “accessible, highly professional, and in the business of providing recipes, recipes, and more recipes, largely devoid of text and context.” Formerly based in Los Angeles, not yet in its New York office, it had been run by the same editor-in-chief, Barbara Fairchild, for over 30 years. 

While Rapoport’s leadership brought 10 years of shimmering success, its stardom recently came into question when freelance food writer Tammie Teclemariam tweeted a photo of Rapoport and his wife dressed as Puerto Ricans. The magazine soon received a great deal of scrutiny from the public and received uproarious reactions from contributors, editors, and readers alike. In response, Rapoport stepped down as editor-in-chief.

The photo of him was from 2004, his Instagram post from 2013. To some, this may not seem like a very serious issue—I mean, it was 2004, times were different then, and he’s apologized. No harm, no foul. Right?

The reason that this is such a big moment for Bon Appétit is because it came during an important movement in the United States, and it exposed so much more than one photo. In January of this year, chef and writer Soleil Ho wrote about the race problem in Bon Appétit’s popular Test Kitchen series, which some believe is “the most lucrative thing Condé Nast has.” In 2016, Bon Appétit faced a small but mighty uproar after posting a video in which a white chef explained the ‘right way’ to eat pho, a Vietnamese specialty. While either instance could—and should—have easily sparked the same amplified outrage, the photo of Rapoport came to light at a time when the public was more actively engaged in addressing racial justice. It caused a ripple effect that exposed racial disparities in Bon Appétit and Condé Nast’s office culture.

There’s been a lot of coverage about this moment for Bon Appétit. A plethora of articles feature the experiences of numerous Bon Appétit employees and the marginalization they experienced at Bon Appétit as discussed in interviews, Twitter threads, and Instagram stories. The many articles out there are very easy to find and clearly recount the details and the words that brought Bon Appétit to the place it is now—a place with increased transparency, unpleasant as it may be. Many of these articles describe the release of the photograph causing “a revolt among Condé Nast employees, many of whom described an entrenched culture of racial insensitivity.” 

Assistant food editor Sohla El-Waylly, a familiar face to fans of Bon Appétit’s test kitchen, found that the company’s response to the offense was initially disappointing. In a Sporkful podcast, she recalls the outrage developing slower than it probably should have. During a company-wide Zoom meeting in the immediate aftermath of Teclemariam’s tweet, at which Rapoport issued a brief apology, El-Waylly suggested that he resign. Only a few editors were active in the discussion, until she broke the others’ silence by rebuking it. 

Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen staff

Recent backlash against Bon Appétit’s racist culture and leadership not only reveals a need for change within the company but also serves as a gateway to observing a similar trend in the food industry and its media coverage. Though it is certainly not a new issue in the culinary community, the lack of diversity in media coverage has lately become a focus of food writers and chefs; in these discussions, more representation is often the most cited suggestion to improve. Chefs love to explore ethnic cuisines, but they have a tendency to take ingredients and elements of recipes from other cultures and whitewash them rather than acknowledge the cultural history that accompanies it. 

At this point, Rick Bayless and his empire of Mexican restaurants have already been brought up a number of times, but representation in kitchens and print is only the beginning. Last year, chef Kwame Onwuachi wrote about the lack of diversity among food critics, which can be seen in nationally recognized awards. James Beard nominees, for example, tend to be male, and they tend to be White. In 2016, 218 of the 341 James Beard nominations were White men. In the last few years, though, the James Beard Foundation has made efforts to address this with changes in representation, accessibility, and transparency. Even so, there’s still work to be done to equalize the playing field for the James Beard Awards. And just think: that’s only one layer of the equality that’s missing in critiques and evaluations of food figures. 

It’s difficult to acknowledge a toxic culture in a publication that is so well-recognized and successful as well as an industry that is loved by many. However, this should be seen as an opportunity for Bon Appétit and the food industry to improve by recognizing where they are flawed, intentionally or unintentionally, and fixing themselves. Chefs like Onwuachi and El-Waylly want other chefs and publications to give recognition where recognition is due, whether that be in recipes, awards, or salaries. Having been reprimanded by their own contributors, writers, editors, and staff for the ways in which they treat their employees, Bon Appétit has an opportunity to lead the way for a change in the food industry. 

So, this is a bit more than just a racist photo from a decade and a half ago; that was just the cherry on top. The food industry and the publications that cover it have been making this sundae for decades. There are layers upon layers of injustices to taste, and it’s about time for us all to dig in—bon appétit.

Cover photo courtesy of Richard Drew, Associated Press.