If food is an intersection of culture, community, economics, health, ethics and environment, then one global movement is seeking to revolutionise the way we live. Despite the common misconception tying it to casseroles, the Slow Food movement is Italy’s answer to fast food and the dominance of agribusiness. It’s an answer that seems increasingly palatable to a growing number of people worldwide.
As a member for the last ten years, Festival Director Joanna Savill has invited the movement’s founder, Carlo Petrini, to talk about Slow Food‘s approach to agriculture, food production and gastronomy, as part of the Sydney International Food Festival’s focus on “Green and Sustainable” eating.
Below is the transcript of our email “interview” with Petrini, in full.
What prompted you to found the Slow Food movement? And what were you doing before you founded it?
The start off Slow Food was the idea of many people that gathered around me during the years involved in activities and initiatives carried out in the eno-gastronomic field. I always was a part of social movements and have been a cultural organizer both in the music and in the gastronomic fields. My activities also involved the writing of food articles and the publishing of themed magazines and guides to wine and restaurants.
Things evolved when in 1986 there was a scandal in the wine production of the area I live in, the sophistication of wine with quite important quantities of methanol, so I committed even more strongly to the promotion of good wine in this area of great wine production and in trying to improve its quality. In 1989 Slow Food international was founded in Paris.
What are some success stories from the Slow Food movement in Italy?
For a success story from the Slow Food association in Italy we could mention Terra Madre, the world net of food producers that produce in a good, clean and fair way. Since 2004 Slow Food works to create and strengthen this net of thousands food communities that meet in Italy every two years.
Another example could be the one of the Presidia, that started with the Ark of Taste and further evolved into Presidia, created to protect small producers and to preserve the quality of artisan products.
What are some of the challenges for Slow Food in a modern world?
One of the challenges for Slow Food is to educate and raise awareness on sustainable and healthy food consumption. Education is an important action through which small producers can be also safeguarded. Educating consumers to understand where their food comes from and how it is produced transforms them into co-producers that choose to buy local products and are protagonists of the food chain economy.
There are many social injustices in the food system: we are 6 billion people in the world and we produce food for 12 billion, but 1 billion and 200,000 people are starving. We find on one side starvation and on the other the consumerism of the western world where people suffer from excesses having pathologies like diabetes or obesity, because of modern day food consumption. The challenge for Slow Food is to support Good, Clean and Fair small scale producers in order to balance these differences.
There is a conception that Slow Food inevitably costs more to the consumer, meaning that it is a luxury available only to the wealthy. What do you think?
This is an old prejudice and we have to live with it. The Slow Food manifesto declares the right to pleasure, but this does not mean luxury. Simple and good quality food is not necessarily expensive and it can be affordable on a daily basis. The secret of a good cuisine lies in the pursuit of this quality and simple ingredients. Maybe it is more ‘expensive’ from the time and organizational point of view, to commit to buy local products instead of shopping ready made meals at the supermarket.
But the main problem in my opinion is the general attitude of wanting to spend as less as possible on food. Food is important, it becomes part of ourselves and is the basis of our wellbeing. People seem though more keen on spending great amounts on status symbols such as cell-phones and fashion items.
What is your favourite kind of meal experience?
A table with friends and simple food made with good quality ingredients, with of course lots of laughter.
What are your opinions on globalisation and on agribusiness?
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of year 2005 by the United Nations, identifies the food production system in its whole as the main cause of the planet’s destruction in terms of pollution and loss of biodiversity.
Agribusiness as the application of an industrial model to food production causes the destruction of the planet’s natural resources and it is a model that ends up by having an environmental cost that is paid by the whole society. One could not argue by saying that there is the urge of ensuring food security to the world population, because even sustainable agriculture and the return to local economy can be adequate solutions. As we are witnessing nowadays, small scale productions are constantly rising. The future of economics is local and on small scale, especially after we have experienced the failure of the global consumerist model.
Have you seen the film Food Inc, and if so what do you think of it?
We presented Food Inc. at the last edition of the Slow Food on Film festival, held every year in Bologna. The director Robert Kenner was also there so we had the opportunity to discuss its topics with the public as well. The strength of this film lies in its leit-motif: “You can choose, 3 times a day” by deciding what to eat. It is a concept and an attitude on which Slow Food is also insisting: consumers empowerment and awareness that they are co-producers, that they are involved in the food production-consumption chain as protagonists and that they can make the difference.
What: Good, Clean & Fair: Carlo Petrini in conversation with Joanna Savill
When: October 18, 2pm.
Where: Sydney Opera House