I am happy to assure you that the slow food movement is still very much with us and has grown worldwide since I last wrote about it on this site. The term “slow food” was coined in Italy in 1986 in response to the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. The movement saw itself then as an antidote to fast food culture, microwave cooking, and eat-and-run meals. It also aimed to broaden the demand for foods from the past, such as fresh whole-grain breads and other baked goods from local bakeries, heirloom vegetables and meats, and non-processed cheeses. Perhaps more importantly, it encouraged people to slow the pace of their lives in order to truly enjoy food and drink. Clearly, this approach had wide appeal. In the U.S. there are now more than 150 local slow food chapters with more than 6,000 members. Around the world, the slow food movement is active in 160 countries.
Today, the movement is not entirely about food consumption. It has broadened its focus to address the current food production system, which contributes one-fifth of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. Slow Foods maintains that wise personal food choices and awareness of how food is produced can help slow climate change. It has made suggestions for both chefs and consumers that include using more local and seasonal produce and eliminating industrially produced meat from your diet as well as reducing meat consumption. If you do eat meat, Slow Foods suggests choosing it from nearby farms where animals have been fed grass and hay and haven’t had antibiotic or hormonal treatments. I’ve been giving the same advice for some time.
Slow Foods also makes the point (as have I) that in general you can have fresher, more nutritious and tastier foods by buying locally.
The organization also maintains an international catalogue, The Ark of Taste, that lists endangered heritage foods from around the world, ranging from fruits and vegetables, to certain grains, cheeses, nuts, fish and other animal foods. As of this writing, the Ark includes more than 4,500 products from 150 countries.
To further reduce the impact of our food choices on climate, Slow Foods makes these additional suggestions:
- Check sell-by dates and avoid buying extra-large packages to reduce waste. This can make a dent in the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually, “enough to feed the 800 million people who suffer from hunger four times over.”
- Look for seasonal food – “out-of-season” produce has less flavor and often lacks the nutrients that natural ripening ensures.
- Choose unpackaged food or food packaged using recycled materials.
- Avoid fish from intensive farms. Tropical prawns, salmon and shark catfish are raised in overcrowded enclosures, given questionable feed, and treated with antibiotics. Fish farms harm the environment.
Andrew Weil, M.D.