Did you know that Monday is Slow Food day? Earlier this year I was lucky enough to hear a keynote by the so-called “Father of Slow Food”: Carlo Petrini at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa. An Italian food activist, Petrini started to expound the virtues of eating locally-grown, typically organic produce back in the mid-1980s and founded the now international Slow Food Movement. According to the Movement’s web site, Slow Food means “living an unhurried life, beginning at the table” and being against the commercial planting of genetically engineered crops.
There’s no doubt that for Petrini, the act of slow food is not just a passion, but also a political endeavor, yet unlike most of the politicians we come across in the U.S. he doesn’t try and ram his views down our throats. Instead he conjures up another time when food was inevitably blessed before being eaten and valued because scarcity was always a possibility.
“My grandparents used to kiss the breadcrumbs left on the table at the end of a meal as a way of saying “thank you” before wiping them away,” says Petrini. He firmly believes we have lost the soul connection to the food we eat, and thinking about the number of times I eat on the run, standing at the kitchen counter, or even in front of the fridge with the door wide open, it’s hard to disagree.
You can read a recap of his speech on my Alice Dishes blog here: but I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the tips I picked up from listening to him. Before I do though, here’s a statistic that I found staggering:
“We produce food for seven billion people on the planet, yet one billion still don’t have enough to eat.”
Part of the problem is our (often) wasteful ways. Petrini paints an uncomfortably familiar scene that plays out all too frequently in my life: you drive to the store, spend a lot of money on groceries, get busy, dine out and end up not cooking or eating half the food you bought. Inevitably, after a few weeks resting in its chilly graveyard you finally walk your food to the trashcan.
It’s a good reminder to apply a principle that all good chefs adhere to: plan what you are going to cook before you go shopping and buy only what you need.
Petrini also talks about the importance of maintaining biodiversity. “Productizing everything is killing the future and ruining the soil. Thousands of species are being lost.” Think about the fairly recent reemergence of heirloom tomatoes. They may not look pretty but boy, do they taste good. He tells us we need to return to thinking of eating as an agricultural act, by which he means that all of us who “consume” are part of the ecosystem of farming. We all need to become “co-producers” and recreate the alliance between food producers and citizens.
So what does this mean in practical terms? How can we help? He gives us a few answers:
- Find out where your food comes from, or better still go straight to the farm, and then tell people where you bought your produce giving credit to the growers and the farmers.
- Stand up for food labeling. California’s Prop 37 required that all genetically modified foods be labeled as such, but unfortunately wasn’t passed on the November ballot. Big food brands with too much to lose spent millions to defeat this Proposition. Look for produce labels that start with "9"
- Cook with leftovers – this, Petrini believes – is the real art of cooking, pointing out that the word “economy” can be traced back to the Greek word oikonomos, "one who manages a household". Think of that wonderful Tuscan bread and tomato salad, Panzanella, devised as a way to use stale bread.
- Keep your food heritage alive by tapping into the “University of Grandmothers.” Talk to your grandparents and the elders in your family about what and how they used to eat; share recipes before they are lost.
Petrini urges us to get involved in building new paradigms. We need to reject waste; give food back its value; seize our common heritage by preserving centuries-old livestock breeds and seed stock, wrest control away from multi-nationals and support the many new organic farmers who are tending to the land. Think Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma, Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley and Terra Firma in Winters, CA..
We can start by doing something for International Slow Food Day. Maybe take the time to cook a simple home-made meal tonight, savor every mouthful, and stop for a moment to mentally thank the farmers and workers who made it possible for the food to make it to your table.