Category Archives: slow food

trust

Spring and its abundance reminds me that I have not yet encountered a particular phenomenon in California.

There are farmstands here, of course. Particularly in the Central Valley, that wide swath of green that provides food to the nation. These farmstands are decorated with signs that trumpet “Pecans” or “Strawberries.” But you’ll always find a person there, ready to exchange produce for cash.

Back in Western Massachusetts, where I lived for more than a decade, I came to love the farmstand honor system. During corn season, especially, it was common to see a flat bed truck by the side of the road piled high with green husks. On a nearby table, you’d find a metal box with a slit on top and a padlock. Alongside it, a sign that might say “6 for $2, 12 for $3.75.”

You were expected to put your money in the box and take what you paid for. That was that.

I’ve always wondered what allowed for such a level of trust. Growing up in NYC, I sensed merchants feared all strangers, watching us kids with wary baleful eyes.

My friend, Elizabeth Graver, wrote a novel called The Honey Thief that if my

(www.amazon.com)

memory serves me right is about a young girl from New York City, a girl who steals things, whose mom moves her to a small rural community to help her deal with these and other issues. The girl encounters a person-less farmstand with honey for sale and only a lockbox for money. And she finds this inconceivably naive.

These honor-system farmstands – sometimes a rough-hewn wooden stand in a clearing, sometimes a cart on the farm itself, but always hand-lettered signs pointing out the zucchini or the tomatos or the corn – were and continue to be a revelation to me.

They work, it seems, because they are part of that community’s social compact. Like Radiohead making its music available for download via a pay-what-you-want system. (Ok, that’s actually a bad example.) Or like the MET commuter rail in Portland in which you’re expected to buy a ticket but you’re not asked to put it through a turnstile to gain entry to the train, or give it to anyone for that matter.

Which makes me wonder: what allows for this kind of trust to become an accepted part of a community? Clearly, the monetary loss must not be too great. But is it simply a financial calculus?

Living in Western Massachusetts, I knew I didn’t want to jeopardize this belief that we had the ability to do the right thing without need of a stick or a carrot or a mediator. That somehow we were all elevated by my simple act of slipping the appropriate number of bills through the slit in the top of the metal box.

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how pizza came to queens

I recently came across this multimedia composition by the New Yorker artist and children’s book author Maira Kahlman: And The Pursuit of Happiness. I’ve described it as the perfect anthem for my Digital Media Literacy Slow Food Movement Movement.

Ultimately, Kahlman believes a democracy would insure access to nutritious foods for all. Our democratic ideals would be reflected in our ability to appreciate where that food comes from and the degree to which we take the time to enjoy meals together. Slowly.

I knew Kahlman first as the creator of wildly colorful and uniquely lettered children’s books like “Hey Willy See the Pyramids” and “Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman.” I thought she was also the author of “How Pizza Came to Queens,” which was  published at around the time of those early Kahlman books.

Turns out I was wrong.

Dayal Kaur Khalsa, the actual author of “How Pizza Came to Queens,” created a beautiful tale that captured my adult imagination. As a kid who grew up in Queens and who ate a LOT of pizza, I was astounded by the overlooked obvious notion that some idenitifiable individual could be responsible for introducing an iconic food into our culture. It helped that the story was also beautiful and colorful.

I loved that the main character, Mrs. Pelligrini, given the chance, unrolls her prized rollling pin just before making pizza with the two children in the story. It reminded me of the display cases at the Ellis Island museum in which what immigrants brought with them is showcased. In many instances those making the long arduous journey to this country carried with them cooking utensils. Will they have samovars? How will will I find the right cast-iron pots? I cannot part with my rolling pin! I imagine the would-be immigrants saying to themselves as they choose what to bring and what to leave behind.

These cooking utensils provided the means for meeting basic survival needs, yes. But they also represented the transplanting of culture, the underpinnings of new communities, the beginning of a reshaping of the country in which they would land.

Until pizza could become so ubiquitous and readily available that a Korean-American kid from Queens would find it unimaginable that it was ever different.

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