Embrace Slow Food

An organic food evangelist tells us about the Slow Food movement and why there is value in eating locally and organically grown foods


I had never witnessed or partaken of a buffet of this kind even at the most lavish of Indian weddings. It was more a banquet than a buffet. And knowing that it was good, clean, fair food being served made it even more delicious to me. I was fortunate enough to be invited to Terra Madre by Anandi Soans [South Asia Director of Slow Food*] who read about me initiating The Farmers’ Market in Mumbai in 2010. Terra Madre [Mother Earth in Italian] had been launched in 2004 to give visibility to small-scale sustainable farmers and link them with other stakeholders [chefs, academicians, indigenous people, food communities, food artisans, NGOs and others] for collaborative change in our food system. The one I attended, in Turin, Italy, was brimming over with the widest variety of nationalities possible under one roof.

From fast food to slow food

Slow Food is defined by three interconnected principles:

  1. Good food—Food that is of good quality, flavoursome and healthful
  2. Clean food—Food production that is done in a way that it does not harm the environment and is clear of harmful chemicals
  3. Fair food—Accessible prices of food for consumers and fair trade for producers.

Terra Madre was an amazing experience to know and feel how we are not alone in wanting change. Parallel sessions with lectures, discussions, film shows kept us busy; we home-stayed with local Turinites. Simultaneously Salon del Gusto was also being held in the same premises so that Terra Madre participants could get a taste of good, clean and fair food and also be able to purchase. Salon del Gusto, another Slow Food project, has become a popular international fair dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and grow high quality products.

The highlight of the Terra Madre event

Amidst music and dance at the finale event, the crowning moment was listening to Carlo Petrini speak with passion about the need for safeguarding our food supplies and the importance of saving biodiversity to save the planet. It is he who has been the heart of the Slow Food movement. He founded it with a group of activists in the 1980s and in his words, ‘Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature.’ In 2008 The Guardian named Carlo Petrini as one of the 50 people who could save the planet. In 2013 he received the highest UN environmental award, Champions of the Earth. It is an amazing story of what one man can achieve. Carlo Petrini is one of the key people responsible for upholding many important practices that promise us safe food. Many hold him in very high esteem, as do I. It is Slow Food that supported The Farmers’ Market, Mumbai, in its first few years for which we are very grateful. And today we are proud to be part of slow food’s global network of farmers’ markets called The Earth Markets which respects the slow food philosophy. (More details on www.earthmarkets.net and  www.farmersmarket.co.in)

 Some other projects of Slow Food are

  1. 10,000 Gardens which creates good, clean, fair food gardens in African schools and communities.
  2. Ark of Taste draws attention to delicious foods that are at a risk of extinction. Identifying these foods ensures that they stay in production.
  3. Presidia sustains quality, protects unique ecosystems, safeguards native breeds and local plant varieties.
  4. Chefs’ Alliance is a network of chefs defending food biodiversity across the world.
  5. University of Gastronomic Sciences.

Slow Food represents a global movement involving thousands of projects and over 1,00,000 members in over 160 countries. Over 1500 Convivia [Slow Food chapters] exist all over the world and India is just beginning to have a few. It is very simple to become a member. Log onto www.slowfood.com to know more.

Why the need for Slow Food

Slow Food is a watch dog for us as far as our food history goes. Every consumer cannot be expected to know details of what goes into his food. And even though we may take the time to read labels, we all, in our hearts, want to believe that what is available is good for our body, mind and soul. Organisations like Slow Food assist us in ensuring this. For instance one of Slow Food’s projects is “Say NO to powdered milk in cheese” which we may not even be aware of. Similarly there is “Save the Bees”, “No GMO”, “Save Seeds” and many other projects demanding that we safeguard our food chain for ourselves and our future. Slow Food celebrates food and demands that it remains delicious as it is meant to be.

Slow Food recognises the strong connections between the plate, planet, people, politics and culture. Our lives are interconnected with the life of the planet we live on. For too long we have relied on businesses to give us our daily bread without questioning its impact on our health or on that of the earth or on that of the farmer who produces the raw material or his agricultural wisdom that will be lost to us if we are unable to attract his children to the field. If we do not do something quick, our inheritance and traditions will be forever lost and we will have no food on our plates and certainly no food that is nourishing. For too long profit has overtaken ethics. We need to understand the urgent need to go back to our roots and the wisdom of food sanity that is essential to feed the world in a wholesome way.

Slow Food in daily life

Living with full awareness of how our food choices affect the lives of our children is what Slow Food is all about. So, in real terms, what is a Slow Food way of eating and what are its benefits? Being conscious of what one consumes, buying as local as possible [eat the Indian millets as opposed to quinoa, eat sabza seeds instead of chia], seeking out small producers [artisans if you please], knowing the company or people one buys from [at least some research to know the motive behind the company], choosing variety of traditional foods, opting for organic, cooking slowly and eating slowly are some of the ways of ensuring that all is not lost on the food front.

Slow Food began to counteract the influx of Fast Food in our lives. So if we want to taste life in its fullness, we need to slow down to savour it before it is too late.

I have been saying since over three decades, eat according to your taste buds but choose the organic versions of whatever it is you decide to favour [hoping, at least, it isn’t going to be a bunch of refined foods!]. Slow food is saying the same thing, choose whatever, no restrictions, just buy local, buy fair, buy good, buy clean, buy small, buy traditional, buy variety, use some intelligence. This will ensure good life for all and for the future too. So the benefit of understanding the slow food philosophy goes beyond just personal health benefit, it also takes care of the earth in which we reside and all its guardians. Not asking for much, just some common sense.

* Slow Food is a global NGO that envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.

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