Best farm-to-table restaurants seek Snail of Approval certification in Sonoma County

In an episode of Portlandia, a TV series that parodies cultural trends in Portland, Oregon, patrons of a restaurant bombard their server with detailed questions about where menu items are sourced, and end up traveling to various farms to see for themselves how the animals and vegetables are raised, before returning to the restaurant to order.

Restaurant patrons in Sonoma County won't have to go to that extreme, however, to find out how farm-to-table the establishment really is. Through their 'Snail of Approval program,' Slow Food Sonoma County North and Slow Food Russian River evaluate and award restaurants with the most rigorous farm-to-table practices.

In November, seven restaurants from across the county received the first awards including Backyard, in Forestville; Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria, in Geyserville; Estero Café, in Valley Ford; Naked Pig, in Santa Rosa; SHED, in Healdsburg; Zazu Kitchen + Farm, in Sebastopol; and food truck The Black Piglet, in Healdsburg.

'We were missing that in Sonoma. With all the local food, artisans, and restaurants that are sourcing locally that we have, we thought we should bring this program here,' said Carol Diaz, board member at Slow Food Sonoma County North.

Slow Food is an international program that started in Italy, as a reaction to the country's first McDonald's fast food restaurant. There are about 200 chapters across the U.S., organized by volunteer leaders.

Slow Food's Snail of Approval is an award known world-wide.

'It's a big deal in Europe to have a snail in the window,' Diaz said.

Each restaurant in Sonoma went through a vetting process that included a detailed questionnaire, followed by a rigorous interview and on-site review process conducted by a team of three Slow Food volunteers, Diaz said

Members evaluated each restaurant to determine whether they follow Slow Food's philosophy of 'good, clean and fair' food for all people.

Areas of focus include: seasonal ingredients or menus; local, sustainable product sourcing; humane treatment of people and animals; investment in fair labor practices; and green business practices like composting or recycling.

The program was about two years in the planning to 'get it right with a set plan and not playing favorites,' Diaz said.

Initially, restaurants for consideration in the program were selected and invited to participate in a trial run. Subsequently, entries were suggested by Slow Food members, and restaurants that applied on-line.

SHED is a market, café, and events space. Co-owners Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel were two of the early members of Slow Food Sonoma County North more than 20 years ago.

The approval committee asked a lot of questions of SHED's team, looked in the refrigerators, at what was stocked on the shelves and spent a lot of time with the chef, Daniel said.

'The Snail of Approval is an appreciation of our commitment to what Slow Food stands for. It's an acknowledgement we are contributing to the food system in all those ways and highlighting the mottos of good, clean, fair,' Daniel said.

Displaying the Snail in the establishment's window and on the menu will also peak customer curiosity.

'As a restaurant and business it's one way we can help raise awareness, and show how important it is to us to create a better food system, a better planet,' Lipton said. 'Having the snail on the menu is a way to generate curiosity and a meaningful conversation without forcing it on anyone.'

SHED is also working towards becoming ZeroFoodprint, to reduce its energy usage and carbon footprint. ZeroFoodprint, based in San Francisco, works with restaurants committed to fighting climate change to operate more efficiently. SHED is expected to receive that approval in March.

In the future the Snail program will be expanded to include farms, artesian foods, breweries, maybe wineries and all types of food producers, Diaz said.

'We're looking forward to educating eaters about the benefits of Good, Clean and Fair food by engaging the entire Sonoma County foodshed in a comprehensive program,' she said.

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