Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May: the Slow Life

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it must be observed that the Slow Food Movement has lots of fans, not all of them foodies.  The Slow Food Movement originated as a reaction against everything that is meant by “fast food:” anonymous ingredients from who knows where, mass produced, assembly-line prepared, and served in a plastic, uncomfortable environment that is designed to make you leave as quickly as possible.  Add unhealthy, over-processed, over salted, and over-hyped for good measure.  Slow Food champions good, local foods, well prepared according to recipes both new and traditional, and served in a happy, friendly, “convivial” setting. 

            The Slow Food movement began in 1986 in Italy as a protest over the building of a Macdonald’s near the historic landmark Spanish Steps in Rome.  The idea of an anti-fast food movement must have touched a nerve, because there are now over 100,000 members in 150 countries who espouse its principles.  Other nerves were touched as well.  The idea of a rebellion against mass production, against our plastic environment, against unhealthy and thoughtless conformity, against environmental degradation seemed to spring from the same root as the Slow Food movement.

 Now there is the Slow Money Movement, dedicated to change the way we use our capital to invest.  Instead of investing in huge corporations with destructive practices like the oil industry, tobacco industry or other such enterprises where our mutual funds or pension plans may put our money, the Slow Money movement aims to invest in small food producers, organic farms, and local food systems.  Investors are not looking for less return on their money, but hoping to use their capital in more productive, responsible, and ethical ways.  Founded in 2008, the movement’s original inspiration was a book by Woody Tasch, chair of Investors’ Circle, called Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money– Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered. 

And there is something called simply The Slow Movement, which describes itself as promoting “connectivity.”  It’s an appealing concept.  The movement wants to make connections between people and their environment, their culture, their food, their community, etc.  They promote such ideas as Slow Travel, which gets away from packaged tours that zoom frenetically from place to place (the 14 countries in 7 days concept) and concentrates on slowing down and enjoying, maybe even getting to understand something of the destination, rather than leaping from a bus to photograph it before moving on.  They also suggest Slow Schooling, a type of education that gets away from one-size-fits-all standardized testing and seeks instead to connect students to their learning… and connect that learning to the environment, the culture, the history, and the community in which the students live.  Not incidentally, they also advocate “edible schoolyards” where the students are intimately involved in the production, preparation, and serving of the food they eat.

Then there is the Slow City Movement.  It is another Italian initiative and a little different from others in that it has a formal certification body that assesses cities based on strict criteria to determine if they may advertise themselves as Slow Cities.  The criteria include environmental policy, infrastructure, quality of urban fabric, encouragement of local produce and products, hospitality, and community.  The idea is to make cities more livable, less crowded, less dependent on cars, and more sustainable.  And cities over 50,000 need not apply.

So the Slow Food movement appears to be part of a growing trend in reaction to many of the ills of 21st Century life.  Maybe instead of joining a movement, we should all just make efforts to live “the Slow Life,” whatever that may mean to each of us.