Joel “Gubnah” Smith of Slow Food Chicago just forwarded this letter from Carlo Petrini addressing the controversy stirred up by a passage in his book Slow Food Nation. The letter to CUESA, the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture, which organizes the Ferry Plaza market in San Francisco, was sent May 10, prior to the spat going public. 


I was quite surprised to learn in the past few days about some negative reactions to a passage called “Green California” in my just-published book, Slow Food Nation, and wanted to take a moment to try to explain my intentions and clarify what I believe happened.
First of all, I want to apologize for any offense caused by this passage, whether to your organization or the many farmers who are your members and collaborators.  It was absolutely not my intention to denigrate or attack the farmers of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market  or of any farmers market, for that matter.  I hope that you will consider the rest of my book, not to mention the range of Slow Food projects I have founded over the past twenty years, a testament to the deep admiration I feel for the farmers who grow sustainably and depend on the direct market economies of farmers markets, both in the United States and around the world.  The network of farmers and food producers that we brought together at Terra Madre has only helped to reinforce how strongly I believe in the importance of farmers as defenders of the earth and stewards of our future. 

In part, I believe that the translation of this passage was, unfortunately, not as accurate as it should have been, and that the misinterpretation of certain phrases and the omission of a few key words resulted in a tone that differs significantly from the spirit of what I wrote in Italian. In fact, my original words were meant to demonstrate the positive impression I had of the two farmers with whom I spoke, based on their apparent success in making farming a viable livelihood for themselves.

I have also come to realize that this specific passage may be vulnerable to misunderstandings when judged outside of the context of the chapter in which it resides, not to mention the book in its entirety. For this I can only apologize for the imperfections of my own writing, in my attempt to explore some of the contradictions that exist within the highly relative concept ofsustainability.   

The loss of biodiversity in our food supply; the rights of migrant farm workers; the elitism argument against organic and artisanal foods; not to mention the twin epidemics of obesity and hunger that plague our planet, are all contradictions which we need to acknowledge and explore in a way that respects multiple cultures and points of view. 

I believe strongly that the only way in which we can overcome these contradictions is to create a dialogue where we face these issues with an open mind and a generous heart. I very much look forward to meeting with you on Saturday where we can come together to recognize our common values in the pursuit of food that is good, clean and fair. 

In friendship,
Carlo Petrini
Slow Food International