President of CWRU’s Slow Food chapter headed to global food conference in Italy

AlexRazaviWhen first arriving on campus, Alexander Razavi, a fourth-year student and aspiring doctor from Fairport, N.Y., didn’t think much about what he ate. His attitude changed after sitting through Mary Holmes’ SAGES seminar, “The Future of Foods.”

The seminar shed light on what he consumed and “got me passionate about food issues,” Razavi said.

After learning about the Slow Food movement in Holmes’ class his second year, he founded a Slow Food chapter at Case Western Reserve University last year after learning about the movement in her class.

Italy’s Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food movement in 1989. The movement’s goal is to provide “good, clean and fair” food for all people, preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourage local farming. The movement took off after McDonald’s opened a restaurant at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome; the movement has since gone global.

Holmes, a SAGES fellow, said Petrini wanted food to be:

  • Delicious, nutritious, seasonal and appropriate to a local cuisine.
  • Free of pesticide residue, synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms.
  • Produced by people (no illegal immigrants or slaves) getting a fair wage and working in a poison-free and hazard-free environment.

As chapter president, Razavi will soon gain a broader perspective as a delegate to what’s hailed as the “Olympics of Food.” He will attend the international Slow Food conferences, Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto 2014, Oct. 23-27, in Turin, Italy. Most events take place at the former Olympic Stadium.

Razavi will spend time as a guest with a local family and with members of the 400 United States chapters in the international organization.

He also will participate with 12,000 people from more than 100 countries for the Terra Madre conference, a biennial event with the Salone del Gusto, an unrivaled food and wine fair of authentic, artisanal and high quality offerings, such as prosciutto, specialty cheeses and smoked fish, from farmers and producers around the world.

This is Razavi’s first trip to Europe and his first as an official delegate.

In the past, some of Cleveland’s notable chefs interested in locally grown and sustainable food have attended, according to Holmes, who is a leader and early member of the Slow Food Cleveland chapter. She also co-founded the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square in Cleveland in 1995.

In 2008, Holmes attended the Terra Madre as an observer and knows what’s ahead for Razavi when he meets people from around the world as passionate and interested in preserving regional traditions and gastronomic specialties from the fast-food onslaught.

Razavi said he looks forward to attending medical school and spreading the message about good food by promoting healthy eating. In fact, he’s eyeing medical schools around the country where cooking is part of the medical training.

For now, eating the right kinds of foods is among the messages members of Slow Food CWRU spread around campus.

Several projects are on this year’s agenda: raising the visibility of the University Farm’s role in providing food for campus kitchens and possibly establishing a market of University Farm food to be sold in the Grab It locations on campus.

The biochemistry major also has created two research projects at the Center for Global Health and Diseases that explore human immunity to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterial protein used to genetically modify plants by providing an internal insecticide.

Through his research, Razavi intends to gain valuable scientific knowledge and understand the complexity of genetically modified (GM) crops. Ultimately, he hopes to learn what GM plants are safe for human consumption and use that knowledge as a technological tool to benefit farming, he said.