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Slow Food - Eating as Agricultural Politics

Defending good food from extinction - and bad food from our dinner plates


carlo petrini, founder, slow food

Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement

James Martin
Modern food is often characterized by the long distance the ingredients have traveled and the low flavor in them as a result. If you analyze the food market and where your dinner comes from, you end up wondering if crude oil is way too cheap--and if food is supposed to taste good or just be the best, scientifically manipulated fuel it can be, considering limited and often flawed nutritional research connected to its manipulation. Let's tackle the problem of distance first:

Then there's taste. First our good, government sponsored scientists took all the fat and flavor out of our pork, then they recently decided they hadn't manipulated my favorite meat nearly far enough.

    Dr. Jing Kang of Harvard Medical School and other scientists have used a gene from the roundworm C. elegans to produce pigs rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of healthy fat abundant in fish but not naturally found in meat. ~ Worm gene eyed for heart-healthy bacon

I don't know about you, but I'm kinda depressed over the thought that a bunch of guys in lab coats get to determine the genetic make-up of my food based on limited and often inconclusive research. What dangers lie in this new meat? If it's profitable, you can guess there'll be few objections to foisting it upon consumers.

Besides, I like the way food tastes when it's raised naturally. That's why I like to eat in Italy. I can actually buy a chicken that has rooted around a barnyard rather than spent its entire life using up its alloted two square inches in an overcrowded agribusiness pen and fed on chemical leftovers or ground-up sheep parts.

Slow Food to the Rescue

Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food movement in order to inform folks of the benefits of locally grown and natural foods prepared well. I've spoken with Carlo at the The University of the Science of Gastronomy in Bra, and heard him speak in San Francisco. You should too. He's fond of telling the pepper story. Peppers are made into a simple dish called Peperonata in his home region of Piemonte.

It seems he was hungry after giving a talk about Slow Food, so he stopped into his favorite restaurant for his seasonal favorite peperonata. But on this occasion, the celebrated peppers seemed entirely tasteless. A little digging and Mr. Petrini found out that the restaurant had recently begun using hydroponically grown peppers from Holland for the peperonata because they were cheaper than the local peppers and uniform; they came in a package of "exactly 32, not 31 or 33."

So Mr. Petrini set out to find the producers of his beloved pepper. He peered into the hot houses that were used to raise the celebrated piemonte peppers and didn't find peppers.

"So, what do you grow here," Carlo asked.

"Tulip bulbs," came the reply. "We send them to Holland."

Yes, indeed, oil must be way too cheap these days.

What Slow Food is all About

Slow food "opposes the standardisation of taste, defends the need for consumer information, protects cultural identities tied to food and gastronomic traditions, safeguards foods and cultivation and processing techniques inherited from tradition and defend domestic and wild animal and vegetable species."

Those are a lofty set of goals. But anyone who's eaten in a fine restaurant using locally produced ingredients knows what happens when you apply those goals. Bliss--and a fair return for the farmer who cares.

Did you know (source: Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity)

  • 75 % of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900
  • 93 % of American food product diversity has been lost in the same time period.

Seems it might be time for action. Chances are there is a Slow Food convivia in your neck of the woods. Join and learn more. Eat well.

Get more information:

Slow Food

Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

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