Paradoxically, we can thank the fast food industry for facilitating culinary enlightenment. Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food® movement in Piemonte during the 1980’s to protest the appearance of American fast food establishments in Italy. His efforts have been so effective that the organization now has over 100,000 members in 132 countries. Slow Food’s mission is to preserve and promote local and traditional food products, including their lore and preparation. Education is key, with celebrations of local cuisine, “taste education” events, programs revealing the risks of fast food, protecting family farms and teaching gardening skills to captive audiences: students and prisoners. This has led to political protests and lobbying against genetic engineering, the use of pesticides and for the inclusion of organic farming concerns in agricultural policy.
Slow puts more on your plate than you can handle at one sitting, but there’s a great example of all these concepts in one supermarket in Torino: Eataly, the “supermarket of the future,” as Corby Kummer calls it in The Atlantic Monthly, where you’ll find food products, cafes and educational presentations dealing with slow concepts. Meat sold at Eataly comes from nearby ranches, organic flours are stone ground at a local mill, the best tomatoes and mozzarella arrive from Naples for the pizza made on site in a huge wood-fired oven. There’s espresso made with coffee beans from a farming cooperative in Guatemala, where the working conditions, schooling and healthcare of the farmers and their families are guaranteed by Slow Food. Apprentices in a prison in Torino roast the beans over a wood fire. Every effort is made to shorten the distance between the area of production and the point of sale, keeping the prices accessible at the same time.
There’s another aspect of slow that is not part of the organization’s mission statement. It’s the old meaning of the word, “requiring a long time.” Food would play a critical role in shaping my future, one slow step at a time, but I had no idea that my love affair with Italian food would take me into the world of international haute cuisine.