Is Slow Food On A Fast Decline?
It was the establishment of Rome’s first fast food joint that spurred one Italian, Carlo Petrini, to create an association called Slow Food in protest. In 1989, the founding Manifesto of the International Slow Food movement was signed in Paris by delegates from 15 countries. This was done predominantly to protest against big international business interests.
I first heard of Slow Food when I was in Gerringong late last year for a cooking demonstration. While I couldn’t make it to the slow food event, I was told, with hypnotic enthusiasm, the level of passion for artisan produce and biodiversity.
Slow Food began when farmers and foodies got together to promote and support traditional local production methods and to introduce them to an audience who wanted the same, pure, natural products. No growth enhancers, no steroids, no impurities, just old-style food, produced at the speed of Mother Nature. Without the support of Slow Food, many artisan producers, growers and fishermen, would have had to cease production and flavour sensations would have been lost.
Since then, the movement has grown worldwide and has become a huge, complex organisation. Their approach to agriculture, food production and gastronomy is defined by three interconnected principles: good, clean and fair. Even though it very much represents the interests of the new generation of quality farmers and producers, it hasn’t caught on so well in Australia.
Is it seen as too specialist, elitist or plain confusing? Slow Food stands at the crossroads of ecology and gastronomy, ethics and pleasure. It opposes the standardisation of taste and culture, and the unrestrained power of the food industry multinationals and industrial agriculture. They believe in the concept of neo-gastronomy – recognition of the strong connections between plate, planet, people and culture. Its manifesto is more brutal in describing their philosophy:
“we are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus”;
“many suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency”; and
“a firm defence of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of fast life”.
Personally, I find Slow Food movement restricted to the elite and the more fortunate. Organic produce and free range beasties all sound nice and noble but how feasible is it for the average household with one income, 2.5 kids and a pet dog?
On a more philosophical side, their vocabulary is littered with terms resembling a lexical cross between Stalinism and religion. Words like ‘conviva’, ‘presidia’, ‘arks’ and ‘terra madre’. Does that sound like a new faction of Scientology or does it simply reflect the Italian anarcho-syndicalist origins of the movement? Internationally, the Slow Food has ambitious hopes of running a University of Gastronomic Sciences, ‘the Ark Commission’, the Slow Movement Youth Movement, Cuttaslow and Terra Madre Chefs. All these are to be funded by local memberships alone, which seem illogical as well as impossible.
So, does this remind you of another Italian organisation with claims to universality, a charismatic, strong central ruler whose word is law, a special vocabulary of its own, and whose finances depend on the contributions of the faithful? Is Slow Food awaiting a huge corporate sponsor, a Martin Luther or a preaching Tom Cruise? You decide. How might its reformation be made to work?
Alvin Quah for Citysearch, July 2011