Hansjakob Werlen

Manager, Philadelphia Slow Food Program

Biographical Sketch
Hansjakob Werlen is the coordinator of Slow Food Philadelphia, a chapter of the national group Slow Food USA. Born and raised in a farming family in Switzerland, he teaches German and chairs the Modern Language program at Swarthmore College.

Presentation Summary
Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world. It is an approach to food that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. The movement was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 to combat fast food and now has members in more than 100 countries. Slow Food Philadelphia is a chapter of Slow Food USA, an educational organization dedicated to stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production; to the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community, to the invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions. The members of the Philadelphia chapter come from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds. We organize dinners, tastings, tours, lectures, and picnics, where members gather in a convivial setting to explore the richness of our area’s culinary heritage or the food and drink of other cultures around the world.

Momentum for the Slow Food movement has been gathering for decades as agriculture has increasingly become the domain of commodity food production and multi-national corporations. This brand of agriculture depends on fossil fuels while degrading of the environment and pushing externalities such as environmental damage off on society as a whole. This is a failed model that must somehow change in the future. This approach to farming has produced dire circumstances in this country and even more dire circumstances is less developed countries who have little say in the World Trade Organization.

Petrini, the movement’s founder, saw the traditional food ways in Italy falling by the wayside. There was flight from the land and a transformation occurring in which small traditional farmers were losing out and food was increasingly dominated by super markets, resulting in a kind of homogenization of food. He and his followers stood against the disappearance of the traditional food ways of Italy by preserving and promoting the traditional ways various dishes were made, extending back to the farm where traditional methods, vegetables and livestock breeds were emphasized. The movement spread to Europe, Japan and in the 1990’s to the United States where concern was growing that our food traditions were being lost. There has been tremendous activity in preserving food traditions in the U.S. One project, the Ark of Taste, is a catalog of more than 200 foods in danger of extinction in the U.S. By promoting and eating Ark products we help insure their survival. Producers of these foods are also nominated as Ark of Taste producers. Many of these foods date back to pre-colonial times. The Philadelphia region has a lot of these foods.

Our motto is Good – Fair – Clean. The Good part pertains to preserving our traditional food ways such as is being accomplished by the Ark of Taste. The Clean part pertains to respecting the environment. Farming sustainably in slow food terms means moving away from farm chemicals toward organic methods, using less intrusive practices and eschewing genetically modified organisms. The Fair part has to do with how people producing agricultural products are treated. What are the wages farmers should have? What standards should be set for the conditions and pay that farm workers receive? Fair means that farming should be done by farmers and not by multi-national corporations. This is an urgent issue. Traditional farmers are being displaced not only in the United States but also in Africa and India as corporate farming expands its dominance. The so-called Green Revolution has hastened this process and proven deleterious to traditional farmers around the world.

In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.