Wednesday, September 24, 2008

20 Slides x 20 Seconds

You can say anything you want. It's great if you stick to the evening's theme. It's fine if you don't. You get 20 slides at 20 seconds each. 6 minutes total. Not a second more.

That's the structure for Pecha Kucha.

Last night, I had the chance to experience my very first Pecha Kucha night here in San Francisco. Pronounced "pay-cha-ka-cha", Pecha Kucha nights were born in 2003 by a small group of designers as a place to pitch their ideas and projects to each other within the guidelines of a short presentation infrastructure. Given how long-winded artists and designers can be about their work, the structure of the evening gives everyone a chance to have the spotlight for 6 minutes. The word Pecha Kucha means "the sound of conversation" in Japanese which aptly describes the buzz in the room of 400+ people listening to each other's ideas.

Today, Pecha Kucha nights can be found in hundreds of cities around the world and have expanded far beyond the scope of design projects. Each Pecha Kucha event centers around a certain theme, which can be used for inspiration but is in no way required. Last night's theme was "Verde, Verte" which some used as a platform to talk about urban green design projects. However, you certainly don't have to be a designer or architect to present. In fact, some of the more interesting speakers last night were photographers and community activists sharing their work that was completely unrelated to the theme. The blessing and the curse of the event is the strict 20-slides/20 seconds guideline, which gives you just enough time to pitch an idea but not enough time expand upon it and/or lose your audience's attention.

Starting a Pecha Kucha evening is fairly easy and fully supported by the organization. Most major U.S. cities already have their own Pecha Kucha chapter -- click here to see events from your city. I'm considering presenting in the next San Francisco Pecha Kucha, providing I can muster the courage to be the center of 400 people's attention for 6 entire minutes. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Come to the Table

I realize now that I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been a Slow Foodie for 27 years. I grew up in (fairly rural) Western New York with parents who really cherished family meals. I'd go with my mom to Spoth's Farmer's Market and help her pick out locally-grown produce for lunches and dinners. We prepared the meals together, each with our respective tasks (I'm a really good salad-maker, by the way). We didn't watch TV during dinner, we didn't answer the phone. We all helped clean up. But the reality is, our view towards meals was an anomaly compared to most American families. In a country that provides more fast food options than farmer's markets, that often seems like the easier path.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon the international Slow Food website. The movement, which started in 1989 in Italy, was founded "To counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." However, at the time, the movement had not gained a lot of momentum in the U.S., especially not in Florida, where I was living.

Fast forward to this past weekend, 4 years later. San Francisco was honorably chosen to host the first ever Slow Food Nation gathering in America, a huge step for the Slow Food movement and its influence on Americans. The 3-day holiday weekend was full of events that celebrated locally grown food and shared community meals. The Slow Food Tastings, held at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center, provided a rich and incredible taste of all kinds of Slow Food providers, from artisan cheeses to pickled chutneys, to local honey, to organic cucumber vodka. Each tasting station was designed by a local architect to capture the feeling and inspiration of that food group (ex: The "spirits" tasting was held under a back lit canopy of huge, white drink umbrellas, the pickle tasting was held under a cascade of gold mason jar lids, etc.).

While the Tastings were attached with a $65 ticket price, there were dozens of other free events held throughout the city. The Civic Center Plaza held the Slow Food Farmer's Market where you could talk to local farmers and providers and purchase their food. It also held the Slow Food Victory Garden, which was was planted in the spring to be harvested for this event. Victory Gardens began around World War II era and were sustainable gardens that produced food for families during times of economic and national crisis. All of the produce grown in Slow Food's modern Victory Garden was donated to food shelters in the Bay Area.

Monday was reserved for community meals, where dozens of impromptu picnics and potlucks could be found throughout the city, the largest of which was an "Eat-In" held in Dolores Park. Over 400 people gathered at the summit of the park, overlooking San Francisco's skyline, to share a potluck meal. The tickets were free - you just had to bring something to share. The (very!) long table that curved around the upper perimeter of the park and was even set with formal linens and glassware. This was not your normal urban picnic - this was truly a community celebration.

Although the Slow Food Nation events in San Francisco have come to a close, Slow Food continues to hold smaller events throughout the country, and world. Check out Slow Food USA's website for events near you. And maybe even more importantly, try giving the Slow Food founding principles a try in your daily life. Do what you can to buy from your local farmer's market, gather your friends and family and share any and all meals that you can. Turn off the TV. Let the food, music and conversation be your entertainment. Work on savoring meal time together, the one sacred place where we can combine some of our favorite things (delicious food and loved ones) into one special event, held daily.