Labor Day Picnic

By SF Portland Steering Committee Member, Ricky Haas

photo by Kenneth Aaron

photo by Kenneth Aaron

It never rained on Labor Day, but it never got too hot either; the sun seemed to be playing hide-and-go-seek all day. All in all, I think, we had a nice late-Summer afternoon. As Portlanders, we seem to be extremely sensitive to the vicissitudes of weather, which may be one reason why almost 1,000 of us took the opportunity to picnic with each other on the grass lawn in front of Washington High School.

The high school has been abandoned for years, though it was recently re-opened to host the annual Time-Based Art Festival; we organized our Slow Food Eat-In as part of TBA, which allowed us to attract a large crowd of all ages, and from all walks of life. For me at least, the resulting Eat-In exemplified Slow Food at its finest: families and friends eating together, sharing food with strangers, and making new friends in the process.

Quite a few people brought extras to share, and they meandered through the landscape of blankets, towels, and Tupperware containers to pass out a wide variety of offerings. They brought homemade bread pudding, barbequed corn fresh from the garden, salads, cookies, drinks, and all kinds of seasonal fruit. I think my favorite was probably a dessert made from local figs and toasted sunflower seeds covered in a sweet coconut oil and cinnamon dressing. Mark Doxtader of Tastebud ensured that everyone had enough to eat by giving out free slices of exotic flatbreads, cooked on-site in a mobile wood-fired oven.

It was a festive, celebratory atmosphere; smiles, laughter, and pleasant conversation were everywhere. We shared the bounty of our gardens and kitchens, and we reveled in one another’s company.

We also signed petitions to change national legislation. Slow Food Portland teamed up with a number of local organizations – the Oregon Environmental Council, Growing Gardens, Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services, and the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force – who have already done remarkable work with the food in our local school system, and together we asked people to get something done on a national scale.

photo by Blake van Roekel

photo by Blake van Roekel

Amongst the potted plants that Slow Food members had cared for and placed all over the high school lawn, we also placed small flags with a number of eye-opening facts about the state of childhood nutrition in the U.S. Volunteers and Slow Food members walked amongst the picnickers to explain the importance of our national efforts, to gather signatures for the petition and recruit new members to Slow Food. Almost everyone I spoke with that day was enthusiastic about our mission – it’s easy to endorse legislation that will support local farmers, increase organic agriculture, create new jobs, teach kids the importance of a real connection to the food they eat, and improve our national health – especially in the presence of such an obvious reminder of how valuable those things can be.

The challenge, I think, is to see whether we can take our memory of this day – this reminder of what things can be like when a community comes together to share good, healthy food with one another – and use this as motivation to do the decidedly less-pleasant work of changing national policy. Not only our laws, but also our thoughts and our lives are often so heavily influenced by the interests of the Fast Life – whether it be due to the allure of money, efficiency, or some other manifestation of those forces, it can be quite a challenge for us Americans to pause and remember the true value of Slow Living. Perhaps, then, it is our duty as well as our privilege to enjoy the pleasures of Slow Food together. It gives us a chance to remember that everyone, and especially our children, should be given the opportunity to enjoy these pleasures as well.

Thanks for sharing