Slow Food, Unplugged

How a food movement that started in Italy made its way to Kansas City—and why its ambassadors want you as a member.

Kansas City is a thriving food scene, a culinary landscape that boasts chefs, artisans, enthusiasts, growers, producers, restaurateurs and consumers eager to embrace the region’s bounty. After all, we live in the heartland and America’s breadbasket—a rich and plentiful area that provides the rest of the nation with premium corn, grain, beef and pork.

It was in the not-too-distant past that farm-to-table was a trend that signified chefs procured some of their menus’ ingredients directly from the farmer or producer. And it didn’t have to be from a traditional farm—it could be from an artisan winery, cheesemonger, ranch, fishery or boutique grower (think herbs, lettuces, tomatoes). The trend morphed into the mainstream, and today a large movement in the U.S. and around the globe exists to produce and access real food without GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and practice sustainability. In the Kansas City area there are hundreds of farmers, growers and artisans who support the notion of “good, clean and fair food”—which happens to be the foundation of Slow Food International and Slow Food USA’s mission statement.

Slow Food had its beginnings in Italy in 1986 as a small association led by Carlo Petrini, an advocate for bridging the gap between agriculture and gastronomy. Created in response to the industrialization of food production and the fact that people were losing the vital connection between plate and the planet, the organization flourished and today boasts more than 150 chapters, or convivia, and 6,000 members in more than 160 countries.

In 2000, chef Jasper Mirabile Jr., owner of Jasper’s Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, saw a food disconnect locally. He had just returned from his family’s ancestral country, Italy, and was inspired by friends who were launching Slow Food chapters in this country; there was a lack of support for local chefs and independently owned restaurants.

“At that point my family had been in the restaurant business for 47 years,” Mirabile says. “I remember farmers and producers knocking at the back door of Jasper’s in the early mornings at our original 75th and Wornall location in the 1950s and my father carefully picked through tomatoes, cucumbers, Italian eggplants and green beans and examined meats and dairy products, choosing the very best. It was intriguing to see those raw ingredients, fresh from a field or barn mere miles away, get transformed into dishes that would be on guests’ plates later that day.”

Decades later, as Mirabile researched Slow Food, he realized it would be a way to support local farmers, producers and artisans just as his father did. He started a convivium in Kansas City and today Slow Food Kansas City has more than 150 members—one of the largest and most active groups in the U.S. It hosts a robust calendar of 12-15 events during the year, including fundraisers like the Culinary Garage Sale in September and pop-ups like the annual Tomato Tasting in August, among others. The local convivium supports the community, donating money to many nonprofits.

“Slow Food Kansas City is not political—we don’t sit in protest at local fast food restaurants but instead promote the chefs who support the local farmers in our community,” Mirabile explains. “We also help preserve traditional cuisine. For instance, at Jasper’s, we cook authentic Sicilian dishes, and many recipes have been handed down through the generations. The Slow Food movement, among others, is bringing a lot of the food we eat back to its origins. It’s like rediscovering your great-grandmother’s recipe box.”

Lisa Waterman Gray, an Overland Park, Kansas-based food and travel writer and Slow Food Kansas City board member, attended Terre Madre/Salone del Gusto in 2014, Slow Food International’s annual gathering.

“I gained a global perspective about Slow Food International and its mission,” she says. “Challenges in providing good, clean, fair food for all people exist everywhere in the world, although what those challenges ‘look like’ may differ from one culture to the next.”

Slow Food Kansas City supports local food artisans, farmers and producers throughout the year. Local dairy Shatto; heirloom tomato grower Kurlbaum; all-natural grass-fed beef producer Steve Buerge; honey and cheese producers; coffee roasters; wine grower and producer Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery; garlic and mushroom farmers; and even bean-to-bar artisan chocolate producers have hosted events and pop-ups.

“Slow Food Kansas City is a celebration of local food where we feed mind, body and soul,” Mirabile says. “And we learn along the way how to support good, clean and fair food.”

For more information on joining Slow Food Kansas City, visit SlowFoodKC.org.