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Food and Drink

The sensible side of slow food

As part of sustainability or a tourist draw, Slow Food Whistler can make good cents

Dennis Marriott has a great vision for Whistler. It goes like this:

"I think we’re waking up and seeing that we should probably diversify a bit. The question is, how do we identify ourselves?

"By 2020 do we want to have only international chain restaurants at Whistler or do we want to support local products and local culture and keep local farmers going?"

So here’s his vision in a nutshell: It starts with all the outdoor pursuits. Add in a great arts and culture scene and a great restaurant scene that supports slow food. Then get everybody to recycle absolutely everything and have all the hotels built to super-high environmental standards. Keep vehicles out of the village – and presto, people will go, hey that’s really cool, and plan their eco-holiday at Whistler. Bonus: Whistler becomes a true working model for sustainability.

In case you couldn’t tell, Dennis, who manages Millennium Place when he isn’t dreaming up new identities for Whistler, is also part of a Whistler 20/20 task force looking at making the resort a model of sustainability. More to the point, he is one of the newest card-carrying members of Slow Food Whistler.

Not to say that his vision for creating diversity is a panacea for Whistler’s business woes, but it certainly is appealing and doable – after all, several of the components are already in place. And one of the elements with great potential in this eco-friendly, alt-tourism model is slow food.

Last column, I appealed to your rebellious, independent died-in-the-wool Whistler side to get you cranked about the slow food movement. This week I’m calling on your pragmatic side. And so is Dennis, who points out that A) you don’t have to be a chef, restaurateur or general foodie-type to do the slow thing, and B) it could make a real difference on how Whistler, and beyond, sorts out its future.

"All you have to be is passionate about eating," says Dennis.

"But I also look at this as an opportunity to influence what is available here at Whistler. If lots of the other members are in the food business and I show up and say this is what I’d like to see on a menu or buy at the grocery store, I’m able to give feedback directly to the suppliers and restaurateurs."

"When I bought my membership, in a way I bought the right to vote."

A bottom-up groundswell can make a difference. Imagine if there were 100, 200 or 1,000 card-carrying slow food members at Whistler. Whistler would become a mecca for slow food and generate all kinds of good things. Sinclair Philip, co-owner of Sooke Harbour House and head of Slow Food Canada, sees it this way:

"Much more support of regional suppliers, or even provincial. So much more availability of cheeses from B.C., more emphasis on quality wines by smaller producers, more emphasis on local meats and poultry, more interest in local vegetables – much more of a presence than there is now," he says.

"Instead of Whistler being, to some degree, representative of the food trends of the world, it could help it become more of a culinary destination where people are focusing on local, seasonal, high quality foods."

In years of floundering tourist numbers, could such an approach create new business opportunities if Whistler re-branded itself with a new local identity?

"Absolutely," says Sinclair.

He cites San Cassiano in the Val Gardena area of northern Italy, which is known for top-rated restaurants specializing in high mountain foods of the region.

"People go not only for skiing or for mountain climbing in the summer, but these restaurants are a major draw for that area. It’s become a culinary destination," he says.

These restaurants are not part of the slow food movement per se. More importantly, says Sinclair, they serve only the mountain foods of that area so that every dish is local, soundly trouncing the kind of tiresome, low-quality ingredients and trendy styles that can be found virtually anywhere.

But change like this doesn’t happen overnight. If you want new ideas to take root, you plant them at home. Serendipitously, slow food concepts also get embedded in the community at a more personal level.

"The ordinary consumer at home gains a deeper understanding of where, within that community, food comes from and what makes a difference in quality, and how we can develop something sustainable in terms of foods being available for them," says Sinclair.

"By that I don’t just mean that we support organic growers and those sorts of things. But also that people have enough understanding of how to use the ingredients so they will be able to find the ingredients next year and work with them properly for home use, parties or whatever purpose.

"Part of it is more groups of people or families dining together as they understand how slow food can help facilitate that."

Excellent food, conviviality, sustainability – does this sound like your Whistler?


Putting your money where your mouth is

Slow Food Whistler is part of an international movement that urges people to slow down and savour food and life with all their senses.

Whistler is only the third slow food chapter, or convivium, in B.C. Don’t let the word "convivium" throw you. After all Italy is the kind of place where the name "Joe Green" becomes "Giuseppe Verdi".

Your annual membership in Slow Food Whistler is 55 euros, or about $89. Besides the political and philosophical support you’ll be generating, your membership entitles you to the Canadian newsletter and Slow Magazine four times a year, as well as an invitation to all local events, such as tasting forums or pot luck dinners based on seasonal, regional ingredients.

Tasting events and seminars usually focus on a single product, such as honey or lamb. All products represented are of high quality, made by small producers who ensure their production systems are both ethical and sustainable.

You’ll also learn more about the convivia in Vancouver (, on Vancouver Island, and across Canada (

Contact Slow Food Whistler at

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who once spent about three hours eating a six-course meal in a Milanese restaurant with walls the colour of cocoa.