Slow Food

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             Slow Food                                                                               T
                                                                                                            he Slow Food movement is still
                                                                                                            little known in the UK. Fast food
                                                                                                            on the other hand is all too
                                                                                                                                                  could be mobilised into a Slow Food
                                                                                                                                                  Italians rallied behind this charismatic

                                                                                                     familiar. So if the concept of Slow Food
                                                                                                                                                  figure and the simple goals he set -
                                                                                                     is new to you, think of it as the antithe-
                                                                                                                                                  saving traditional dishes and foods from
                                                                                                     sis of fast food. Where McDonald's,
                                                                                                                                                  extinction and supporting modest
                                                                                                     Burger King and the like stand for speed,
                                                                                                                                                  restaurants serving genuine food. Just
                                                                                                     convenience and mass production, Slow
                                                             Back to Basics                          Food celebrates the pleasures of the table
                                                                                                     – meals shared with family and friends
                                                                                                                                                  three years later the movement became
                                                                                                                                                  international when delegates from 15
                                                                                                                                                  countries ratified a Slow Food manifesto,
                                                                                                     using regional and traditional products.
                                                                                                                                                  proclaimed “the right to taste” and
                                       Founded in Italy in 1986, the Slow Food movement celebrates   The movement started as a protest            adopted the movement’s symbol, the
                                                                                                     against fast food. The catalyst was          snail. Today the movement numbers
                                       the delights and pleasures of “real” food and drink. Now                                                   75,000 members worldwide, organised
                                                                                                     McDonald's application to open a
                                       adopted internationally, the organisation’s message is        restaurant at the foot of the Spanish        into local groups known as condotte in
                                       spreading, with even the US, birthplace of the Big Mac,       Steps in Rome’s historic Piazza di Spagna    Italy and convivia in the rest of the
                                                                                                     in 1986. Carlo Petrini (now Slow Food's      world.
                                       embracing its concepts. Helen Hosker reports                  president) was outraged at the thought of
                                                                                                     the “golden arches” in such a beautiful
                                                                                                     setting, and joined the protests against     F RO M I TA LY TO T H E R E S T O F
                                                                                                     the restaurant. Eventually the protesters    T H E WO R L D
                                                                                                     had to compromise (the restaurant            The organisation may still have a low
                                                                                                     opened without the arches) but Petrini       profile in Britain, but its message has
                                                                                                     realised that the groundswell of support     spread rapidly in other European

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                                                                                                                             The Slow Food message reached the UK in 1997 when the first convivia
                                                                                                                                                     were formed in the Cotswolds and in London

                                                                              tasting sessions, conferences and seminars    Inspirational accounts also appear in the                                             in villages, towns and cities from
                                                                              with food historians and famous chefs. It     pages of Slow: the International Herald of                                            Aberdeen in Scotland to Frome in south
                                                                              has also provided a platform for launching    Tastes, the movement’s quarterly                                                      west England. The convivia organise a
                                                                              Slow Food “ecogastronomy” initiatives,        magazine. A recent issue featured the                                                 programme of events from cheese, wine
                                                                              notably the Ark of Taste and the Slow         yacon (pronounced “shakon”), a sweet                                                  and beer tasting to visits to biodynamic
                                                                              Food Presidium.                               melon-flavoured root grown in northern                                                                   farms and conferences
                                                                                                                            Argentina. This root has been found to                                                                   on local food issues.
                                                                                                                            contain inulin, a natural sugar substitute,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Wendy Fogarty, leader
                                                                              E C O G A S T RO N O M Y E X P L A I N E D    which has potential as an alternative to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    of one of London’s
                                                                              The Ark catalogues and safeguards             artificial sweeteners. Since blighted by a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    convivia, says: “The
                                                                              endangered food and wine from around          drought in the early 1980s, the yacon has
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    challenge for Slow
                                                                              the world. To gain admission to the Ark,      become a marginal crop but now a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Food in the UK is to
                                                                              a food must be of exceptional quality         Presidium has been set up to promote
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    continue to celebrate
                                                                              and in real or potential danger of            the cultivation and marketing of the root.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    regional diversity and
                                                                              extinction. So far hundreds of cheeses,       Nowadays the Slow Food movement is                                                                      to offer small farmers
                                                                              meats, fish, and fruit and vegetables         as much about promoting biodiversity as                                                                 and artisans whatever
                                                                              have been added to the list, including an     the pleasures of the table. In the words                                                                protection we can – by
                                                                              artisanal raw milk cheddar from               of Carlo Petrini: “The fact is that our                                                                 helping to raise their
                                                                              Somerset.                                     pleasure cannot be disconnected from                                                                    visibility and
                                                                              The Presidium - a word meaning “fort” or      the pleasure of others, but it is likewise                                                              accessibility, by giving
                                                                              “garrison” - has been set up to protect the   connected to the equilibrium we manage                                                                  consumers as many
                                                                              foods in the Ark. Local presidia use Slow     to preserve (and in many cases revive)         Slow Food's president, Carlo Petrini   reasons as possible to support them and
                                                                              Food’s resources to help publicise the        with the world we live in.”                                                           by simply acknowledging the very real
                                                                              foods they are trying to protect.                                                                                                   pleasure they bring to our tables.”
                                                                                                                            This philosophy is increasingly taking
                                                                              Restaurants and cafés using these foods       Slow Food into the developing world. This                                             One of Slow Food UK's successes was in
                                                                              are recommended in Slow Food’s best-          year saw a historic agreement between                                                 collaborating with government agencies
                                                                              selling guides and on its website. The        Slow Food and the Brazilian government                                                to obtain funding for 45 specialist
                                                                              Presidia can also take the load off small     to promote small-scale traditional                                                    producers to participate in the Salone del
                                                                              producers by dealing with the burden of       agriculture. Slow Food will set up Presidia                                           Gusto in 2002 and for many of Britain’s
                                                                              paperwork associated with modern              projects to support Brazil’s small farmers                                            traditional cheeses to be showcased at
                                  countries whose culture of appreciation     hygiene rules. In this way traditional        who have strong ties to their land’s history                                          Cheese, a biennial celebration of the best
                                  of food is stronger than our own. Even      produce and methods are being                 and indigenous culture.                                                               dairy products held in Slow Food’s home
                                  America, birthplace of the Big Mac, has     preserved and the sons and daughters of                                                                                             town of Bra.
                                  seen the light. Inspired by such            producers are being persuaded to move
                                  luminaries as Eric Schlosser, author of     out of the towns and back on to the land.     S L OW F O O D I N B R I TA I N
                                  Fast Food Nation (Penguin) and Alice
                                                                              Corby Kummer, in his book, The                The Slow Food message reached the UK                                                  A B E R D E E N S L OW
                                  Waters of Chez Panisse, Americans have
                                  joined the movement in their thousands      Pleasures of Slow Food (Chronicle Books),     in 1997 when the first convivia were                                                  Dr Chris Fenn, nutritionist, author and
                                  - Slow Food USA now has the largest         tells the heartening tale of Giuseppe         formed in the Cotswolds and in London.                                                professional speaker, is convivium leader
                                  membership outside Italy.                   Garibaldi, who after 17 years working at      At the same time food scares and                                                      of Aberdeen Slow. She describes herself
                                                                              the docks in Genoa, returned to help his      concerns for sustainability were making                                               as passionate about food that is organic,
                                  Slow Food's profile was raised consider-    mother run a restaurant on the family         consumers more discerning - seeking out                                               local and fairly traded. She is also a
                                  ably when it founded the Salone del         farm in Liguria. Now locals flock to sit at   local producers and shopping at farmers’                                              supporter of various environmental and
                                  Gusto, a showcase of the best food and      the wooden farm table and eat hearth-         markets. This revival of interest in                                                  ecological organisations. She says, “Slow
                                  wine, held biennially in Turin. Described   baked testaroli (pancakes) with pesto         regional, seasonal food also contributed                                              Food is an umbrella group which takes
                                  variously as “an inventory of planetary     sauce, a regional speciality which had all    to the growth of Slow Food in the UK,                                                 in all aspects of organic food, local food,
                                  food” and “a five-day fiesta”, it offers    but died out.                                 which now numbers seventeen convivia                                                  Fair Trade products, biodiversity and

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        T I P S F RO M S L OW F O O D L O N D O N                                                                                            Members of Slow Food can now study to become a
                                                                                                                                      Master of Food, following a syllabus of 20 themed courses,
      ½ Savour your food - chew it, really taste it , and enjoy
        its sensorial pleasure.                                                                                                          covering wine, cooking techniques and raw ingredients
      ½ Think about where the food that you eat comes
        from, how it is produced and by whom. Who
        benefits from the purchases that you make?
      ½ Food is not merely fuel - think about the environ-                         lifestyles,” she explains. “Usually they are   TA S T E E D U C AT I O N
                                                                                   going at ten million miles an hour and
        mental, economic, social and cultural value of the                                                                        The Slow Food movement was quick to
                                                                                   trying to cram in so many things. I look
        foods that you eat.                                                        at how they eat and how that’s affecting
                                                                                                                                  realise the importance of taste education
                                                                                                                                  for the next generation. The organisation
      ½ Enjoy your food in the company of others, wherever                         their energy levels and how to counter-
                                                                                                                                  has developed teaching materials to help
        and whenever you can.                                                      act that but within the constraints of
                                                                                                                                  children develop sensory appreciation
                                                                                   people living the lifestyle they want to –
      ½ Eat local, seasonal and sustainably produced foods.                        not completely giving up your job,
                                                                                                                                  and an awareness of how food fits into
                                                                                                                                  their society’s culture. In Italy where the
                                                                                   putting on sandals and starting an
      ½ Grow your own - preserve endangered seed crops by                                                                         programme has been running for 10
                                                                                   organic farm.”
        buying and growing them.                                                                                                  years, there are Slow taste workshops,
                                                                                   Dr Fenn is enthusiastic, although she          teaching manuals and refresher courses
      ½ Be discerning. Buy from those who are experts in                           acknowledges it will take time for the         for teachers and parents.
        their field and really know about the products that                        Slow Food message to catch on in the
        they are selling: local butchers, fishmongers, bakers,                                                                    In Scotland, whose population is reputed
                                                                                   UK. “In this country food is just
                                                                                                                                  to eat one of the most unhealthy diets in
        specialist food shops and markets. Above all, don't                        something we shove in our mouths and
                                                                                                                                  Europe, the importance of teaching
        be afraid to ask questions and become your own                             swallow. We don’t have the belief in
                                                                                                                                  children to cook is not lost on Slow Food
        judge of product quality.                                                  taking time over food, cooking food and
                                                                                                                                  members. Chef, Nick Nairn, supports the
                                                                                   eating it and it’s such a shame.”
      ½ Reject food that is over-packaged and recycle                                                                             campaign. He ran a pilot Cooking for
                                                                                   She has this advice for Slow Food              Kids event at his cookery school in June
        everything else.
                                                                                   converts: “If you don’t want to be a           2002, with the aim of reinforcing the
      ½ Campaign to safeguard traditional foods from                               complete Slow Foodie you could start           government’s recommendation of five
        super-hygienist regulations.                                               perhaps by buying locally. Go to your          portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
                                                                                   local farmers’ market and search out           Twelve local children took part, making
      ½ Be curious. Whether at home or when travelling,                            alternative ways of buying food other          their own juices, soup and pizza. While
        seek out products of local distinction.                                    than from a supermarket.                       the children were unconvinced by the
                                                                                   “Most consumers are used to going to           carrot, honey and ginger soup, they
                                                                                   the supermarket, whizzing around with          loved eating their own homemade pizza.
                                                                                   the trolley and getting everything they        Lessons learnt from that event have led
                                                                                   want under one roof. With Slow Food            to the compilation of an information
                                                                                                                                                                                FURTHER INFORMATION
                                                                                   you may end up going to several                pack, so that other convivia can organise
                                                                                                                                  their own Cooking for Kids days.              web A list of
                                     eating well in all senses – the psychologi-   different shops and it takes time but if
                                                                                                                                                                                regional convivia is listed on the
                                     cal sense as well as the social and           they’re small shops you get to know the        Taste education extends to adults as well.
                                                                                                                                                                                website, under movement.
                                     biochemical sense. I was amazed that          producers and other people who shop in         Members can now study to become a
                                     Slow Food encompassed all these aspects       that way and you end up chatting about         Master of Food, following a syllabus of
                                     and so I only needed to be a member of        food much more.”                               20 themed courses, covering wine,             FURTHER READING
                                     one organisation.”                            For those who don’t have the time to           cooking techniques and raw ingredients.
                                                                                                                                                                                C Kummer, The Pleasures of Slow Food,
                                                                                   shop except at the supermarket, she            And if you are a professional in the food
                                     The group was only formed in                                                                                                               Chronicle Books, £25.00.
                                                                                   recommends buying organic food and             sector you can study at the European
                                     September 2002 but has already
                                                                                   cooking it with care. “The preparation of      Academy of Taste, in the university town
                                     established a full programme of events
                                                                                   the meal is part of the enjoyment of the       of Pollenza. Graduate of the Academy of       Helen Hosker is a writer and broadcaster
                                     from a cookery course for kids to a
                                                                                   meal as well as eating it. Eat without         Taste – now there’s a qualification you       on food and health issues. She has an
                                     harvest supper using locally sourced
                                                                                   doing millions of other things. You            can't get at McDonald's Hamburger             interest in sustainable development and
                                     foods. Dr Fenn has given one of her
                                                                                   watch people eating while they’re using        University!                                   works with producers and her local council
                                     seminars entitled “Beat stress and eat for
                                     success”. It fits exactly with the Slow       the computer or watching the telly and                                                       to promote locally grown food in South
                                     Food philosophy. “I look at people’s          that’s not a positive eating experience.”                                                    West Surrey.

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