History and purposes of the international Slow Food movement
Seventy thousand members in five continents, gathered in 450 groups called "Convivia" in thirty-six countries. Slow Food, a non-profit association founded in 1986, aims to promote conviviality, hospitality, taste education, and food and wine culture.
It restores dignity to healthy material pleasures and defends the variety and diversity of typical kitchens and products. It restores to the senses the function of a means of knowledge and pleasure and favors a correct relationship between the human being, food, and wine.
Such principles may seem to be a strictly gluttonous and hedonistic concept, limited to a group of wealthy gourmets, but in reality, without losing its nice characteristic of informality, the aims of Slow Food go far beyond the slow enjoyment of the good things in life. The association was born informally in 1986, when a handful of friends, led by Carlo Petrini ("Carlin" for all), as a reaction to the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome's most beautiful square, Piazza di Spagna, decided to give it the internationally understandable name of Slow Food, to signify a different way of conceiving life.
The idea spread and excited many people from different countries. The main spokesman and president of the Association, Carlo Petrini, organized a meeting of all the Slow Food delegations and representatives in the world, in December 1989, at the Opera Comique in Paris. On that occasion, the Slow Food Manifesto was drafted. It is a short text, written with a certain degree of solemnity and rhetoric.
It is worth reading and meditating on this document:
"This century, which has been born and grown under the sign of industrial civilization, has first invented the machine and then transformed it into its own model of life. Speed has chained us, we are all prey to the same virus: Fast Life, which conditions our habits, invades our places, and forces us to feed on Fast Food.
However, Homo sapiens must recover his wisdom and free himself from speed before it turns him into an endangered species. Therefore, against the universal madness of Fast Life, firm defense of the slow material pleasure is necessary. Contrary to those, who are the most, who confuse frenzy with efficiency, we propose the vaccination of an adequate portion of assured sensual pleasures, which should be supplied in a way that provides slow and prolonged enjoyment.
Let's start our defense at the table with Slow Food, to fight Fast Food and rediscover the richness and aromas of the local kitchens. If Fast Life, in the name of productivity, has modified our lives and threatens our environment and landscapes, Slow Food is today a vanguard reaction. And the real culture is right here, in the development of taste and not in its impoverishment; it is here that progress can begin, with international exchange of history, knowledge, and projects. Slow Food is an idea that needs many qualified supporters to help give this (slow) movement an international scope, under the symbol of the snail".
The manifesto concludes with the mention of the snail. This little international and hermaphroditic animal was chosen as a symbol in a feature that reveals the informality and sense of humor that characterize Slow Food. The snail, of which the delicious culinary characteristics are forgotten in this case, is an emblem of slowness, prudence, and patience. It is evident that the snail is against speed, against the frenetic exasperation that distracts men, depriving them of the healthy possibility to feel and taste, in their blind race, that makes them too eager to appreciate and remember what they have just eaten, but to devour.
The editorial stage: gastronomic tourism and culture
1990 is not only the year in which Slow Food acquired its definitive personality. It is also the moment when a fundamentally important stage begins: the publishing activity. This has to do with the experience and inclinations of Carlo Petrini, commentator, journalist, writer since his early youth. Slow Food establishes a link with the prestigious Gambero Rosso publishing house and launches works on the market that are mostly brilliant, indispensable, and successful.
Vini d'Italia (a complete annual guide to the country's wine industry, which has become an irreplaceable reference point and has impressively encouraged the production of quality wines by small and medium-sized companies), was followed by Osterie d'Italia, the only guide to the local cuisine of all Italian regions, in which very few restaurants (popular and low cost) are described, as well as the inns and taverns that preserve and observe tradition and where one can eat at a reduced cost.
The number of restaurants listed is increasing every year and has reached 1,600 in 1999. It is necessary to add that its success has not affected the circulation of other national gastronomic guides, including the Michelin, but it has stimulated them to give more importance to a type of gastronomy that has not been studied much in the past. The quality is democratized and the search and discovery of places of these characteristics become a fundamental and extremely amusing attraction of tourism. I believe that publishers in Mexico and other Latin American countries should take seriously the success of this absolutely original experience carried out in Italy.
Slow Food's publishing activity is developing and growing. Regional recipes, tourist-food itineraries are published, and finally, after three years of work, the impressive volume Guida di Vini del Mondo, published in five languages, describes 1,900 wineries from 30 countries and their best wines. The second edition has come out and the third is in preparation.
Other works followed, and are still following: Guida al Vino Quotidiano, Il Placere del Vino, Formaggi d'Europa, books on vodka, vinegar, regional cuisines, etc. Two quarterly newsletters sent to members, Slowfood and Slowine, precede the Association's most ambitious and important publication: the Slow magazine.
In 1996 Slow was born, the quarterly newspaper, "messenger of taste and culture", published in five languages (Italian, French, Spanish, English, and German), which is sent to all members and deals with food, consumption, wine, taste, techniques, with sometimes scientific, sociological, historical, journalistic, essayistic or literary points of view. It is unquestionably the most elegant and serious publication in the field of gastronomy, and a wonderful ambassador for the ideas and philosophy of Slow Food.
Initiatives: pleasure, a means of culture
The Convivia network is organized in small local structures. Each Convivium (which in Italy is called Condotta) periodically organizes thematic meetings and dinners, gastronomic initiatives, visits to interesting places, and tasting courses. The Convivia collaborate to carry out study meetings with members of Convivia from other places, organize round tables, etc.
In Italy, an initiative called La Settimana del Gusto has been very successful, bringing young people closer to high-quality restaurants: for seven days, more than 60 restaurants, the best in Italy, offer young people under 26 years of age a tasting menu at a reduced price. The Fraternal Tables partially or totally finance solidarity projects in different countries, such as a hospital in the Amazon, the canteen of a school in Sarajevo, a social cheese factory in Umbria, in the region devastated by an earthquake in 1997.
In the field of education, the Taste Workshops are lessons with absolutely original characteristics, they are a true Slow Food invention. Aimed at adults or children, these are guided tastings with comments from specialists, which are not of commercial interest and allow participants to learn about production techniques, history, and organoleptic characteristics of certain foods, wines, and their combinations. These quotations can also reproduce typical, traditional, or historical foods of special interest. Taste Workshops are one of the main tools for spreading the word about Slow Food and one of its greatest attractions.
It would seem that these initiatives can be imitated by Convivia in all countries, they are means and methods applicable to any society, they do not follow a rigid scheme and they are adapted to all circumstances; and, it must be repeated, they are at the same time very fun and very instructive.
The Ark of Taste: like Noah, save the good that lives
It is a two-phase project to get to know, catalog, and safeguard high-quality food production and to guarantee them an economic and commercial future. The project was outlined in 1996, and in 1997 it acquired a defined consistency. Its objectives are to safeguard the small food production threatened by the industrial homologation, the bureaucratically hyper-hygienic laws, and the norms dictated by the great distribution.
In addition, it is dedicated to protecting biodiversity threatened by modern techniques and policies that aim to exterminate it. Let us not forget that today 95% of the world's food needs are met by less than thirty plants. Slow Food aims to contribute to saving the economic, social, and cultural heritage made up of peasant and artisan heritages that are not catalogued and described, but are rich and complex.
The Ark of Taste has undertaken the search for and cataloging of forgotten flavors and threatened treasures and will prevent their disappearance, valorize microeconomies, marginal areas, fighting for the defense of the environment. In order to define the intervention strategies, which naturally vary from case to case, a Scientific Committee has been formed to define the criteria for the selection of the products to be safeguarded and admitted to the Ark. These products may be of both animal and vegetable origin and include techniques and knowledge unknown to most. Each Convivium and Condotta suggests and indicates, duly documenting the need for access to L'Arche, the products it considers appropriate.
The Slow Food International Award: What our civilization forgets
This is the most recent initiative and will have the greatest global impact. Starting in the year 2000, each year in a different city, starting with Bologna, 600 judges (researchers, men, and women of science and communicators) gather in October in order to appoint five persons or entities that, because of their experience, activity, and work, have contributed to eco-gastronomy.
The idea is to reward individuals or entities that deserve help, little-known initiatives were taken to preserve something that our civilization forgets, eludes, or gives up, and people to whom Slow Food owes much. The chosen ones (in whose election the members participate indirectly, by appointing judges, eight of whom, for example, are responsible for appointing the Mexican Convivium), will receive the certainty of enormous publicity of their activities, recognition, and the amount of 10,000 euros.
The gastronomic-cultural activism of Slow Food, whose Latin American and Caribbean Convivia have not yet been developed, has an evident relationship with tourism and other initiatives and activities that promote a higher standard of living, a high degree of knowledge, recognition, and, substantially, culture. If today's Homo sapiens sets out to do so, he/she will achieve (obviously, slowly, in the Slow style) that his/her life, and that of future generations, remains.
By Jorge De'Angeli. Source: Congress on Gastronomic Heritage and Cultural Tourism in Latin America and the Caribbean