The Piazza di Spagna near Rome’s famous Spanish Steps has seen invaders come and go, but none have threatened the essence of Italian life in quite the way the country’s first McDonald’s fast food restaurant did when it made its appearance on the piazza in 1986. In response to this introduction of “fast food” to a country not known for anything “fast”, an Italian journalist, Carlo Petrini, led a protest. But rather than marching with signs, the protestors served piping hot plates of pasta from large cast iron skillets to supporters, chanting “We don’t want fast food, we want slow food!”. With this symbolic gesture, the Slow Food movement was born.
The Slow Food movement has since grown internationally, with chapters in over 170 countries. It is governed by the tenets of a Slow Food Manifesto, which is essentially an ode to “slow long-lasting enjoyment” and the rediscovery of “the flavours and savours of regional cooking”. Slow Food must be good (in quality and flavour), clean (sustainable and environmentally friendly) and fair (in pricing and dignity of labour).
The focus of the movement is on mindful eating, not mindless eating. It believes that one must create memories and participate actively with food. The only way to do this is to make food a priority. It should be a special moment in one’s day and is best enjoyed with others. Food is a social tool, inspiring conviviality. Conviviality, which to Petrini means taking pleasure in the process of cooking and the process of eating, is very much at the heart of the Slow Food movement.
The movement also recognizes that one cannot take pleasure in food if the food is not grown ethically. It believes that food cannot be truly enjoyed if bringing it to the table damages producers or the environment. To this end, Slow Food believes that one must protect tradition and quality while appreciating the importance of terroir (which refers to environmental conditions, especially soil and climate). It considers individual consumption decisions to be powerful, and able to influence production conditions. For example, it is harder these days for small producers to survive as mass produced and low-cost food is more prevalent. Without consumers themselves making an effort to reconnect with food and the community, it will be difficult for local producers to thrive.
A relationship with producers also has the unexpected bonus of protecting food diversity by creating demand. Approximately 75% of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900 (the figure is 93% in the U.S.); often the agricultural products from these earlier times were better tasting and flavourful, which makes this loss all the more tragic.
The philosophy of Slow Food is best described by Marjorie Shaw, owner of Insider’s Italy, a premier planner of Italian holidays www.insidersitaly.com , who has created Slow Food tours for her clients. She says Slow Food is a deliberate celebration of what historically is central to food cultures; eating what is seasonal, local and most flavourful with an intentional focus on the use of traditional ingredients of the area that are at risk of disappearing from an area’s culinary and cultural memory bank unless we ensure that they are on our tables. That, my friends, is it in a nutshell.
Article by Aparna Dubey.