The Meaning of Slow Food To Me

As we come up on the 3rd anniversary of starting the Rice & Spice dinner series, I look back and remember why it all started.

First Ever Recorded Inland Hurricane. On May 8th, 2009, Carbondale, IL gets hit by a 20-minute, 40-mile wide inland hurricane which had an average wind speed of 85 mph with gusts at ground level of 106 mph and 124 at treetop level. A tree fell on our car while we were in it. This event is now being called a derecho (Spanish for straight) due to the fact that nobody had hurricane insurance, so the Governor came and emphasized that it was a derecho, NOT a hurricane.

The derecho was huge for us in the Southern Illinois region as it devastated all infrastructure (power lines, roads blocked, businesses closed). No power meant lots of food that needed to be eaten. I invited my slow food group (a small group of 6-8 people who would meet once a week or so to cook/eat together) over to my house to our regular Sunday dinner. I, having solar energy, still had power and ended up with a couple of deep freezes full of food “to be stored.” Due to the storm and so many people having access to food but not a way to cook, I asked the local community center, Gaia House Interfaith Center (which had the city gas still working), if we could cook there. That ended up being more than a week of people sharing, cooking, eating, and communing together under solar lamps and candles. There was even a beautiful candle lit off the grid graduation party.

Afterwards, we continued what would become Rice & Spice, a weekly international slow food dinner. I did have over a ton of food in two deep freezes and two refrigerators, so “Lets use it.” I still do have a tube of caviar, if anyone knows who left it. That spring of 2009 the slow food group would meet every Friday at Gaia House and cook up wonderful meals of camaraderie and laughter using donated food. As the dinner got bigger, I personally started funding the dinners. I figured out what it cost to eat out for 2 people and funded the dinner accordingly. As the dinner got bigger, I hustled businesses for donations of food to serve the hungry. We became a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture a weekly farmer supplied vegetable delivery). Having a university right across the road, we had many internationals coming to our dinners, and they wanted to share their food and culture so we started having themes like Indian or Thai or Latin. Chief chefs came up with the recipes and people would bring ingredients or dishes for the theme. With so many people helping in the kitchen, sometimes 12 or 15, the chefs could even be amateur chefs, and usually are, but they can act like a master chef tasting and directing the process.

So now it has been 35 months (three years) now of weekly dinners serving over 5315 people (we didn’t count for the first 4-5 months so it is more than that) and in the last few weeks we have had more than 100 people come to share in the prep, cooking, eating and cleaning up. Rice and Spice has led to so many new friendships: Arab, Jew, Indian, Pakistani, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, American, Tall, Short, Fat, Skinny, Brown, White, Black, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Bengali, Iranian, Native American, Israeli, Turkish, Moroccan, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latino, Mexican, Environmentalist, Italian, Afghan, Cambodian, and French people have been some of the chefs and participants. We have had a Bengali New Year party and a Jewish New Year party and a Persian Cultural Festival and a Ramadan Iftar dinner and a Native American Thanksgiving as part of our dinners. We had a Japanese Sushi dinner right after the 8.9 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

This Friday (May 4th 2012) we will have a great Cinco de Mayo dinner and Salsa dance fest, and next week we have the Bengal Tigers (winners of this years SIUC Iron Chef contest) cooking.

I love the community, the working together, both cooking and cleaning, the sharing, the smiles, the talking, and of course, the rice. I kid! And of course the Food!!!!