Friday, September 19, 2008

On what Slow Food actually means...

Leading up to Slow Food Nation I was often asked what "Slow Food" actually means. Each time, I found myself answering the question a bit differently depending on to whom I was talking; at first, I thought this was probably due to my not having a clear sense of the movement, but I think now that my various answers were pretty close to the movement's reality. Slow Food has a lot of meanings and origins, which is okay and pretty appropriate, as all these meanings lead to the same resolution of "better" food. The various definitions of what "better" means are why the movement has so many meanings.

Slow Food's motto is good, clean, and fair food. More specifically this mean, that the food we eat should taste good; the this food should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare, nor our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. In a talk that I attended during the Slow Food Nation weekend, aptly called "Slow Food Nation",Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser, and Carlo Petrini discussed what Slow Food meant, each speaker bringing a unique perspective on the matter.

Of the speakers, I thought Vadana Shiva brought the most thoughtful perspective to what slow food meant. She spoke most about the Slow Food movement in the context of the greater world food economy, about places were people do not receive the proper nutrition because of the way food systems are set up. Her most important conclusion was to not encourage developing countries to emulate the US food system but to continue to educate citizens on how to produce their own food so as not to become dependant upon other countries for food and to also continue to produce food locally. In addition, as I stated in an earlier blog post, she made the astute statement that the biggest obstacle to the slow food movement is fashion.

In addition, the statement that the slow food movement is a leaderless movement was made, which I also find very true and very interesting. Slow food is, for obvious reasons, a local movement. Much of what slow food strives for is that food be produced locally, which makes it as clean as possibly, often as good as possible (I mean, has anyone had a Haas avocado from South America taste as good as the ones grown here?), and also easiest to determine if the workers have been treated fairly. It's interesting, however, to consider how a movement without a clear leader has gained such an impressive following via grassroots organization.

Overall, I think that much of how an individual perceives slow food is dependant on where an individual lives. In the Bay Area, for example we mostly focus on good as much of our food is clean and fair (ie local with fairly paid labor). Also, there is a lot of culture developed around food here; from restaurants to farmer's markets to food magazines to underground eating clubs, a lot of time has been spent developing a culture around meals. Since moving to San Francisco, I can't remember having even stepped into a fast food chain restaurant for even a bathroom while I have also developed a digestive reaction to any fried food. In the Bay Area we thus have the luxury to reinstate the culture of eating meals communally as well as redefining what this culture is; in this manner, when I talk to someone from the Bay Area about what Slow Food is, I might focus on the cultural redevelopment of eating that is occurring with the slow food movement, but if I'm talking to a friend from Philadelphia who love cheese steaks I might talk about slow food being the opposite of fast food, and give a general overview of how in a "slow" meal you are more connected with the entire production of your food from seed to plate, thus standing in contrast to a fast food meal where you only really participate in the ordering of a grey meat patty. gross.

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