Slow is Beautiful (and delicious)

In response to the blanding or world cuisine, Italy's Slow Food movement is now sweeping the United States.


| November/December 2000



Slow Food, a movement launched in Italy, is now sweeping the United States with the message that fast food and factory farming lack taste

Ami Lax is waging a food fight. She wants to teach people to savor instead of scarf. In our speed-obsessed age, the true pleasure of eating has been lost. Flavor, freshness, nutritional value, the special knowledge about where our food comes from--even the primal experience of breaking bread with family and friends--have become less important than convenience. We've been hamburglared, McMuffined.

But for every wave, there's a backlash.

Enter Slow Food, an international lobby devoted to reawakening our taste buds and preserving regional cuisine. 'May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency,' says its manifesto.

Lax is leading the charge for a rethinking of our relationship with food in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the movement's most active centers. 'People have forgotten how to taste,' laments Lax, who recently opened Harvest, a new local restaurant featuring regional cuisine. 'Slow Food is really about reawakening the senses.' The movement originated in Italy, where fast food has been less than successful at puncturing long-standing culinary traditions; fast food accounts for only 5 percent of food eaten away from home in Italy, compared to 25 percent in the rest of Europe and 50 percent in the United States. Founded in 1989, Slow Food is the brainchild of Carlo Petrini, an activist who began preaching his lefty food views back in the '70s via pirate radio and organized protests against the first McDonald's in Rome. Today, he presides over a burgeoning international phenomenon with 60,000 members in 42 countries.

The movement made little splash in America until last March, when a New York office opened; since then interest around the country has mushroomed. Media attention and endorsements from notable chefs such as Alice Waters of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley spawned a flurry of eating groups, or as Slow Foodies call them, 'convivia' (from the Latin word for festive), which sponsor meals, lectures, and trips to farms and other regional food producers. Already there are over 2,500 members and 30 convivia in the United States. For $60 a year, Slow Food members receive the movement's handsome journal, Slow, invitations to international events, and the satisfaction of contributing to the spread of joyful meals across the land. The movement's Academy of Taste program, for example, develops education programs in grade schools to teach kids about food, and its Fraternal Tables project is helping farmers in Nicaragua recover agricultural land.