I remember the first Slow Food Dallas-Fort Worth event I attended in Garden Café’s shaded back patio what must have been eight years ago. It was in the Junius Heights neighborhood of Old East Dallas, among the garden beds of greens, with a Mondrian-style painted chicken coop nearby. Since then, the chapter has aligned with the larger Slow Food USA entity (Slow Food USA is a branch of the movement that started in Italy 32 years ago) to bring a new nimbleness and visibility through recent initiatives to a movement that has long supported food systems, but wants to do so in broader ways. It’s all more evidence that we inhabit a new food reality.
The Snail of Approval designation, which Slow Food DFW just unveiled last week, is part of that.
The idea is just what it sounds like: a stamp of approval—with accompanying decal—for food businesses that uphold the standards the movement espouses.
From restaurants to coffee shops, food trucks to farms and ranches, businesses that qualify receive a decal and join others on a national map.
What’s striking is the categories for qualification (ticked off initially in a multiple-choice questionnaire). They are broad and cover sourcing, environmental impact, cultural connection, community involvement, staff support, and business values. Businesses led by women, people who identify as BIPOC or LGBTQ+, veterans, and people with disabilities are underscored.
“I think that the focus when it first was created was more about sustainability and local sourcing, and that’s been what most people would think of as Slow Food,” says Slow Food DFW co-chair Stephanie Leichtle-Chalklen, who joined the organization in February 2020, just as the chapter was planning to launch the decal program. “And when I was reading through the first iterations of our scoring cards, it was focused a lot on those things, and not very much on this equity side of things.”
But as the nation moved through a powerful year of turmoil and enlightenment, Slow Food USA fell in line with the cultural zeitgeist, the clamor for inclusion, sensitivity, and justice. Food—everywhere, on all levels—became not just food, but politics.
Slow Food USA fell in line with the cultural zeitgeist… Food—everywhere, on all levels—became not just food, but politics.
“They have been doing a lot of very good work around that. Just very transformative, deep work,” says Leichtle-Chalklen of the national umbrella. “They really pushed the organization as a whole to this more justice-oriented foods organization.” This involved reworking a lot of their messaging and placing equity and social justice at the forefront. The Snail of Approval program is part of baking that in.
Leichtle-Chalklen says it succinctly: “Hopefully, what it means to the food community in Dallas is just being maybe more conscious of all of these pieces that affect our community. Dallas’ food community has a lot of things going for it, but I think as a whole, there are so many factors that can make a more equitable, sustainable food business. And with Snail of Approval I think it shows that there’s a lot that we need to think about. And it’s not just about sourcing locally or using organic produce. There’s a lot more that we can all be doing.”
After the devastating freeze in February, on a local level, Slow Food DFW launched a $500 grant program open to any food businesses, though focused primarily on agriculture. As they ranked applications, “we were really looking at these businesses from a more equitable perspective,” Leichtle-Chalklen says. “So giving more points to BIPOC, veterans, woman-led businesses and prioritizing ones that were supporting the community” in addition to upholding impeccable farm practices. “And that’s something that we wouldn’t have done necessarily in the same way.”
Currently, the focus is on getting the word out. Already, Leichtle-Chalklen anticipates that some challenges may come from language barriers as the organization attempts to reach out to various communities.
The goal would be a golden time when people would look for the decal as a mark of distinction. And overall it’s about thinking differently.
“In my mind the shift has been from more of food as a product and shifting it to people: the people who produce, the people who are employed, and seeing also the environmental impact and the people it affects. So it’s been more a people focus through food. It’s been a big shift.”