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Studies have found that a full fifth of what we eat is eaten in cars. Takeaways, chips, fast foods, muesli bars, chocolates, ice-creams, apples and bananas are chomped away on as we drive to work or to and from school pick-ups. We’re always on the way to somewhere in our busy, busy, busy lives.
Slow food asks us to take a deep breath and just stop.
Breathe. Look around. Enjoy.
The slow food movement reminds us that each and every one of us has the right to pleasure. The easiest way to find pleasure is to slow down and enjoy our food. As we sit around a table and appreciate a hand-cooked meal at home, we allow ourselves the right to savour tastes, to enjoy company and to wake ourselves back up to life’s simple pleasures.
How did slow food begin
Slow food began in 1986 when an Italian food journalist called Carlo Petrini campaigned against a McDonald’s that had opened at the bottom of the Spanish steps in Rome. So the movement began as a reaction against fast, cheap, unhealthy, globalised, industrially-produced food.
The focus soon expanded into encouraging people all around the world to begin cooking again and to eat local, organic, ethically-sourced food. Most importantly, the movement asked that we all enjoy food. Petrini believes that outside of Europe—where food was traditionally prepared with love and appreciation—food is too cheap, undervalued and we’ve forgotten how to cook for pleasure.
People rapidly joined the movement, eager to meet with others who wanted to get back to a more natural, local way of producing, buying and eating food. There are now 100,000 members worldwide in over 130 countries.
How does slow food work
When you first look at the slow food movement you’ll think they’re making up words. What’s convivia? Or presidia? And terra madre? So first, let’s dust off that Italian dictionary.
Terra Madre = mother earth
Terra Madre is the practical end of slow food where cooks and food communities work together to grow, buy and eat sustainable local food. The local food communities work out where their territories begin and end. This is important so that people can work out what is seasonal within their territory, what is a local taste and what is best grown in their micro-climate.
Terra Madre is also the name of the slow food conference held in Turin every second year. At the conference, food producers, cooks, teachers and students from around the world share their expertise and get more information about food issues through workshops and presentations.
Convivia = Latin ‘life with’
The local groups of the slow food movement are called convivia. This plays on the word ‘convivial’ which conjures up images of a group of people sitting back, laughing, talking, savouring the tastes of home-cooked meals. This is exactly what slow food is about. Slow food reminds us that they are based on everyone’s right to pleasure. What better way to experience sheer joy that to share a lovingly cooked meal with people that you laugh with. Local convivia around the world meet to share their passions, experience and love of food with the wider community.
Presidia = protect
Presidia projects work directly with the food producers and finds markets for their food. This can mean that they are linked up with marketing people or distributors. It can even mean building some new equipment (like an oven) so the artisan (handmade) food can continue to be made.
Ark of Taste
Slow food’s Ark of Taste aims to preserve tastes and flavours that are gradually being lost. As older generations die and younger generations lose the art of cooking, traditional food preparation is being forgotten. Also, in a world of ready-meals and fast food, the secrets of the old ways are being replaced. The Ark of Taste is like a time capsule that preserves cooking techniques and ingredients so that our world of flavours and tastes don’t become even narrower and more homogenised.
Slow food projects go into schools and educate children about where food comes from and the many different tastes of food. They encourage schools to plant gardens, improve canteen meals, use sustainable, seasonal, flavoursome foods and learn about traditional foods. Children are taught to taste the difference between industrially-produced food and artisan-made food. The aim is to help children make their own better nutritional choices.
Since 2001, the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program has been encouraging children to get their hands dirty and learn how to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal food. It has been rolled out to 259 primary schools around Australia and whilst not directly linked to the Slow Food movement it does share similar values in helping to give children an appreciation of good food and create a positive connection that lasts a lifetime.
Criticism of Slow Food
Michael Pollan writes in his book, In Defence of Food, that slow food sounds like ‘an elitist club for foodies’. He adds that it can sometimes be this, but that at its best slow food is a political way of looking at food. It enables us to be aware of the people who grow food, and encourages quality over quantity. It provides an alternative to the unsustainable, unhealthy food system that dominates Western culture.
Critics of slow food argue that we’d need to double the amount of farmers if we were to feed the world using slow food principles. They also argue that slow food is an elitist practise of the middle classes who are the only ones who can afford the more expensive artisan food. Adding to this criticism is that many of the food produced is not really helpful in feeding starving people in poorer countries.
Slow food’s principles are often available only to those who can afford them, but it is possible to make small changes to your life and embrace slow food principles. Grow vegetables, take the time to cook, share a homemade meal with a friend. Most importantly: slow down, laugh and enjoy yourself.
For more information:
- On December 10 each year there is a Terra Madre day where local slow food communities all over the world hold lunches and food events to celebrate local food. To find out where events are being held, go to: www.slowfood.com/terramadreday;
- The home page for Terra Madre is: www.terramadre.info;
- You can find more information about Australia’s 31 slow food convivia at: www.slowfoodaustralia.com.au. There they have links to local farmer’s markets in Australia;
- Slow food’s founder, Carlo Petrini, has written a number of books about the massive benefits from eating healthy, sustainable food. Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good, Clean,and Fair is a good place to start;
- The slow food manifesto has delightful entreaties to slow down and rediscover ‘slow, long-lasting enjoyment’. The manifesto begins with food but asks that we enjoy other people’s company, develop our tastes and banish fast food from our lives. Go to: www.slowfood.com/about_us/eng/manifesto.lasso;
- You can learn more about The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation at www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/index.php;
- Michael Pollan’s article about the Ark of Taste looks at his first reactions to the slow food movement and his subsequent conversion: http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/cruising-on-the-ark-of-taste/.