A modern heritage foodstead
I was reminded recently of the many amazing projects Slow Food International is responsible for creating. Not familiar with Slow Food International? Most larger areas have a local convivium (or chapter) organizing events, tastings, markets and such. But bigger than your immediate Slow Food community is Slow Food USA and bigger still is Slow Food International.
Of course, Michael Pollan already wrote about it and managed to perfectly word some of the curiosities of the movement. He admits when he first heard of the Slow Food Movement, he thought “the whole idea sounded cute.” He goes on to say:
“Here were a bunch of well-heeled foodies getting together to celebrate the fast-disappearing virtues of the slow life: traditional foods traditionally prepared and eaten at leisurely communal meals. They aimed to save endangered domestic plants and animals – the Vesuvian apricot, the Piedmontese cow – by eating them. Slow Foodies were antiquarian connoisseurs, I figured, with about as much to contribute to the debate over the food system as a colloquium of buggy whip fanciers might have to add to the debate over SUVs.”
From afar, the Slow Food Movement appears indulgent and privileged, but dig deeper and you’ll see that while the affluent certainly have greater access to ingredients and leisure time to enjoy good food in a communal way, many of the foods championed by the movement are common and inexpensive. And the beneficiaries of the movement’s efforts are decidedly indigenous and anything but well-heeled. And the foods championed are far from upper crust society foods. Michael Pollan had this to add:
“Barbecue and beer are as much a part of the movement as endangered oysters and rare sakes.”
Slow Food is a movement packed with seeming contradictions. As a movement celebrating the hyper-local, what do you do when your favorite indigenous food tradition is in danger of vanishing forever? You create a global market. Want to save an endangered species of livestock? Easy, save them by eating them. A little paradoxical, but effective.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxCarlos Petrini birthed the Slow Food movement in response to the opening of a McDonald’s on the Piazza di Spagna in Rome with the unusual strategy of simply focusing on purposefully celebrating “all those qualities that McDonald’s’ inexorable drive toward the homogenization of world taste threatens: the staunchly local, the irreplaceably unique, the leisurely and communal.”
Rather than employing the expected defiant and angry approach, Slow Fooders instead intentionally celebrate and revel in the pleasure of a good, traditional meal. Why? Well, Carlos Petrini had decided that “those who suffer for others do more damage to humanity than those who enjoy themselves.” So, by cultivating sheer pleasure and community, Mr. Petrini has created the unexpectedly successful antithesis of traditional activism. It’s a movement for lovers not fighters.
And, Slow Food has developed an interestingly counter-revolutionary set of institutions and ideas. Terms such as eco-gastronomy, virtuous globalization and projects like the Ark of Taste all place the focus squarely on identifying the problem, determining what we can do about it, and doing it.
All very amazing and hopeful. Today the Slow Foods project that’s on my mind is the Ark of Taste. You say you’re not familiar with the Ark of Taste? Well. Am I glad we’re having this chat. The Ark is an ever-expanding list of all the foods that Slow Food deems worthy of defending against the crushing force of corporate culture and industrialization. A bucket list of endangered foods.
The international list features over 800 items from over 50 countries. The USA list is a catalog of over 200 valuable foods in danger of extinction. And guess what? American Milking Devons are on the List!
Why the exclamation point? Well, the Ark of Taste is kind of special. They don’t just take any HoHo or Ding Dong – to be included, you have to qualify. Nominated foods are evaluated by the Slow Foods biodiversity committee and have to meet the following criteria:
Outstanding in terms of taste—as defined in the context of local traditions and uses
At risk biologically or as culinary traditions
Culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice
Produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies
Who knew changing the world could be as enjoyable as tucking into a beautiful Devon steak, a loaf of bread made with White Sonora Wheat or a schmear of traditional Creole cream cheese?
A few more things you can do:
Being virtuous has never been more delicious. What food tradition is in danger of being lost in your part of the world?