Can the Slow Food Movement Help the Global Poor? Ford is Betting On It

Mention "slow food" and it's hard not to think of a more affluent crowd of foodies and hipsters who have the luxury to think in highly intentional ways about how and what they eat. In fact, though, that's an unfair stereotype and this is a movement that, among other things, has long been working to help poor farmers and fishermen in developing countries improve their practices by embracing the slow food movement. 

In turn, that global work—particularly by Slow Food USA, which has a robust international program—has caught the attention of some funders in the development space, including the Ford Foundation. A few years back, Ford gave the organization $160,000 to support the organization’s work in the Andean Region and Southern Cone, and specifically to advance its research and capacity building efforts to promote sustainable territorial development and local food heritage.

Now Ford is getting behind Slow Food's South American work in a bigger way, with a two-year, $454,000 grant late last year. The grant will support Slow Food’s capacity building efforts to promote both food and economic security in poor rural and urban households in South America, Latin America, and Chile. The grant was awarded out of the foundation’s Expanding Livelihood Opportunities for Poor Households initiative, a subprogram of Ford’s larger Economic Fairness grantmaking program.

Related: Ford Foundation: Grants for Global Development

The initiative’s primary focus is on funding innovative ways to improve the economic security of rural residents in developing countries. Ford notes that it concentrates many of its resources on organizations in West Africa, specifically Nigeria. However, a look at actual grantmaking shows that money flows to plenty of other places, too. Ford’s Expanding Livelihood Opportunities for Poor Households has provided funding for organizations in the U.S., Latin America, eastern Africa, southern Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia.

But back to slow food: Just how does this movement contribute to economic security? It’s a pretty simple, really: Slow food encourages the local production of food, particularly in ways that tap unique local heritages, including knowledge and artisanal skills passed down through generations—an area where the Cargill's of the world can't compete.  

This, in turn, creates jobs in local communities, helping to benefit not only individual economic security, but also advance regional and national economic growth. That's the theory, anyway, although there are issues of scale with slow food. Regardless, the vision here fits nicely with Ford’s goal of helping lift poor rural people out of poverty.