The Origins of Slow Food – Or How to Start a Global Movement with Pasta

Every two years, Slow Food members and supporters embark on a pilgrimage of sorts to Turin, Italy for the largest international event dedicated to food, Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. While it isn’t hard to imagine why anyone would journey to Italy for several days of celebrating all things gastronomic, there is less familiarity with the global movement behind the call to slow the fork down when it comes to our food.

In some ways, it’s only fitting that the global growth of fast food planted the seeds of the today’s Slow Food movement. In 1986, a McDonald’s opened near the historic Piazza de Spagna in Rome, just adjacent to the iconic Spanish Steps. Worried that the proliferation of fast food would threaten local restaurants and culinary traditions, Italian journalist Carlo Petrini organized a protest against the fast food chain’s entry into the Italian market. Instead of signs, Petrini armed protesters with bowls of penne, declaring:  “We don’t want fast food… we want slow food!”

While Petrini was interested in preserving taste (as evidenced by the protest penne), he also wanted to support and protect small growers and artisanal producers, as well as safeguard the environment and promote biodiversity. This ambitious agenda led to the creation of the Slow Food movement in 1989, with the goals of defending regional food traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure, and a slow pace of life. Aptly, the snail symbol chosen was chosen to represent the movement. As outlined in the Slow Food Manifesto, this translates into core values that aim to inspire individuals and communities to change the world through food that is good, clean and fair for all.

Some of these values naturally come to mind when we think of Slow Food, such as taking the time – ten minutes or a few hours – to enjoy our meals, or cooking and sharing meals with others. But the Slow Food journey is not prescriptive. Slow Food doesn’t necessarily mean organic food or a particular type diet. It’s food that is good for us, good for our environment, and good for the people who grow, pick and prepare it, and how those practices look can vary from country to country and from culture to culture.

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto – or Terra Madre for short – takes this concept to the big stage every few years. A food advocate’s playground, Terra Madre is dedicated to the promotion of artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high quality products. This year’s gathering will take place from September 20-24, 2018, and thousands of delegates will hear speakers on food production, sustainable supply chain methods, and food gastronomy. Attendees will also be able to tackle the “Gusto” part of the agenda at The Market, where exhibitors from around the word share samples of their country’s gastronomic diversity.

Like many things, food does not exist in a vacuum. There are strong ties between our plates, the planet, culture, politics, and each other. Our choices can influence how food is cultivated, produced, and distributed, and the growth of the Slow Food movement since the 1980s shows that millions of others agree. Today, Slow Food is active in more than 150 countries, and there are more than 170 chapters and 2,000 food communities in the United States alone.

For our part, Slow Food DC invites everyone who eats food – and we think that’s literally everyone – to join us in supporting more good, clean, and fair food and beverages in our region. Our band of merry volunteers aims to promote local artisans, local farmers, and local flavors through a range of activities, including social gatherings, farmers markets, educational programs, and food access awareness. We look forward welcoming you at future events, to share in the conviviality that is at the heart of Slow Food, and maybe even share a bowl of penne.

Until then, check out our Instagram page for updates from our own board member Reana Kovalcik at Terra Madre! 

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