By Lauryn Axelrod
What do mad cows, foot-and-mouth disease, biogenetically altered food and wine, and McDonald’s all have in common?
They are anathema to the Slow Food Movement, an international grass-roots group with 60,000 members in 35 countries dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of great eats.
Founded in Italy (of course!) in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, the Slow Food Movement has grown into “an international response to effects fast food has on our society and life.” Believing that efficiency,
Believing that efficiency, biotechnology, and other global forces erode our abilities to savor not only our food, but also our lives, Slow Food suggests our defense should begin “at the table.”
Flavors are Important
Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. “They’ve got a point. If we are what we eat, then we are all a bunch of speed freaks.”
We grab a ready-made lunch in a bag and eat it in our cars or at our desks; we rarely share a meal with our families or friends; we rush around like a bunch of mad cows on dope, shoving whatever we can into our mouths to keep going.
No wonder we feel lousy, stressed out and overweight.
Given our preference for fast, efficient food, it’s not surprising that our entire culture has been McDonalds-ized: tasteless, homogenous, and quick. If real culture is about diversity, flavor and uniqueness; if it is about gathering around the table to share the wealth of the earth, our traditions and each other, then we’re running seriously late for breakfast.
But the Slow Food folks want us to wake up and smell the coffee. Real coffee, not instant. They want us to rediscover the pleasure of using our senses, slowing down enough to develop our taste, appreciate the flavors of food and drink, and cultivate the art of living.
They’ve given us a whole new reason to invite the friends, break out the good wines and rediscover the tradition and joy of the long-night dinner party.
Savor the Flavor
According to the Slow Food manifesto, culinary and biological preservation is the only way to keep standardization of food from eradicating culinary memory and traditional tastes.
But Slow Food isn’t only about savoring an evening meal. Defending local culinary traditions and regional, unaltered foods and wines is part and parcel of the whole idea.
But more importantly, food is a window to culture, and preserving and sharing culinary heritage is about preserving our own unique cultures in the face of global homogenization. Call it eco-gastronomy.
What can we learn from Penne Rusticana or Paht Thai that we can’t learn from a Big Mac? Apparently, quite a bit. Especially if you have what Slow Food has — over 600 different convivia, or local chapters, around the world, compiling and distributing information about local foods, drinks and cultures.
Slow Food & Ark of Taste
Slow Food and its sister organization, the Ark of Taste, work to preserve endangered foods, encourage bio-diversity, and support small-scale producers of ethnic and local products around the world. Slow Food even publishes guides to local restaurants that serve authentic, local foods at local prices (Most are written in Italian, but it’s a start!).
And Slow Food is also about slow travel. There are a growing number of culinary tour operators that subscribe to the Slow Food Movement. The US-based Friends and Food International is a member of the network and sees its travel programs to Tuscany, Provence and India as “cultural and educational journeys using food and the people that produce it as the learning medium.”
In other words, if we are preserving culture through food, then we are also sharing that culture through tourism that is small, local, eco, culturally, and gastronomically-sensitive.
And if that’s not enough to make you stop running, keep slowing down with numerous Slow Food events around the world.
Which brings us to Slow Cities: entire communities dedicated to improving the quality of life for their citizens through environmentally sound, culturally-aware, eco-gastronomic policies and activities.
The Slow Food Film Festival and, SLOW, the organization’s quarterly magazine with outstanding articles about food culture around the world, include features on the highlights of African markets, how the Chinese use leftovers, Australian pizzas and the initiation rites of poultry killing in Spain.
If you’re like me and you travel to eat, Slow Food is as close to heaven as you can get. In fact, the Slow Food movement logo claims, “There are more tastes in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your gastronomy…”
You just have to slow down to find them.
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