One of the most frequent and frustrating criticisms leveled at Slow Foodies is that organic, sustainable agriculture is a whim of the wealthy, a boutique fad meant only to highlight the difference between what the rich ‘have to have’ and the poor can’t afford. The lazy locavores recently highlighted in the New York Times exemplify this idea, presenting us with a group of people for whom the labels “local” and “organic” mean more than the values (community building, land stewardship) upon which the slow food movement was built.

So when the Princeton Review proclaimed the students of American University in Washington, D.C. as “most politically active” in the 2009 edition of The Best 368 Colleges, it was sort of unsurprising to find that American doesn’t have a Slow Food campus chapter. The Princeton Review is interested traditional politicking–the kind that goes on in the well-air conditioned halls and offices of capitol hill, during lobbyists’ lunches and fundraising dinners. Being politically active, in this context, means participating in the established structure of American government.

And it’s not that doing that isn’t important– Slow Food is not a radical movement demanding the downfall of everything we’ve ever known. Further, calling ourselves “alternative” means always being considered a challenger to the status quo, an outsider seeking entrance, rather than a viable option for reconsidering and eventually re-making the nation’s food system. Many of Slow Food’s greatest activists are in or have visited D.C. and walked the same halls, gone to the same meetings as the students from American. What they do there is important–but is it any more or less important (or more or less political) than what we do by participating in and advocating for alternative food systems within our communities? Is belonging to a CSA (or an SFOC chapter!) a political statement?

Slow Food USA has historically been in a traditional sense apolitical, more concerned with ingniting grassroots action than influencing policy decisions. True to our roots in small, community-based action, we chose to focus on changing people’s behavior and understanding of their food system instead of attacking that system from the top down. One of the beauty parts of a democracy is that power does rest, albeit imperfectly, with the people– and so by changing people’s opinions, changing they way they spend their money and their time, we can begin to influence the way they vote, the things they value in a politician. All activism is to an extent political since whenever we try to change people, who by default constitute the American electorate, we end up changing who it is they will elect.

What it comes down to is this: you don’t have to be a lobbyist or an aide to the Obama campaign to consider yourself political– what’s more important, perhaps, is that you act upon your convictions, working with others to change yourselves and your communities as a means of reaching up to government on its lofty perch. This Margaret Mead quote has been repeated to the point of worn-down cliche but I think it bears just one more reprinting: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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