Slow Food: More Than Just Non-Fast Food

Written by Ronna
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In this age of tight schedules, multi-tasking and information overload, it is easy to equate “speed” with “convenience.” It is common to think that the practical and quick option is the wisest choice. Because of the pressures of modern life, it has become a habit for us to settle for shortcuts in our day-to-day choices, including the food we choose to eat. It is a common experience to grab a sandwich on our way to work, to open a can of ravioli on weeknights, and to have breakfast in front of our computers. We buy the same kinds of fruits and vegetables (even pre-cut ones) throughout the year. In schools, children bring the same brands of packaged snacks to eat. It is this kind of fast food lifestyle and standardization of food that the Slow Food movement aims to counter.

The Slow Food Movement and its Projects

The Slow Food movement traces its roots in Italy. In 1986, a plan of opening a McDonald’s restaurant near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna was met by opposition. Carlos Petrini and his group called Arcigola led the demonstration, using bowls of penne as their protest symbol. Today, more than 20 years later, Slow Food has grown into an organization of 100,000 members spread across 153 countries.

More than just rejecting the Quick and the McDonald’s restaurants of this world, Slow Food is about celebration of food and gastronomy. It does not necessarily mean hours of stewing and simmering food to make a meal. It’s about bringing back the joy in eating. It is about rediscovering food as a social experience, instead of merely viewing it as an act to tame a grumbling stomach. On top of that, it’s about re-establishing “connections between plate and planet.”

Slow Food promotes food that is good, clean and fair. By “good,” Slow Food means food that is fresh, tasteful, seasonal and locally-sourced. By “clean,” Slow Food refers to food that is produced without harm to health and the environment. By “fair,” it means food that is affordable to consumers and food that brings just compensation to its producers.

To promote this kind of philosophy, Slow Food operates worldwide through local chapters or what is known as convivia. There are now 1,300 convivia spread around the world. These convivia promote taste education, establish relationships with producers and get people together through shared meals, tastings and discussions.

Through Terra Madre, an international network of food communities, Slow Food brings small-scale producers in dialogue with academicians, cooks and the youth. Through this network, Slow Food supports agriculture that is small-scale, sustainable and traditional.

To protect dying gastronomic traditions and agricultural biodiversity, with special focus on developing countries, Slow Food established the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity in 2003. Through its project called Ark of Taste, forgotten flavors are rediscovered and catalogued. There are now 1,000 Ark of Taste products from all over the world like the oosterschelde lobster from the Netherlands and old Gloucester beef from the United Kingdom, to name a few.

Through its Presidia initiative, the Foundation organizes small projects to protect small-scale farmers, set quality standards, and ensure the viability of traditional products. The Foundation’s Earth Markets serve as a venue for producers to sell their products directly to the consumers. Middlemen are eliminated, keeping prices low and the products’ carbon footprint down to a minimum.

Supporting the Movement and Living a Slow Food Life

To imbibe the Slow Food philosophy, the Japanese Slow Food author, Natsu Shimamura, offers some practical tips on living the Slow Food way.1 She suggests not eating alone and finding time to cook for and share meals with loved ones. She encourages reading the labels of food we buy and imagining how the food travelled from producer to you. She advises asking your mother to teach you some traditional recipes and getting to know the specialty of your hometown.

Another great tip from Shimamura is to target the countryside as your next vacation destination, instead of going to the beach or going skiing. She asserts that getting to know the producers of our favorite food and befriending them can narrow down the psychological distance that we have with them. Truly, this is one of Slow Food’s aims – that we become “co-producers” and not merely consumers. Slow Food encourages us to inform ourselves on how food is produced and to “become a part of and a partner in the production process.” To Slow Food, pleasure and food cannot be unlinked from awareness and responsibility.

To support the Slow Food movement and its projects, gain access to a wealth of information, network with like-minded individuals and be entitled to discounts to local, national, and international Slow Food events, you can opt to pay a membership fee via Slow Food (www.slowfood.com) itself or via a Belgian convivium.

Slow Food in Belgium

In Belgium, there are more than 10 convivia spread across the country, including Karikol, the Brussels Convivium. Karikol, which derives its name from the Belgian delicacy caricol, started in 2007. As of last year, it already has 95 members and 900 supporters.

Activities of Karikol range from picnics at Parc Royal, to once a month lectures and tastings, to showing films about food. One of the major activities organized by Karikol is the annual Goûter Bruxelles/Proef Brussel which literally means Taste Brussels.

Now on its 4th edition, this year’s Taste Brussels will take place from 19 to 25 September. The aim of the event is to promote the principles of the Slow Food movement. One of the activities is “Slow Food at the Restaurants” wherein nearly 60 restaurants will serve Slow Food menus. There will also be gourmet walks with producers and artisans, organic gardening lessons for balconies and terraces, and picnic at Parc de Bruxelles. Activities centered on honey and beekeeping and a thematic symposium aimed at professionals will also take place.

For more information on Karikol and links to other Belgian convivial, visit www.karikol.be. For more information on the upcoming Taste Brussels, visit www.gouterbruxelles.be.

Note: The first version of this article appeared in the September 2010 issue of the Sunbeams newsletter.

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