We all go to the same place;
us go there slowly.
by Anna Muoio
Petrini and the 60,000 members of the slow food movement don't just
want to change how we eat. They want to change how we live.
from Fast Company magazine, issue 34:
"We have lost our sense of time," intones Carlo Petrini,
in mellifluous Italian. "We believe that we can add meaning
to life by making things go faster. We have an idea that life is
short -- and that we must go fast to fit everything in. But life
is long. The problem is that we don't know how to spend our time
wisely. And so we burn it."
an age of acceleration, Petrini, 50, is a staunch champion of all
things slow. Over the past 14 years, he has built an international
organization in reaction to the stark reality that, as a culture,
we have become enslaved by speed and have succumbed to what his
group's manifesto calls an "insidious virus: Fast Life."
Food, a Bra, Italy-based nonprofit organization with more than 60,000
members in 35 countries, promotes and defends "slow,"
local, artisanal food traditions that have become victims of speed,
technology, supermarket standardization, and homogenization. And
this slow movement is growing fast. Slow Food recently opened an
office in New York City -- adding to its network of offices in Germany,
Greece, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland -- and will expand into
France in 2001. Among its members, Slow Food boasts food luminaries
from around the world, including Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley's
Chez Panisse, as well as such bigwigs as Italian Prime Minister
Massimo D'Alema and 1997 Nobel laureate in literature (and friend
of Petrini ) Dario Fo.
the backbone of the movement is what Slow Food calls its Convivia
-- grassroots, transcontinental, "hypercaloric" groups
of people from Sweden to Turkey, from Australia to South Africa,
and from Singapore to Silicon Valley. Convivia members meet regularly
to achieve back-to-basics goals: to have fun, to spread the Slow
Food philosophy, to promote local traditions and superior local
products, and to immerse themselves in pleasure. It's an epicurean's
ideal. At the root of these hedonistic activities, however, is something
more profound: a fundamental desire not to forgo what makes us human,
a sense of our natural rhythms, and a participation in the simple
rituals of life.
carefully cooked ideas behind Slow Food are beginning to appeal
to people outside gourmand circles. These ideas are a feast for
those hungry for a respite from the blur of a connected economy
-- and, as Petrini puts it, an antidote "to the contagion of
the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency." How so? As
the group's manifesto ( which was ratified in Paris by delegates
from 15 countries ) proclaims: "A firm defense of quiet material
pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life."
la bella vita. Leave it to the Italians to create an organization
devoted, as its Web site states, to "the Defense of and the
Right to Pleasure." And where better to begin this firm defense
than at the table -- with the quiet material pleasure of food? Slow
But Petrini, a charismatic Italian who looks as if he has just walked
off the set of a Fellini movie, explains that Slow Food is not simply
a knee-jerk reaction to the homogeneity of fast food; it's a call
for serious consideration of the effect that speed has on our lives.
"Fast food is not our enemy," he says. "We can all
eat as we want. If we have an enemy, it is the abnormal rhythms
in which we are living our lives."
slow doesn't mean that you have to move slowly, chew a certain number
of times per bite, or turn back the hands of time. "If you're
slow, you're stupid," says Petrini. "This is not what
we're talking about. Rather, to be slow means that you govern the
rhythms of your life. You are in control of deciding how fast you
have to go. Today, you might want to go fast, so you do. Tomorrow,
however, you might want to go slow, so you can. That is the difference."
leans back in his leather chair behind his massive wooden desk in
his office in Bra. He folds his hands across his ample paunch and,
choosing his words carefully, continues: "It is useless to
force the rhythms of life. If I live with the anxiety to go fast,
I will not live well. My addiction to speed will make me sick. The
art of living is about learning how to give time to each and every
thing. If I have sacrificed my life to speed, then that is impossible."
pass in silence until Petrini adds quietly: "We all go to the
same place, so let us go there slowly." The Ingredients of
"Have you heard the joke about the turtle and the snail?"
deadpans Patrick Martins, 28, president of Slow Food's U.S. operations,
as he sips his espresso in a cafe in Bra. "In the middle of
the forest, a turtle and a snail have a gruesome head-on collision.
The snail is rushed to the emergency room, where a doctor asks what
happened. On the edge of consciousness, the snail responds, 'I don't
know, Doc. It all happened so fast.' "
a gastronome who wrote his master's thesis on the politics of medieval
food sculpture when he was attending the Tisch School at New York
University, speaks slowly and deliberately. Having delivered the
punch line, he smiles liberally -- a New Yorker who admits that
he's lost some of his island edginess after two years in this small
town nestled in the hills of the Piedmont region of Italy. "Just
the type of joke you'd imagine we'd tell around here, right?"
considering Slow Food's penchant for all things slow. Not to mention
that it is one of the few organizations in the world to select the
snail as its logo and ideological symbol. The mollusk is featured
in the windows of Italian eateries, known locally as osterie, throughout
the country -- a beacon to those looking for genuine, traditional,
local cooking. It also happens to adorn everything that comes out
of the office of Slow Food Editore, the organization's publishing
arm. The folks at Slow Food are anything but slow when it comes
to spreading the word. The organization publishes a wide range of
materials: "The Snail," a newsletter that is distributed
to all 60,000 members worldwide; "Slow: The International Herald
of Tastes," a quarterly magazine published in five languages;
and several prestigious food and wine guides, such as "Osterie
d'Italia" and "Vini d'Italia."
publishing Guida ai Vini del Mondo, a 1,250-page wine guide that
describes 2,000 vineyards and 6,500 wines in 30 countries, Slow
Food decided to embark on an equally ambitious project: the creation
of an online catalogue of the world's artisanal food products and
producers. "We plan to build a worldwide network of artisanal
and traditional foods, and to use our network to promote those foods,"
explains Renato Sardo, 31, director of Slow Food International,
which is responsible for coordinating all of the organization's
offices and events. "Eventually, we want to offer people an
entirely new food-production-and-distribution model -- an alternative
to the current big-scale, industrialized model."
So, yes, the joke about the turtle and the snail is the type of
joke that you'd imagine hearing in the courtyard of Slow Food's
villa on Via della Mendicita Istruita. The joke becomes poignant
when you realize that Slow Food traces its origins back to what
began, Martins says, as something of a not-so-funny joke. In 1986,
McDonald's opened a restaurant at the base of the Spanish Steps
in Rome's Piazza di Spagna. Petrini -- who at the time was both
a journalist and head of Arcigola, a nonprofit food-and-wine association
that he had cofounded -- was outraged. "Petrini loathed the
idea of the ugly, neon, golden arches looming large in the middle
of this beautiful square," says Martins. "Plus, he was
outraged by the odor of fried food." So Petrini and a group
of his leftist-intellectual friends protested and arrived at what
Petrini calls an "Italian compromise": McDonald's removed
its golden arches but continued to feed the Romans.
the years, Slow Food has evolved from a gourmet organization concerned
solely with exalting food and drink to a movement with a mission
to promote food diversity and to prevent the extinction of domestic
animals, plants, fruits, and vegetables. In the Slow Food worldview,
a loss of diversity - driven largely by our obsession with speed
- means a gain of one thing: a bland, new world.
the beginning of the century, for instance, there were about 200
varieties of artichokes in Italy," says Sardo. "Now
there are only about a dozen. Each day, we lose several varieties
of vegetable or animal species. Not only does that have huge gastronomic
implications, threatening the diversification of taste, but it
also has profound ecological implications."
those implications, Petrini and his crew have coined the term "ecogastronomy."
Food has launched two projects under its ecogastronomy banner: the
Ark of Taste and the Slow Food Praesidia. The Ark of Taste aims
to save and protect small-scale, quality food production from industrial
standardization and, as Martins explains, "from hyperhygienist
legislation, the rules of modern retail systems, and a modernity
which meets 95% of the world's food requirements with fewer than
30 plants." Like Noah shepherding animals onto his ark, Slow
Food places certain near-extinct foods on a list: lentils from Abruzzi;
potatoes from Liguria; Pardigone plums from the French Alps; Firiki
apples from Greece; Sun Crest peaches from northern California.
Once a product makes the Ark of Taste list, Slow Food begins promoting
that item through its network. For example, the organization was
instrumental in getting Time magazine to write about the Sun Crest
peach, a fruit with a sublime taste but a poor tolerance for travel.
The result? Thousands of people contacted the small producer to
sample its juicy gem.
Slow Food knows that promoting a product through the media is a
temporary solution. Enter the Praesidia. " 'Presidium' is Latin
for 'garrison' and conveys our most militaristic approach to defending
foods and drinks in danger of extinction," says Martins. A
perfect example: Sciacchetra, a rare white wine that is produced
only in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, an exquisitely beautiful,
hilly area along the Mediterranean. Sciacchetra has been produced
in that region since medieval times but has gradually become unprofitable
for the remaining producers to make. So, in collaboration with private
sponsors and public institutions, Slow Food purchased 20,000 square
meters of the Cinque Terre and gave the land to one of the last
three Sciacchetra producers in the world. Without the economic burden
of rent, explains Martins, "that producer is now able to hire
people to help him produce this wine and can pass on the tradition
to future generations. In the next several years, we expect production
to go from a few hundred bottles to tens of thousands."
Here: Slow Food, American-Style
America -- home of the hamburger, "nuke it 'n' eat it,"
and express lanes at fast-food restaurants. What could a country
filled with superstars of speed possibly want with Slow Food? Plenty,
according to Petrini, who believes that America is just about ripe
for some slow food. "A lot of Europeans think that America
is the empire of badness," he says. "They believe that
Americans are the ones who need to be converted -- the barbarians
at the gate who need to be civilized. But that's not true. Americans
have an enormous capacity to merge tradition with modernity, and
they crave a sense of slowness now more than ever." As upstarts
on the cuisine scene, Americans might play second fiddle to other
nations' food patrimonies. But there's one thing that puts a gleam
in Petrini's eyes when he thinks about American-style "slow
food": beer. In fact, he believes that beer is one of the purest
American expressions of what Slow Food is all about.
is music to Garrett Oliver's ears. "Slow Food is concerned
with preserving and even resurrecting lost traditions," says
Oliver, 37, a brew master for Brooklyn Brewery, who has brought
several brewing styles back from obscurity and who is widely regarded
as one of America's leading brew masters. "At the turn of the
century, there were 48 breweries in Brooklyn. Now there is just
one." Oliver is responsible for a beer that has ended up on
Slow Food's Ark of Taste: Brooklyn Monster Ale, an English-style
barley wine that was inspired, in part, by a book called "Every
Man His Own Brewer" -- undoubtedly a page-turner when it was
published in 1768. "Monster Ale is a slow beer," explains
Oliver. "It takes four months to age, rather than the usual
two to three weeks. We use a rare type of barley, called Maris Otter,
which isn't cultivated much these days. And at 12.3% alcohol, you
can't drink it fast. Well, you could, but it would bite your head
Oliver acknowledges that Slow Food is about much more than ensuring
that we have more choices than Bud, Bud Light, Coors, and Coors
Light -- the "Wonder Breads of Beer," as he calls them
-- when we open the fridge at our local liquor store. For Oliver,
who grew up in Queens eating his fair share of frozen vegetables
and Swanson dinners and drinking coffee made from Folger's crystals,
Slow Food offers a way of living that complements his thinking.
"If you think about it, some of the best times of your life
are probably spent at the table with your friends and family,"
he says. "So how could you not make the time to secure those
moments? What is so important in your life that you can't make time
for things that give you pleasure?"
a self-proclaimed "overworked American," has little patience
for his peers who say that they have no time for such rituals but
then spend hours in front of the television. "If you want to
enjoy life, you have to think a little bit about what you might
enjoy," he says. "The easy -- and lazy -- way out is to
convince yourself that you don't have enough time. But we often
let time pass by without making any real use of it. Instead, look
at your day, and ask yourself, 'What would I really enjoy? What
would I like to do? Whom would I like to be with?' " If we
let the answers to those simple questions decide how we spend our
time, Oliver believes, then we would spend our time differently.
one of the best lessons that Oliver has ever learned about the importance
of creating islands of slowness in a sea of high-speed frenzy is
the one that his father inadvertently taught him. As a high-octane
kid, Oliver would become exasperated whenever his father refused
to join him in one action-packed activity after another. Oliver
remembers asking, "Well, what are you doing that's so important?"
His father responded, "I'm doing creative nothing," as
he chopped vegetables in the kitchen. Oliver reflects on that response:
"I'm 37, and I finally understand what my father meant whenever
he would tell me that. To my dad, 'creative nothing' meant hanging
out on his island of slowness. He was chilling out, relaxing, thinking
-- such simple things, but so many of us no longer know how to do
up on our speed of thought -- consciously creating islands of slowness
-- is exactly what Petrini and Slow Food call for. Says Petrini:
"Ultimately, 'slow' means to take the time to reflect. It means
to take the time to think. With calm, you arrive everywhere."
a minute, and think about that.
Thanks to Fast
Company. To learn more about the Slow Food Movement, visit Slow
Food on the Web.