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Dear EarthTalk: What on Earth is this “Slow Food” movement I keep hearing about?
May 2004 -- Robert Davey, Bridgeport, CT
Carlo Petrini, an Italian, founded the international “Slow Food” movement in 1989 in response to the opening of a McDonald’s at the Spanish Steps in Rome. Its head offices are in Piedmont, in the north of Italy. More than half of the organization’s membership is in Italy, but the organization boasts more than 77,000 members in 48 countries, including the United States, which claims 74 local chapters. There are currently chapters in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and New Orleans, and also in smaller places like Fargo, North Dakota and Small Green Island, Washington.
The main thrust of Slow Food is to preserve and encourage traditional foods, beverages and recipes that are “endangered by McNuggets and Monsanto,” Petrini says, referring to both our obsession with unhealthy fast food and the increasing and uncertain role of biotechnology. “It’s a union of education, politics, environment and sensual pleasure,” says Petrini. The goal: The propagation of leisurely, more epicurean eating habits, and a more enlightened and patient approach to life in general.
“Slow Food is an international movement dedicated to saving the regional cuisines and products of the world,” says Patrick Martins, president of Slow Food USA. “It could be style: barbecue, cajun, creole, organic…anything that’s fallen by the wayside due to our industrial food culture.” Slow Food’s primary focus is on saving endangered ways of life that revolve around the stomach. For Slow Food, animals and plants are threatened, but so are recipes, harvesting methods and production techniques.
Slow Food calls its local chapters “convivia.” Members organize food and wine events and other initiatives to create “conviviality” and promote the cause. According to Marsha Weiner, who leads the 200-member Washington, D.C. chapter, “Each chapter is very different and independent. Here in D.C. we organize farm visits, hands-on demonstrations with chefs in their kitchens, lectures and social events.”
The 16-member State College, Pennsylvania chapter organizes potluck dinners, lectures and educational trips. Says co-leader Anne Quinncorr, “Mass-produced food had the good intention of getting more affordable food to the greatest number of people. But, there was no foresight given to environmental impact. A peach grown by a small-scale suburban farmer may be a bit more expensive, but it tastes like a peach and when you buy it you’re keeping that farmer in business and fighting urban sprawl.”
Slow Food advocates are settling in for a long struggle, but they say victory will eventually be theirs. On the day fast food dies, says Martins, “We will raise a glass of organic wine and say good riddance.”
CONTACT: Slow Food USA, (212) 965-5640, www.slowfoodusa.org; Slow Food (main office), www.slowfood.com
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