Monday, November 30, 2009

January 2009: The Slow Food Movement

When I first heard about the Slow Food Movement, I figured that it was all about cooking things for a long time at low temperatures. Instead of fast-fried burgers and quickly re-heated frozen meals, this organization was suggesting slow-cooked stews and “made from scratch” dishes, I assumed. Others I have talked with make the same assumptions about Slow Food until they get to know more about it. Actually, the Slow Food Movement is about much more than cooking food slowly.

In essence, it is anti-Fast Food… against all the things that Fast Food brings to the table (so to speak): poor quality food from unknown sources with no regard to local agriculture, packaged and pre-prepared, served in plastic environments, consumed quickly, and wasteful of resources and the environment.

Here, then, is a look at the Slow Food Movement and what it is trying to promote.

On its website, ( the Slow Food Movement defines itself this way.
“Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract
1) fast food and fast life,
2) the disappearance of local food traditions, and
3) people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

The Movement was founded in 1986 in Italy, and became a non-profit, international organization in 1989. It now has about 100,000 members organized into some 900 local chapters, called “Convivia.” (You can become a member on the website or by contacting the Pelham Convivium at From its inception, the over-riding idea of Slow Food (even in the selection of its name) was to counter the “Fast Food culture” of mass-produced, uniform, unhealthy food, produced on factory farms with no regard to the environment or the long-term effects of production techniques.

Individual local Convivia are places for Slow Food Members to meet and learn about quality food, local products and producers, traditional foods and recipes, and, most importantly, to enjoy each other’s company and each other’s food preparation. They also organize events for the community at large to promote the ideas of eating locally produced, fresh food, thinking about where our food comes from and who produces it, and celebrating the joys of preparing and eating good, wholesome food.

The Pelham Convivium, for example, presented a lamb roast last August featuring spit-roasted lamb raised at Featherstone Winery, with local produce and desserts prepared by Fonthill’s de la Terre Bakery, and washed down with delicious Featherstone wines. Guests ate at a single long table on the verandah at Featherstone, in an atmosphere that can only be described as “convivial.”

Internationally, the Slow Food Movement sponsors a University of Gastronomic Sciences with two campuses in Italy. Courses are taught in Italian and English and the curriculum “combines humanities and sciences with food technology and culture, the defence of biodiversity, and the protection of food traditions.” The Movement also funds a Foundation for Biodiversity which makes direct financial contributions, mostly to less developed nations, to assist with projects that support biodiversity and preserve local food traditions. The Movement’s most public event is “Terra Madre,” a bi-annual conference that brings together artisanal food producers, farmers, fishermen, cooks, academics, and NGO representatives to meet, discuss issues of common concern, and share their experiences. In 2008, more than 7000 people from 153 countries attended Terra Madre in Turin, drawing over 1000 journalists, and putting the concepts of good, clean, fair, diverse food, produced in a way that is respectful of people and the Earth, front and centre on the world’s stage.

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