There are many perks to writing a food blog, one of which is being invited to special foodie events that otherwise you may not have known about. This past weekend I was honored to be included in the “Slow Food Finland Summit,” which took place in Kristinestad, a charming town on the west coast of Finland.
The words “Slow Food” as a global organization and movement are in no way new to me, but going to the summit this past weekend was my first time participating in something directly connected to the organization.
After McDonald’s and before the Weston A. Price Foundation, there was the birth of “Slow Food.” The non-profit organization was founded in Bra, Italy in the 1980s by Carlo Petrini in direct response to the global growth of fast food and the decline of quality foods and traditions from local producers.
While for some the title of the organization may evoke images of spending endless hours in the kitchen slaving over meal preparation, I learned this weekend that Slow Food is just everything I truly love about ‘real food’ – connecting the community through the joys of food, and in particular through the flavors, ingredients and culinary customs unique to each small region and local producer.
Slow Food active and growing across Finland
As an official organization Slow Food is more than 100,000 members strong in more than 150 countries all over the planet. A person becomes a member by joining a local chapter, or what they call, a ‘convivium.’ Finland now has 13 convivia, many of which were just founded within the last two years.
I discovered recently that several members of the very active Slow Food Helsinki convivium follow me through Real Food Suomi, and one of their passionate foodie members Bitte Westerland very thoughtfully invited me to the Slow Food Finland Summit in Kristinestad on March 23 – 24th. It did not take me long to realize this was an event I didn’t want to let pass by, and so I booked my train ticket and off I was to a part of Finland I had never ventured before.
Good food & great company in a charming town
The weekend started with me hopping on the train in Jyväskylä early Saturday morning amongst a brisk -10C temperature and icy sidewalks in order to travel to Seinäjoki. There I linked up with the Helsinki group and we shared a beautiful taxi ride for the rest of the way to our destination – the charming coastal town of Kristinestad (or Kristiinankaupunki in the Finnish language).
There were seven of us riding together – three Finns, three Americans, and one Italian. I had had some interaction with a few of them via my blog, but this was our first time meeting face to face. After only a few minutes the excitement of being with other foodie activists was upon me. Other folks who care about the quality of their food, YES!!! Living in Jyväskylä this was a rare treat for me.
We all fell in love with the charm of Kristinestad soon after arrival. Small and quiet, but cozy and friendly, Kristinestad is Finland’s first and only ‘Cittaslow’ (‘Slow City’), meaning that the city is committed to a quality of life not often attainable in the modern, fast-paced world. Instead the city aims to improve life by slowing things down, and slow food plays a big role in that.
It was a pleasant change of environment from what I am used to in Jyväskylä, which is a bigger city that, as a whole, does not put a lot of attention on Slow Food-type values.
After dropping off our bags at the very lovely Hotel Leila we headed to lunch at Cafe Amanda. It was so refreshing to walk into a cafe and be confronted with food that was clearly made with love, rather than being presented with just another selection of factory-made food you can find anywhere and everywhere in most cities.
After lunch the official Slow Food Finland Summit program for the weekend began with a series of presentations given in a combination of Swedish, Finnish and English in the town hall. We learned about Kristinestad the modern city and also its history as a merchant town on the coast. We got to hear reports from each of the Finland Slow Food convivia that were represented at the weekend.
We also talked potatoes, and I learned that one out of every three potatoes in Finland comes from that region. The city wants to more fully embrace something it already does well, and so in small groups our task was to brainstorm what is so great about the potato and all the different wonderful things you can do with it, and oh the list is truly endless!
After the presentations and a brief walk through the icy streets of the city, I had the opportunity to have a sit down with Marjo Uusikylä, who recently published a book in Finnish with her husband Matias all about Slow Food. I got to do a recorded interview with her, and I’m looking forward to making that available soon as my very first podcast episode.
Saturday finished up with a truly lovely candlelight meal sponsored by Cafe Amanda and the Crazy Cat Restaurant. We truly feasted. I am accustomed living in Jyväskylä that if I want to eat well then I have to do all the work myself, and that can be tiring after a while. It was a special treat to sit down amidst such nice company and share food made with love and care from quality ingredients. Once I was truly stuffed it was time to go to sleep in my cute little hotel room and wake up the next day to more foodie conversation over breakfast. The convivia then held their official meeting, during which they discussed the presence and activities of Slow Food in Finland.
In summary I loved connecting with this group and learning that Slow Food is active and growing in Finland! If you are in Finland and you care about quality food, this is a great group to connect with. Check the official Slow Food website to find a convivium near you or learn how to start one. Slow Food Helsinki, for example, is regularly planning events such as sourdough bread making courses (taught in English!). Coming up in the fall during the weekend of September 28 – 29th Slow Food Västnyland is organizing local foods market event worth attending (or volunteering for!). Below is a photo from one of their last markets and three of the lovely volunteers.
Thank you Slow Food and to all of the organizers of the convivia in Finland!