Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day - spotlighting Slow Food and Cropwatch and how their efforts can help save our food and our fragrances

If it weren't for our sense of smell, would would not be able to discern the food we put in our mouths. Our sense of smell makes it possible for us to taste our food. Our tastebuds help us sense salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. When purchasing tomatoes or melons at the store, we use our nose to detect which ones are the ripest with the probable best taste. No scent? No taste.

When agribusiness giants gobble up family farms, or development paves over yet another field of beans with concrete, we, the people, become more separated from the crops that smell and taste good. Every small scale farm that goes under puts another nail in the coffin of free enterprise providing fresh, tasty, nutritious food on our table or fragrant, beautiful ingredients for our natural perfumes. Taking your children out to a local farm to pick a pumpkin becomes more of an impossibility when urban sprawl means a 40-mile drive each way.

I call it the Cheez-Wiz factor. If people are raised on fast food and processed products - or synthetic perfumes - they have the least common denominator - like Cheez-Wiz - as their only reference point. Hard, pink, tasteless tomatoes? The veggie world's sin, a result of the Faustian pact between supplier chains and producers. In a generation there may not be parents left who know the bonding and sensory pleasure of bringing their kids to a U-pick farm because there's always that can of orange glop on the supermarket shelf. What a shame.

Organizations like Slow Food and Cropwatch are at the forefront of the effort to de-Cheez-Wiz the world. Their members "get it" - there is a need to return to the basics of the foodie and scent world -- re-educate our noses and palates as to what real food and real fragrance mean, and look for ways to preserve the livelihoods of the producers of those food and fragrance materials at the same time.

I recently joined Slow Food and am very excited by the chance to interact and cross-pollinate the ideas and ideals of the Natural Perfumers Guild with this organization. As an ironic, fun bit of karma, the day I was meeting with the local leader of slow food, Donna Reno, it was announced the restaurant we were lunching at was named one of Esquire Magazine's Top 20 restaurants in American. The restaurant is Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, close by my house in Miami's Design District. I asked Donna about other Slow Food restaurants in Miami, and was surprised when she said there aren't many. I wondered why - what is the criteria? She said that the restaurant must have a direct connection with the farmer -- up to and including having the produce delivered right to the back door of the restaurant.

What a sad testament to the vanishing farmland of South Florida - urban development is rapidly destroying the formerly-nearby farms, and the restaurateurs haven't connected to the remaining farmers in great numbers. The publicity and support that would result from such a connection could go a long way to helping save the local Redland farming district, and other nearby communities. I hope to become involved in establishing that connection, as my educational background is in agriculture and crop science, and I was very active in promoting the use of fresh herbs to local chefs from 1991 to 1998 or so. It's a link I dropped, and I'm going to reactivate it. The chefs used to buy my herb plants and natural perfumes, but I never thought of making the connection, or realizing the link to my undergraduate and graduate studies that focused on the historic overview of the misuse of our plains, valleys and agricultural lands.

Slow Food, Cropwatch, and Mandy Aftel have helped me see those links in a new light, and I want to encourage all the members of the Natural Perfumers Guild and anyone interested in great food, organic agriculture, natural aromatics and the preservation of a way of life that is quickly disappearing to get involved.

As a natural perfumer, my business - Anya's Garden - depends upon my access to natural aromatics. Unlike Slow Food, I do need transport systems to provide me with the distillates and extractions of aromatics from distant lands. Still, my philosophy of providing beautifully-made, artisan perfumes to my customers pervades every aspect of my waking hours. I supplement the air-transported natural aromatics by harvesting rare tropical flowers from my garden and extracting the scents myself. That way, I can offer Dracena fragrans and night-blooming jasmine as perfume bases -- there's no where else in the world you can obtain these.

My artisan touch extends to all parts of my business. The photo below was taken by me. The flower, a glorious scented Clereodendron, was picked from my garden moments before being arranged by me for the photo. I assembled the box made of recycled paper that is in the background. I hand-poured each bottle of perfume. The heady, luxurious natural perfume in each bottle is unique, took months of experimentation and tweaking, and will evolve slowly, sensually, layer by layer on your skin. That's Slow Scent and the artisan sensibility.

Tony Burfield of Cropwatch has waged a one-man war against the many issues involving the over-regulation of natural aromatics, the phasing-out of the small farm that produces aromatics, the break in the linkage to the indigenous distiller, the entire chain of production in natural aromatics that is being bought up lock, stock and barrel by the "big boys". The EU - European Union and IFRA - International Fragrance Association turn a blind eye to the need to maintain and nourish small farms and local culture and economies in their effort to homogenize and put their Big Brother seal on products ranging from bananas to rose oil.

Earlier this year, the Guild joined forces with Tony and Cropwatch, our tiny, new organization threw its 100 members' weight behind Tony's one-man operation and we had success! An online petition garnered over 900 signatures - and there is still time to add your name. The EU Cosmetics Commission agreed to a sit-down meeting with Tony, the first time ever (I believe) they have bowed to pressure like this. Bouyed along by support that is now growing in many sectors, Tony recently presented a rather blistering, long-overdue, comprehensive overview of the situation in the EU (in PDF version). It is also available in a Powerpoint form by clicking on the main Cropwatch page.

Slow Food was started about twenty years ago in Italy, and has spread worldwide to many countries, and now boasts 80,000 members. They have a palate education program, taking members out to orchards and farms to taste fresh, real food. The Guild's scent education program is similar, and our tools are simple - scent strips and a specific way to present the naturals - and the synths. If all you've ever smelled your entire life was the fragrance version of Cheez-Wiz, we'll give you a sniff of olfactory Cheez-Wiz - fake rose - and then a sniff of the real rose otto. Ah! Nose immediately educated, upgraded, delighted, desirous of the real, slow scent.

Reconnect with your senses. Eat a local apple. Support your local farmer. Sniff some real jasmine grandiflorum, support the efforts of Cropwatch in protecting your access to that glorious scent, and support your natural perfumer. Join your local chapter of Slow Food and slow down the urbanization and disconnect from your local farms. Sample, select, become a nose gourmet and a food gourmet who insists on artisan products, straight from the farmer or perfumer to your house.


  1. Masterfully put, Anya...I really enjoyed the connection between slow food, and slow nose...

    Let's have a renaissance of the family slow farm, too...

  2. Nice post Anya, I admire your energy and dedication...

  3. As usual, a wonderful, thoughtful piece connecting all we (should) hold dear to our hearts.
    Beautiful writing, beautiful sentiments - and beautiful perfumes! looking forward to your new additions soon!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.