Gordon Ramsay, Britain's most notorious celebrity chef (see On Line Opinion, September 4, 2007) has demanded “stringent laws - licensing laws - to make sure produce is only used in season”. In a BBC interview in early May, Ramsay argued that “fruit and veg should be seasonal. Chefs should be fined if they don't have ingredients in season on their menu.” Ramsay then became yet another prominent chef happy to hypocritically import truffles for their own restaurant yet simultaneously seek to ban the importation of cheap food. Apparently comfortable with this hypocrisy, Ramsay has taken his concerns to the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
UK chefs are not alone in plating politics: the launch of the most recent Greenpeace campaign co-opts Australian chefs against genetically modified food. The list of movements which make statements about the relative moral worth of types of food is long: “fair trade”, organic, food miles, anti-GM and slow food are merely the best known of a growing list. What they all share is a demonisation of modern farming practices.
Of all the modern food movements, slow food is arguably the most seductive. It is also the least well understood. The slow food movement stands in opposition to fast food, to the values of efficiency, mass production, uniformity and speed embedded in fast food corporations such as McDonalds and Starbucks.
Indeed, the term “slow food” was coined in 1989 during protests in Italy against McDonalds opening in Rome. Slow food's slogan is “good, clean and fair”, a global food movement based on what it calls “eco-gastronomy”; food should taste good, be produced in an environmentally friendly way and food producers should be fairly compensated for their work. The slow food movement emphasises conviviality, the shared table, regional cooking and produce, diversity and taste. Slow food is not, as some assume, simply about cooking food slowly.
In Australia the slow food movement has tapped into that affluent group of consumers always looking for “authentic” experiences. They are more likely to read Gourmet Traveller than Donna Hay; Wallpaper! than Home Beautiful. These are the same people who shun the package holiday, deride McMansions (and their occupants) and reject the four-wheel drive vehicles that often accompany those houses.
In short, the typical slow food consumer is a marketer's dream: time-poor, snobbish, a bit green, and very affluent. Increasingly, the unending need to choose the more environmentally sensitive option wracks them with guilt: Is overseas travel unacceptable? What about food miles or ethanol?
The personal decisions demanded by the environmental movement are tiring.
At the same time, these consumers are time poor because they work hard. Australians work some of the longest hours in the world. For many dual-income professional households time is the great dream missing from their lives. Slow food offers the idea that eating in a certain way, eating certain types of food can slow us down, can create a space outside the rat race. No wonder slow food events are so popular.
Similarly, the elevation of food production from work undertaken by poorly educated peasants to a suitable-even enviable-occupation for a tertiary educated “tree-change” generation makes the slow food movement attractive to the small business proprietors creating gourmet food start-ups all over the developed world.
But slow food is not just an epicurean delight - it is a political and ideological movement that rejects modernity and preaches radical environmentalism. The movement is adamant it is much more than a food and wine club. The origins of slow food, in Italy, are political and the movement has never shied away from its goal of claiming good food for the left.
The movement's founder, Carlo Petrini summarises slow food as “a place at the table for the left”. However, it is unlikely that most of the 80,000 global members affiliated with the slow food movement are aware they have joined an organisation formed by Italian communists. Nor would they be aware of the long links between Italy's daily communist newspaper, Il Manifesto and slow food. The original slow food manifesto was published in a food and wine insert in Il Manifesto on November 3, 1987.
The slow food organisation, supported by memberships and its highly profitable publishing arm is now a large and influential organisation with official NGO status at the European Commission.
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