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By celebrating local food cultures, supporting sustainable farming practices, and advocating for fair treatment of producers and workers, Slow Food strives to create a healthier and more equitable food system. (Photos by David Benthal)

In 1986, a group of people gathered near the Spanish steps in Rome to protest the opening of a McDonald’s — the first of its kind in Italy.

Among the passionate crowd stood journalist Carlo Petrini and his friends, who, rather than carrying signs, wielded a symbol of their culinary heritage: bowls filled with penne. Fueled by concerns over the disappearance of local food cultures and the rise of fast-paced lifestyles, he and his friends handed out dishes of pasta to passersby, shouting, “We don’t want fast food … we want slow food!”

Though the protest was unsuccessful in stopping the fast-food behemoth from hanging its golden arches in the center of Piazza di Spagna, Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Movement took off. The movement has since expanded to become a global, grassroots organization involving millions of people in over 160 countries. By celebrating local food cultures, supporting sustainable farming practices, and advocating for fair treatment of producers and workers, Slow Food strives to create a healthier and more equitable food system. 

With its rich agricultural heritage and a thriving farm-to-table scene, the East End of Long Island is home to one of the largest Slow Food chapters in the United States. 

“Everyone should have access to good, clean, fair food,” said Pennie Schwartz, chair of Slow Food East End. 

Slow Food East End was founded in 2004 by North Fork wine country pioneer Louisa Hargrave. Pennie Schwartz (right) is presently chair. (Photos by David Benthal)

“[Slow Food means] finding ways to come around the table and work together and hope that everyone has the opportunity to eat well and enjoy the bounty of the East End,” added Maria McBride, vice president and events chair of Slow Food East End. 

Founded in 2004 by North Fork wine country pioneer Louisa Hargrave, Slow Food East End has become an integral part of the vibrant food culture on the North and South Forks, cultivating community connections and championing the celebration and accessibility of locally grown, nourishing food throughout the region. 


Every two weeks, Schwartz bakes four loaves of bread in her home kitchen in Southold. On Mondays, three of the hardy loaves that she’s made, along with about a hundred others baked by community volunteers, are delivered to local food pantries across the East End. 

The instructions behind Slow Food East End’s bread-baking initiative, aptly named Flour Power, are simple: Volunteers can sign up online to bake for the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation in Southold, Heart of the Hamptons in Southampton, or The North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead. Each participant is asked to bake four loaves of bread every other week and donate three — keeping one for their hard work. 

“I had heard about a similar program in Seattle,” explained Schwartz, who founded the program during the coronavirus pandemic in 2021. “I thought it was a great way to get people involved and get their hands in the dough.”

Participants are provided with a shelf-stable bread recipe and a tutorial video featuring David Chaffin, a seasoned baker and former Slow Food board member who created the recipe exclusively for the program.

“It’s a pretty simple recipe,” said Sunita Narma, Slow Food East End’s communications chair. “Anybody in the community can bake bread.”

“The clients love it — they come in and they immediately look at the bread shelf to see if there’s fresh bread,” added CAST executive director Cathy Demeroto. “Not only is it a comfort food, but the recipe they provide is very nutritious.” 

Aside from providing food pantries with fresh, homemade bread, Slow Food East End also supports local food industries, helping to ensure their continuity and success on the East End. Throughout the pandemic, the chapter provided resilience grants to farmers and fishermen, many of whom took a massive economic hit when they were forced to shut down operations. 

“We keep a finger on the pulse of our community,” explained McBride. “The pandemic was something that hit everybody, and it was also a wake-up call to everybody that there are emergencies that come up and you need to roll up your sleeves and help your neighbor.” 

Around $20,000 in grants were distributed to over 20 local businesses across both forks, including Peeko Oysters, Sweet Woodland Farm, and Mecox Bay Dairy. 

“We want to be there to help our farmers,” said Schwartz, who hopes to expand the program by creating a fund that can support farmers dealing with future economic hardship. From hurricanes to heat waves, she anticipates the need to set aside funds for the potential damage of climate change in the local community. 


Education lies at the heart of Slow Food East End’s mission. For over a decade, the organization has been investing in the education and well-being of local students through its School Gardens program, which supports school garden initiatives across the East End. The program offers mini-grants of up to $1,000 to schools, assisting them in purchasing necessary supplies such as garden beds, tools and outdoor sinks. The organization has recently hired a master gardener, Maria Plitt, to serve as a mentor to schools interested in establishing or maintaining a school garden. The program has made a significant impact, inspiring not only local schools but also becoming a model for Slow Food USA’s national programming. 

“They’re an amazing organization that helps schools tremendously with both funding and education,” said Liz Casey-Searl, co-founder and co-director of Peconic Community School in Aquebogue. “The grants have helped us get supplies in the past.” 

The national chapter of the organization also offers two fully developed curricula that include lessons on healthy eating and sustainability. By empowering schools to teach children these topics, Slow Food East End hopes to foster a deeper connection between young people and the food they consume. 

“If we could get them at a young age to appreciate healthy food … then their ability to appreciate it as they get older will stay stronger and lead them to be a healthier adult,” explained Schwartz.

Slow Food East End’s Chef to School Program further empowers students by inviting chefs into classrooms to educate them about nutritious and delicious food. Although it was temporarily halted during the pandemic, the program has recently resumed its activities, providing students with the opportunity to learn essential culinary skills and broaden their understanding of healthy food in an engaging and enjoyable way. In the past, students have learned all kinds of food-related skills, including how to prepare a full-course meal. 

“We took them from appetizer and amuse-bouche all the way to dessert,” said Schwartz. “At the end of it, they served dinner, white tablecloth, it was great. They really learned a lot … hopefully we’ll do something like that again.”


Slow Food East End, driven by its mission to connect communities through food, hosts monthly gatherings where people can come together and foster meaningful connections over a meal. 

“Connecting communities — I think that’s probably our superpower and that’s really what drew me to Slow Food,” McBride said. 

One of the chapter’s regular programs is called Slow Hour. 

“It’s a happy hour,” Narma explained. “We meet at a vineyard, and we celebrate what they’re producing, but we also talk about topics that we’re interested in.” 

The East End of Long Island is home to one of the largest Slow Food chapters in the United States. (Photos by David Benthal)

The discussions often revolve around educational subjects such as food waste, composting and food rescue, enabling local community members to share their causes and raise awareness.

In July, for instance, Slow Food East End hosted a Slow Hour at Macari Vineyards, where the Long Island Organics Council shared information about their new East End Countertop Recycling Pilot that tests countertop recyclers as a potential solution for food waste in the region. 

“The more we understand about our food community, I think the more we understand how small the world is and how important it is to invest in each other,” McBride said.

In addition to these regular gatherings, Slow Food East End organizes diverse fundraising and educational events, including the much-anticipated annual silent auction and the lively fermentation harvest festival, “Sour Power.” 

The organization also recognizes and honors businesses that align with its mission by handing out the esteemed international “Snail of Approval” awards. Previously focused primarily on restaurants, Slow Food East End has shifted its attention to highlight the dedicated growers on the East End who exemplify the principles of good, clean and fair food. 

“These are the people that are working really hard to make sure that not only are they producing good food, but also investing in our environment and investing in our economy as well,” McBride said. “We wouldn’t be able to gather around our table if it weren’t for them.”

This year, businesses such as 8 Hands Farm and Ty Llwyd Farm on the North Fork and Ecological Culture Initiative, Amber Waves Farm and Quail Hill Farm on the South Fork have been bestowed with a Snail of Approval award, showcasing their significant contributions to the local food community.


Looking forward, Slow Food East End has ambitious goals. One of the board members’ dreams is to establish their own dedicated kitchen, serving as a hub for bread demonstrations and various educational programs. 

“It could become a training [space] where we teach people other skills, like clean and fair food preparation, using farm produce, how to cook for themselves better, or how to open their own business,” Schwartz explained. 

The local chapter also envisions expanding its influential School Gardens program and Chef to School initiatives, which faced temporary setbacks during the pandemic and have since undergone a resurgence. Schwartz, fueled by the desire to reclaim the program’s previous milestone of supporting 30 school gardens across the East End, aims to expand the initiative’s reach, ensuring that more students benefit from the profound educational opportunities offered by these hands-on experiences with nature and food. 

“We have lots of ideas, but we realize that there are only 24 hours in the day,” said McBride. “We urge people to connect with us, because the more people who become part of our team, the more we can do.”