The Slow Food movement was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy to combat fast food. It claims to preserve the cultural cuisine and the associated food plants and seeds, domestic animals, and farming within an ecoregion. It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement. The movement has since expanded globally to over 100,000 members in 132 countries.
Slow Food began in Italy with the foundation of its forerunner organisation, Arcigola, in 1986 to resist the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome The Slow Food organisation spawned by the movement has expanded to include over 100,000 members with chapters in over 132 countries.
All totaled, 800 local convivia chapters exist. 360 convivia in Italy Ñ to which the name condotta (singular) / condotte (plural) applies Ñ are composed of 35,000 members, along with 450 other regional chapters around the world.
The organisational structure is decentralised: each convivium has a leader who is responsible for promoting local artisans, local farmers, and local flavors through regional events such as Taste Workshops, wine tastings, and farmers’ markets.
Offices have been opened in Switzerland (1995), Germany (1998), New York City (2000), France (2003), Japan (2005), and most recently in the United Kingdom and Chile.
The head offices are located in Bra, near the famous city of Turin, northern Italy. Numerous publications are put out by the organisation, in several languages. In the US, the Snail is the quarterly of choice, while Slow Food puts out literature in several other European nations.
Recent efforts at publicity include the world’s largest food and wine fair, the Salone del Gusto in Turin , a biennial cheese fair in Bra called Cheese, the Genoan fish festival called SlowFish, and Turin’s Terra Madre (“Mother Earth”) world meeting of food communities.
In 2004 Slow Food opened a University of Gastronomic Sciences at Pollenzo, in Piedmont, and Colorno, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Carlo Petrini and Massimo Montanari are the leading figures in the creation of the University, whose goal is to promote awareness of good food and nutrition.
The Slow Food movement incorporates a series of objectives within its mission, including:
* forming and sustaining seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties in cooperation with local food systems
* developing an “Ark of Taste” for each ecoregion, where local culinary traditions and foods are celebrated
* preserving and promoting local and traditional food products, along with their lore and preparation
* organizing small-scale processing (including facilities for slaughtering and short run products)
* organizing celebrations of local cuisine within regions (for example, the Feast of Fields held in some cities in Canada)
* promoting “taste education”
* educating consumers about the risks of fast food
* educating citizens about the drawbacks of commercial agribusiness and factory farms
* educating citizens about the risks of monoculture and reliance on too few genomes or varieties
* developing various political programs to preserve family farms
* lobbying for the inclusion of organic farming concerns within agricultural policy
* lobbying against government funding of genetic engineering
* lobbying against the use of pesticides
* teaching gardening skills to students and prisoners
* encouraging ethical buying in local marketplaces
From time to time, Slow Food intervenes directly in market transactions; for example, Slow Food was able to preserve four varieties of native American turkey by ordering 4,000 of their eggs and commissioning their raising and slaughtering and delivery to market
It is difficult to gauge the extent of the success of the Slow Food movement, considering that the organization itself is still very young. The current grassroots nature of Slow Food is such that few people in Europe and especially the United States are aware of it.
Statistics show that Europe, and Germany in particular, is a much bigger consumer of organics than the US. Slow Food has contributed to the growing awareness of health concerns in Europe, as evidenced by this fact, but on society as a whole, Slow Food has had little effect.
An example of this is the fact that tourists visit Slow Food restaurants more than locals, but Slow Food and its sister movements are still young. In an effort to spread the ideals of anti-fast food, Slow Food has targeted the youth of the nations in primary and secondary schools. Volunteers help build structural frameworks for school gardens and put on workshops to introduce the new generation to the art of farming.
Steven Shaw, a food writer and a founder of the food Web site eGullet, says the Slow Food movement succeeded because it “mixed hedonism with a leftist political agenda”. He further argues that the movement’s “strong antitechnology, antiglobalization views are lost on the average member.” An individual involved in the protection of traditional plant varieties has parted from the Slow Food movement, saying “They really only exist to promote themselves”.
The Slow Food movement’s arguments parallel those of the anti-globalization movement, Greenpeace and green parties against global export of monocultured foodstuffs, especially GMOs.
A central point related to these arguments is that transport prices are artificially low because the true cost of fuel (including the protection of shipping lanes and military interventions around the world) are not factored into the price of goods, and are instead paid for indirectly through personal taxes.