All over the food world, people are getting back to basics and slowing things down, with a renewed appreciation for artisanal approaches and short farm-to-table supply chains. That was the model Richard McCarthy helped rekindle as co-founder of the Crescent City Farmers Market almost 20 years ago.
Today, McCarthy is advocating for these same values on the national stage. He was named the new executive director for Slow Food USA, the New York-based American branch of an international movement that supports traditional foods and food producers.
“The 20th century kind of told us to get in line and march, which pointed to order and scale and all the things that make life homogenous and stale,” McCarthy says. “Now, everywhere, people are holding on to their tastes of home and their links to community and making things work again in a way that doesn’t look like the 20th century.”
McCarthy helped revive the city’s once-thriving market network by creating the Crescent City Farmers Market in 1995. It has since grown into three weekly markets, and McCarthy later created another nonprofit, Market Umbrella, to support other markets worldwide with best-practice research and mentoring. For his efforts, McCarthy last year won a “Heroes of the New South Award” from Southern Living magazine, which called him “one of the most innovative and catalytic farmers’ market efforts in the U.S.”
He is joining Slow Food at a pivotal time for the group, with some of its membership torn between a focus on the pleasures of traditional foods or on food justice and health issues. That dispute contributed to the dissolution of the New Orleans chapter of Slow Food* several years ago, but it was reformed in 2012 (see SlowFoodNOLA.com).
For his part, McCarthy says New Orleans’ food culture may provide some insight to a middle ground, where an appreciation for culinary traditions, growing seasons and chefs and farmers can lead to healthier, non-industrialized approach to food.
“We’ve been slow long before it was a good thing. But now we’re seeing this recognition that what we’re doing here in New Orleans is on the right track,” he says. “I’m going to put New Orleans high on (Slow Food’s) list of centers of innovation.”
*Correction: For our March 2013, we incorrectly linked the closing of the first New Orleans Slow Food chapter with an unrelated rift among the food advocacy group’s national leadership. The local group dissolved over disagreements with the national organization in its response to the BP oil spill. The local chapter has since reformed. We apologize for the error.