As we stretch to reach the finish line of another frenzied holiday season, I’ll offer a friendly reminder: Slow down. Breathe. Take your time. “The race is not to the swift, but to those who survive it without a complete mental and physical breakdown,” or something like that.
At a time when most of us are scurrying and hurrying, it also seems the perfect opportunity to talk about slow food. No, this won’t be a column about crock-pot cookery or Dutch ovens. It’s about the Slow Food Movement, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. At present, there are some 83,000 Slow Food members worldwide and even a chapter'or “convivium” as they call it'here in Utah (SlowFoodUtah.org).
Perhaps you’ve heard of it, or maybe not. More than just about any organization besides the American Democratic Party, the Slow Food Movement is sorely in need of a good spin doctor to help de-obfuscate its agenda. Reading through the Slow Food mission statement is enough to make me want to flee to the comfortable confines of Carl’s Jr. The impetus behind the Slow Food Movement is a straightforward and simple one; if only it could simplify its message.
If you know anything at all about Slow Food, you probably know about Carlo Petrini. He founded the Slow Food Movement in Italy in 1986, ostensibly because he was pissed off about a McDonald’s opening on Rome’s Piazza di Spagna that year. Never mind that by 1986, McDonald’s restaurants littered the land from Corpus Christi to Katmandu'this particular Big Mac emporium really stuck in Carlo’s craw.
So he started the clumsily named Slow Food Movement: “An international association that promotes food-and-wine culture but also defends food and agricultural biodiversity worldwide.” Slow Food also “opposes the standardization 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 defends domestic and wild animal and vegetable species.” See what I mean?
I have to confess that I am not a member of Slow Food, although I applaud their efforts and principles. And I hear there’s a conscious attempt to make Slow Food more inclusive and more of a “people’s” movement. In the past, I found the organization to be a bit elitist; a single membership is $75 annually. But then, I’ve never really been a joiner anyway. Take Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste,” for example. The notion here is that Slow Food-ies are intent on rediscovering “forgotten flavors,” in much the way that, I suppose, ethnomusicologists attempt to catalog and revive forgotten sounds. That’s a laudable notion. But to read about the Ark of Taste in Slow Food communications makes my head hurt.
If I might be so bold as to pare down the Slow Food message myself, it’s essentially this: Part of a good and healthy life consists of sitting down and breaking bread with friends and family'in other words, slowing down at mealtime. And while we’re at it, let’s eat and drink wholesome foods, wines, etc., which are produced as close as possible to where we live, without a lot of muss and fuss. In one of its uncharacteristically lucid statements, Slow Food suggests that, “Every day can be enriched by doing something slow'making pasta from scratch one night, seductively squeezing your own orange juice from the fresh fruit, lingering over a glass of wine and a slice of cheese'even deciding to eat lunch sitting down instead of standing up.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.
And that’s precisely what we need to be doing as we pinball around town looking for that perfect Christmas gift or loading up shopping carts with exotic comestibles from faraway places to feed holiday party guests. A Slow Food-ie would counsel you to instead host a holiday gathering which might feature locally produced breads, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, pastries, beers, wines and the like. After all, which would make you feel more loved this holiday season: an astronomically priced tin of Iranian caviar, or a simple salad, lovingly prepared with local ingredients? Let’s say fresh greens from Bell Organic Farms topped with Drake Family Farm goat cheese from West Jordan, a crunchy baguette from Crumb Brothers or Volker’s, and a bottle of vino from Native Wines alongside.
But I also consider pulling up a piece of curb and munching on a freshly made carne asada taco from one of Salt Lake’s exceptional streetside taco vendors in the midst of a crazed shopping day to be in the realm of “slow food.” Tradition and convenience aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, one of the most wholesome traditional foods (not to mention delicious) I’ve ever eaten could, I suppose, be considered “fast” slow food. Late at night and in the wee hours of the morning, small crowds gather around carts in the Ciudad de Oaxaca to purchase “tlayudasâ€'freshly made tortillas grilled over a wood or charcoal fires, smeared with black beans and topped with “queso fresco” and cabbage. Simple, delectable, and made on-the-spot from fresh ingredients, the tlayuda is the type of Slow Food that more effete Slow Food convivium members might have once shunned.
But in recent years, the local Slow Food movement seems to have loosened its necktie a bit. I know that one of the goals for Utah Slow Food Convivium President Christi Paulson is to make Slow Food more accessible and less stuffy. May I suggest starting by banning the word “conviviumâ€?
So if you’d like to know more about nourishing your gastronomic soul by using local products, patronizing locally owned independent markets and restaurants and meeting other like-minded culinary citizens, then slow down and take the time to check out Slow Food.