Slow Food, a growing international movement, is perhaps best defined as an alternative to its fast counterpart. McDonald’s means unhealthy fare, ecological exploitation and usurpation of local idiosyncrasies; Slow Food means nutritious and tasty diets, preservation of food-source biodiversity and locally, sustainably grown food.
Slow Food’s adherents are far-sighted hedonists, committed to protecting the sources of their treasured foods and fine wine. Gustatory pleasure is the cornerstone of Slow Food’s philosophy, and environmentalism the corollary–call it eco-gastronomy.
Mirroring Slow Food’s multifaceted philosophy, the movement’s followers promote its message in various ways. From chapters throughout the world, they plant gardens, hold tastings and educational events, disseminate manifestoes and publish newsletters and guidebooks. This summer, events include the Second Annual Italian Wine Tour, hitting cities throughout the country, and a New York Taste and Learn Series Seminar focusing on the local dairies.
Another new Slow Food project is a guidebook, recently published by Chelsea Green, for “slow” New York City restaurants, bars and markets. The book, the first in a series, evaluates establishments on criteria typically unnoted by the likes of Zagat’s, such as sustainability and conviviality. Patrick Martins, head of Slow Food USA and co-editor of the guidebook, recently talked to The Nation about both the movement and the book.
RTD: Can you talk about the origins of the Slow Food movement?
PM: Slow Food was founded by a journalist named Carlo Petrini in 1986, as a joke reaction to the opening of a McDonald’s franchise near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Because fast food was a household name, he wanted Slow Food to become a household name as well. And so he started Slow Food through a pasta-eating protest in front of the Spanish Steps.
At the time, Slow Food was very much a gastronomic organization. It was about long, drawn-out meals, drinking delicious wine, cheeses, staying up until the wee hours of the morning talking about philosophy. Eventually, they understood that being purely gluttonous was not sustainable, and was not going to change the world. And Carlo looked around the world and saw that biodiversity was being threatened, and that we were losing many varieties of fruits and vegetables and farm animals, and so he decided that something needed to be done. That’s when Slow Food became more of an environmentally conscious organization, and now we define ourselves as an eco-gastronomic organization, dedicated to preserving food and food traditions from soil all the way to the table.
Can you talk about the differences between the movement in the United States and the one in Italy? Italy seems like a country you’d think of as being ideally suited to something like this, and the US, as the home of fast food, less so.
It is a little different, Italy and the US. The US has a rich array of terroirs and tastes. It’s just that in Italy people embrace these things more. Everyone knows what cheese is being raised in their backyard. Everybody knows what wine is local to their environment. What Slow Food in the US is trying to do is get people to understand that we have that same diversity, that same richness. The US is not just the fast food center that people think. We have farmers’ markets, we have the richest beer-brewing culture in the world, great bread culture, a great artisanal cheese culture that’s growing. Bourbon, whiskey. We have some of the best wines in the world here now. So I think there’s general quality of the foods. It’s just that I don’t think it’s embraced in the same way as in Italy.