Slow Down with Slow Food

Slow Food Movement originated in Italy in 1989 when it was learned a McDonald’s was going into a building near the iconic Spanish Steps in Rome. As a form of protest, journalist Carlo Petrini and his friends passed out bowls of pasta declaring “We don’t want fast food, we want slow food.” This was the birth of the Slow Food Movement. Today Slow Food Movement is in over 160 countries with over 100 chapters in the United States.

Slow Food’s primary mission is to “prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast food and fast life, combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us”.

There is so much to unpack in Slow Food Movement’s mission statement! Fast food and fast life have crowded out our traditional multi-cultural food traditions in the United States as well as other traditions like eating together as a family at the dinner table. Do we really know where our food comes from (other than the grocery store), and how our food is grown and harvested? Are the people who produce and cultivate our food working in a safe environment and appropriately compensated for the work?

Slow Food Movement’s philosophy is that food be accessible and enjoyed by everyone and that food be good for them, the growers, and the planet. The Slow Food Movement believes food should be:

  • Good: high quality, flavorful and healthy food
  • Clean: production that does not harm the environment
  • Fair: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers

Full disclosure: Slow Food Movement is not plants only or whole food plant based (WFPB) but both ways of eating do embrace the same principles and philosophy about how food should be.

Seems insurmountable doesn’t is? Yet, on a recent vegan culinary adventure in the Tuscany region of Italy, I was surrounded by the Slow Food Movement mindset. It is engrained in the Italian culture. Italians have a relationship with food I wish was more prevalent in the United States. Because it is a part of the Italian culture – good quality seasonal food grown nearby and is simply prepared is their norm. People in the smaller towns strive for 0 kilometers from grower to table – getting their food from as close to town as possible. Vegetable gardens and fruit trees are common. Stalks of garlic from the garden are braided and hung to dry in the cellar. Root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, onions are all stored in the cellar to be used through out the year. Tomatoes are dried and can be used throughout the year. Fava bean season was coming to an end in May as were artichokes. Vegetables that cannot be stored for the year are eaten seasonally, and when the season ends for each vegetable, people then look forward to having it available again the following year.

Fresh produce stands are abundant in towns. Conversations over the baskets of produce and fruits include admiring the food, asking when it was picked, and how much longer it will still be in season. Questions are answered of how the grower likes it prepared as well as updates on each other’s family and a little gossip is thrown in the conversation too. Italians have tight relationships with their growers. After their purchases and visits with people running the produce stands, people go home and prepare that night’s dinner with their purchases.

Grocery stores stock staples such grains, crackers, jams, dried pastas, various kinds of flour including 00 flour used to make pasta, regular flour, whole wheat and buckwheat flours, and flour with leavening in it to make rolls and pizza crust. Wine, canned tomatoes, spices, olive oil, ingredients used in baking, produce and fruit are also found at the grocery stores. Missing are rows of coolers and freezers of prepared food and aisles filled with chips and snacks.

The 20 regions in Italy each have their own unique dishes prepared based solely on what is grown in that region. Rice (risotto), buckwheat pasta, and pumpkin (ravioli) are common in the Lombardy region. Broccoli, kale, arugula, spinach, garlic, and the famous San Marzano plumb tomatoes are from the Campania region. Veneto produces radicchio, white asparagus, and borlotto beans. Calabria is the land of glorious citrus including clementines and lemons that are as big as tennis balls. Sicily produces onions, chickpeas, eggplant, peas, and apricots. Olive groves are throughout the Italian countryside, and it is not uncommon for someone to have an olive tree or two in their yard along with their garden.

Wonder why there are so many shapes of pasta? Not only does each region have the own unique regional food, they also have their own unique pasta shapes that will best hold the ingredients from that region. Gigli from Florence is a bell-shaped pasta with ruffled edges and holds vegetable sauces well. Rounded, bowl-like, ear-shaped orecchiette (“little ears” in Italian) is from the Puglia region and is commonly served with turnip greens. Penne pasta from the Campania region is a perfect match with an arrabbiata sauce.

When at a restaurant, sitting at a table with a group of friends for a couple of hours is standard. Wait staff won’t bring you a check until you signal to them by waving your hand making a gesture like you are writing or catch their attention and say “Il conto per favore" (check please). There is no hurry to eat – good food is to be savored and enjoyed over conversations with family and friends. The evening is yours to enjoy. Our cooking classes in Tuscany were exciting. We made thin buckwheat pancakes that we then rolled up and sliced and placed in a baking dish. Freshly made tomato sauce was poured over the sliced buckwheat pancakes. We then topped it with peas, roasted chickpeas, and bunches of sautéd spinach and then baked it in the oven. A strange combination of food, but it was delicious! We also made fresh pasta with a marinara sauce and stuffed eggplant. An appetizer made with a slice of cantaloupe, roasted asparagus, and a couple of leaves of basil rolled up in a slice of “prosciutto” – rice paper soaked in beet juice was delicious. Restaurants for dinner and lunch were arranged in advance, and they made delicious vegan food for us. It is not uncommon in Italy to have wonderfully prepared vegetables at the forefront of the dinner plate. Breakfasts included fresh fruit, steamed greens, couscous dishes, salads, juices, and beans.

This is Slow Movement Food in action. We can embrace a Slow Movement Food philosophy too by visiting our local farmers’ markets, pick seasonal food grown in our gardens, eat less packaged and prepared foods, and focus on the delight of whole foods, simply prepared.

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