What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of the word "food"? For advocates of Slow Food, "pleasure" should be one of them, the type of pleasure we get when we feel connected to the place, the people and the process of creating healthy and delicious food.
Not surprisingly, Slow Food started in Italy where people were accustomed to gathering together to savor locally grown and prepared food (and wine!) over the course of many hours. When Italians were confronted with the "fast food" of McDonalds, some of them took to the streets. Led by Carlos Petrini, a movement was born, and in 1989 the Slow Food Manifesto was signed by delegates from 15 countries. The movement has since spread to over 150 countries world wide, including many local chapters throughout the US.
According to Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness, the central message of the Slow Food movement is that we get more pleasure and increased health benefits from our food when we cultivate, cook, and consume it at a reasonable pace. Don't worry; this is not about the food police busting you if you eat at your desk or in your car, or if you microwave a meal once in a while. And you don't have to chew each bite twenty times. Its mission is to remind us that there is great pleasure to be found in spending more time with our food. Maybe we enjoy being outdoors tending fruit trees or a vegetable bed. Or, perhaps we love the smell of baked goods, or the sight of jars of freshly made jams and preserves. Possibly we want to sharpen our skills in the kitchen preparing a special dish, or create a celebratory feast from start to finish. And for some of us, it may simply mean having fun sharing a homemade meal with friends from time to time.
This sense of creating connections through food is central. There are the connections to place which are found by celebrating regional foods and cuisine. Enjoying our food more slowly includes the experience of place and seasons through the foods we prepare and enjoy. What are the food traditions where we live? How can we take part in, nurture, and relish the fruits of the land around us? And as we travel (slowly or virtually), how can savor the special flavors—the spice of life—of other places?
Then there are the connections that come from "breaking bread together" as a means of deepening our bonds with one another. Something unique happens when we take the time to share a meal together, especially one that we have had a hand in creating. In addition, our cultural and family food traditions can bring us together and connect us to who we are. By keeping in touch with these culinary customs we stay linked through the generations. Is there a particular apple or tomato that our grandparents grew, or a special bread or cookie made for holidays?
In order to have quality local food products available, we need good quality food locally grown and produced. The Slow Food movement advocates for the protection of agricultural lands for the long term health of our food systems. It promotes local, organic production, family farms, and small-scale processors and sellers. The growing number of farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) is a good indicator of how appealing the idea is becoming. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, a majority of Americans are now interested in having a more direct connection to their food, such as shopping at a farmers' market.
Slow Food is likely the fastest growing part of the all–encompassing Slow Movement. It now includes the establishment of seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties of plants, the Ark of Taste to record the food traditions of different regions, tools for helping small–scale processing of food stuffs, the promotion of taste education events, and classes to teach gardening skills to everyone from children to prisoners, among many other activities. Given the centrality of food in our lives and the pleasure it can bring, it is no wonder that Slow Food is often the first taste of the benefits of slowing down in order to live better, more fulfilling lives.