Local Food Comes to UW

UW Student Organization Brings Local Food to Campus


Photo credit: Lauren Stinson

MADISON, Wis. – Six-year-olds asking to make kale chips in an afterschool program may seem a little odd, but to Lauren Stinson it’s just one of the realities of educating people about local food.

Stinson first heard about Slow Food UW in an Environmental Studies lecture in 2011. She said she missed eating good, homemade food with family and friends when she first arrived in Madison.

“I was really excited about going to the Family Dinner Nights that were on Mondays and making a pseudo-family,” Stinson said.

In the spring of 2012, Stinson went on to become a Slow Food UW Outreach Intern and is now a co-director of the organization. Slow Food UW is a nonprofit student organization that works to bring local food to the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus and community.

The Slow Food Movement

Slow Food UW is a campus chapter of Slow Food USA, a national organization that began in 2000. Slow Food USA now has around 170 local chapters and more than 40 campus chapters, according to their website.

The Slow Food movement began in 1986 when Italian journalist Carlo Petrini decided to counter fast food restaurants in Italy, according to Slow Food International. The Slow Food Manifesto was signed in 1989, which officially started the international movement.

The purpose of the slow food movement is to “promote good, clean, fair food for all,” according to the Slow Food USA website.

Slow Food UW Begins and Expands

In 2007, Genya Erling, a graduate student at UW – Madison, founded the campus organization, according to Slow Food UW. It started as a group of friends getting together once a month to make meals together, but the organization has grown to serve hundreds of people meals every week.

Forty student interns run Slow Food UW. These students, who come from different majors across campus, organize and prepare two meals a week that are open to the public.

Slow Food student interns also run the South Madison Project, which partners with the South Madison Farmers’ Market, the Boys and Girls Club, and other programs in the South Madison area to promote local food.

Running Slow Food UW 

Slow Food UW also has weekly dinners on Mondays and café lunches on Wednesdays at The Crossing church on University Avenue. The first cafes began in the spring of 2011. Early on, the Slow Food UW interns found it difficult to advertise for the weekly lunches, according to a case study done by an intern at the UW – Madison Office of Sustainability. They relied heavily on word of mouth and placed a sandwich board outside of The Crossing to advertise the weekly menu.

Interns also faced challenges with finding students willing to dedicate enough time to keep the weekly café running, according to the case study.

Andy Jack, a senior at UW – Madison and a Slow Food UW Café Intern said there are difficulties for café cooks.

Photo credit: Tom Boyden

Photo credit: Tom Boyden

“I suppose just the biggest thing for any of the interns who come in is the time commitment,” Jack said. “You know that it’s going to be a big time commitment but you still don’t realize how big it can be.”

Café cooks can also struggle each week trying to know how much food to order for any given Slow Food Café.

“I was a little bit more familiar with ordering things because I’ve done catering before but that’s always an issue, just how much do we order for 250 people,” Jack said. “Its not that straightforward, you can’t just take a recipe and double it or triple it or whatever.”

Once café cooks figure how much food to order, supplier interns will go to different farmers and food suppliers to order the food. Slow Food UW gets the majority of its food from the South Madison Farmers’ Market, the Dane County Farmers’ Market and Willy Street Co-op.

Keeping it Local

This semester, Slow Food UW is trying to get most of its food from the South Madison Farmers’ Market. Getting the majority of its food from the South Madison Farmers’ Market will ensure Slow Food UW continues to get food as locally as possible, according to Stinson.

Slow Food UW has plans to continue their outreach in the South Madison area. UW – Madison has an outreach program called the Odyssey, where professors teach courses to individuals who have not had access to higher education, according to Stinson. Slow Food UW hopes to cook with the children of participants in the Odyssey program while their parents are taking classes.

Photo credit: Tom Boyden

Photo credit: Tom Boyden

This type of outreach matches Slow Food’s desire to provide good food for all, regardless of economic status, according to Slow Food UW.

Stinson says that being a part of Slow Food UW and especially working with children in South Madison has impacted her life.

“Sharing with these kids that food is fun, and can be healthy for you, just allowing them to be a little more adventurous and asking their parents to cook together to buy kale,” Stinson said. “That’s pretty amazing.”


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