Throughout Vermont, a number of restaurants regularly incorporate local meats and produce on their menus, often sourced from mere miles away. Usually, an accompanying list of the partner farms will be listed on the menu as well.
But what if a restaurant wants to add more credence to their claims? How could they prove to the increasingly educated and growing locavore population that they are actually doing what they say?
This is where Slow Food Vermont’s Snail of Approval comes in. This designation is meant to be awarded to those “restaurants, bars, food and beverage artisans, stores and markets that contribute to the quality, authenticity and sustainability of Vermont’s food supply and have been deemed outstanding among peers.”
According to Snail of Approval Coordinator Hugo Lara, “The Snail of Approval is not only about food miles, or organic, or even exclusive to high-end restaurants. With this program we are really trying to encompass the full range and possibilities of a Slow Food business, which can mean a mom-and-pop joint that serves traditional American recipes, ethnic cuisine, fast-casual restaurants sourcing locally, or a producer of local maple syrup.”
Mara Welton, who has been a farmer and co-owner of Half Pint Farm in Burlington’s Intervale for the past 11 years and has worked with Slow Food VT for five years as president of the leadership board, explained part of the impetus behind launching a program in Vermont: “People are always calling Slow Food Vermont asking for recommendations of Slow Food restaurants, and while we would give them, they were all just based on personal opinion. I started thinking, ‘What if there was a way to lend more credibility to our recommendations?’” Lara added that, “We are looking forward to offering our members and other foodies recommendations on restaurants that practice the good, clean and fair principles of Slow Food and recognizing these businesses for their achievements.”
Although this is not the first program of its kind (the Snail of Approval program has existed for several years across the country in cities from New York to Sacramento), Snail of Approval in VT is in the upper echelon of programs, according to Welton, in part due to the thorough and rigorous vetting process.
“We made it hard on purpose,” Welton said. “If a restaurant really wants it, they will go through the process. The Snail of Approval will help people feel confident that where they’re eating is where they think they’re eating.”
Slow Food Vermont monitors the integrity of Snail of Approval restaurants and artisans through ongoing feedback from Slow Food Vermont members. Lara said, “As part of our program we visit the restaurant or food business as a part inspection and part restaurant review to confirm the restaurant’s claims on their application.”
Snail of Approval certification is good for two years; renewal follows the initial process and applicants re-applying must also re-submit the application fee, which varies based upon how much the restaurant grosses annually.
The first round of applications netted 17 nominations and three applications and the initial award ceremony will likely take place at the Harvest Festival in October.
“On a local level we’ve seen interest from several restaurants and conversations are taking place by restaurant owners and chefs about what Slow Food means to them and what the term ‘Slow’ encompasses,” Lara said. “We find this particularly exciting because we are making people in the food business think about the way they do business and to expand their understanding of Slow Food.”
Although Lara is being cautious and selective (with applicants) in order to lend integrity to the program, he also envisions Vermont being involved in the development of a national program. Lara said, “We are in conversation with the Boston and NYC programs and the national Slow Food USA office to ensure that the best aspects of our program are adopted into a future national program.”
You can find out more about the Snail of Approval Program and view the nomination, application forms, criteria and benefits at SlowFoodVermont.org.