World Food Day is observed annually on October 16 to highlight the millions of people worldwide who cannot afford a healthy diet and the need for regular access to nutritious food.
To commemorate the day, Barbados TODAY spoke with Slow Food Barbados’ Director, Julie Hooper-McNeel, to discuss this year’s World Food Day theme and raise awareness of the organisation’s charitable initiatives.
The Slow Food movement envisions a world where all people can access and enjoy local food that is good, clean and fair. Slow Food Barbados was founded in 2012, but the Slow Food International movement has been in existence since 1989. It has grown into a global campaign involving millions of people in over 160 countries.
World Food Day’s 2022 theme, Leave No One Behind, according to McNeel, fits Slow Food’s efforts this year.
“Our theme speaks to recovery after the pandemic and fixing our food system and climate change and all the other pressures we’re facing right now. Slow Food, in my view, is the best way to tackle this as a community. Slow Food’s theme this year is regeneration, and it’s not only regenerative farming; it’s regenerative practises and regenerating our community. We feel very grateful to be able to work in a space and to try to create meaningful change,” she explained.
The registered charity is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and since its inception, they have been able to engage with communities in many different ways. These include linking chefs directly to farmers in their farm-to-table series, taking pop-up events into restaurants, creating sustainable seafood and buyers’ guides, directing consumers straight to farmers, producers and farmers’ markets and more. According to McNeel, these efforts make it easier for persons to engage with the local food system.
“Everything that we do, we place importance on doing it in harmony with the environment, so that’s the clean side of Slow Food. Then we want to look at regenerative farming practices,” she noted, adding that industrial agriculture and food processing is responsible for 37 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
She made the call for entities to look at our systems and reimagine them in a way that is more in harmony with our surroundings.
The Slow Soup Drive, born out of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, continues to grow, attracting the attention of chefs and volunteers, and has so far has served over 50,000 soups to vulnerable persons in communities in the north of the island.
Located in Walkers Reserve, the Slow Soup kitchen operates three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We are always looking for new volunteers to help us out. We have a chef each day, so they [volunteers] have the opportunity to work with a chef. We purchase from farmers and try to use only local ingredients. It [the soup] really is a nutrient-dense, nutrient-packed meal that they’re [vulnerable persons in the community] getting,” she shared.
One of the highlights of the Slow Food Barbados calendar is the annual #SlowSeven Challenge, where participants register and eat local for one week, using only ingredients that are grown, caught, raised and produced in Barbados. This year’s challenge runs from October 23 to 30 and features a new lineup to the category — Best Slow Soup, plus a spinoff initiative that promotes engagement with restaurants and hotels.
“It is a slow time of the year, and they have a little more ability to get creative, and so something engaging with communities and also help to draw people to come out and support at this time of year. This year, we’re asking them to participate by putting a #SlowSeven special on the menu. A dish that is mainly sourced from ingredients grown here in Barbados. If they want to engage with Slow Food and the Leave No One Behind concept, we’re promoting a “buy a soup, give a soup” programme. They’re able to get directly involved by adding five dollars to their soup of the day, and every time someone purchases, it allows patrons to give back, and we’ll make a soup for someone vulnerable in the community,” she explained.
Slow Food’s cookbook, Bajan Big Soup: A Community Cookbook, was released in June and features hundreds of mouth-watering soup recipes from chefs and other individuals involved in the Slow Soup Drive. McNeel noted that the cookbook is a way to honour all the persons and organisations that were able to make it a reality.
Looking forward, the Slow Food Barbados movement plans to continue along the path of social enterprises and sustainability. And, as a charity completely supported by community efforts, they plan to continue with their fundraising initiatives.
McNeel revealed that their virtual garden programme, where they conduct farm tours and work with educators to cover topics in the curriculum for primary schools, has expanded to three Caribbean countries — Jamaica, St Vincent and St Kitts and Nevis. This was made possible through funding in 2021.
“We’re regenerating right now coming out of the pandemic and doing the best we can to build resiliency within our food system in Barbados. We really encourage everyone to get involved because Slow Food is a way everyone can come together and create meaningful change,” she said.