SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A lush, under-the-stars spread of handmade bread, gourmet olives and fine wine makes an unlikely launch for a weekend dedicated to ending hunger, empowering poor nations and transforming farming as we know it.

Welcome to Slow Food Nation, epicenter of the split personality that is America’s burgeoning foodie reform movement.

Some 30,000 people were expected to gather for this Labor Day weekend festival that started Friday as one part gourmet nibbles, one part social justice soapbox. It’s a gustatory effort to persuade Americans to reject fast, cheap food and embrace organic, local agriculture and a return to the kitchen.

It’s a delicious message – that food should taste great and be produced in a way that is kind to both the people and the land from which it comes. That we should spend more on quality food now to save on healthcare and the environment later.

But in our harried nation, it’s also a hard sell that frequently has been hobbled by its own pretensions.

Slow Food Nation marks the first major event for Slow Food USA, the American branch of an Italian-born organization. But popular appeal has been minimal, in part because – unlike in Europe – here it has been mostly co-opted by the wine-and-cheese set.

But this weekend’s event saw the launch of a new strategy for the growing coalition of food reform and social justice groups that form the backbone of Slow Food.

On Thursday, they released their “Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture,” a 12-point plan they hope can be used as a blueprint for remaking the federal farm bill, the $300 billion measure that influences virtually every aspect of the American food system.

Critics have long complained that the farm bill favors industrial agriculture and undermines efforts to promote sustainable, organic and family-based farming – all principles central to Thursday’s declaration. The declaration also encourages greater clarity in food labeling and better treatment and pay for food and farm workers.

The group says it wants to collect 300,000 signatures before taking the plan to Washington to demonstrate to lawmakers that there is popular support for real reform. Food safety scares, energy woes and worries about obesity are generating tremendous awareness of the role of food in other problems, they say.

“Energy, health care, climate change. You cannot make progress on those three issues without addressing food,” organizer and author Michael Pollan said Friday.


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