March 2004


Does fast food make you sick? Do you yearn for a time when we weren't 'too busy' to cook? Then join the Slow Food revolution.

 The world is awash with fast food. And our streets are awash with the cartons it comes in. While pretentious middle class women with time and money on their hands may implore to us to learn 'How to Cook', most of us just want to get indoors and slam something in the microwave. Cooking has become, at best, a competitive sport to be carried out for dinner party purposes only. The rest of the week we salve our consciences by simply buying the more expensive ready meals from M&S to kid ourselves we're eating well.

So if you feel a twinge of guilt as you open a micro meal or a packet of 'ready washed' potatoes (who is so busy they can't wash a potato?), then maybe you should consider signing up to join Slow Food.

Italians come out fighting

What began as a horrified response by Italians to the ugly presence of a McDonalds in one of Rome's most historic and beautiful squares has grown to be an international movement to promote the concept of food as a part of life not a mere fuel, as well as a vital component of a country's economic and spiritual culture.

There are now over 60,000 members of Slow Food in all five continents with about half that number living in Italy. Slow Food's main offices, in southern Piedmont, employ about 100 people and are the hub of a network of local offices in Italy and abroad, the 'convivia', which stage events, debates and other initiatives.

Food as an issue

I met up with Wendy Fogarty from Slow Food to find out more about the Slow Food philosophy. Rather like a Greenpeace activist or anti-fur protester, Wendy is very knowledgeable about her subject and not the foody bore one might have expected. Her talk is of countries gastronomic identities, the death of small producers, the obesity rates amongst children and the moral responsibilities of suppliers. And while corporations like McDonalds attract flak from Slow Food, the mega supermarkets are equally held responsible for our ongoing food laziness.

Playing Devil's advocate I suggest that the average family want cheap food whatever the cost and that hand wringing over quality is a luxury only the wealthy can afford? Wendy accepts that cost is an issue, but argues that it's absurd that a ready meal should cost less than the sum of its ingredients. And that cheap food comes at a price -the supplier screwed to the floor on profit, forced to produce food that fits a template and to supply it under ripe and invariably tasteless.

Chinese takeaways

And it's going to get worse. 'The supermarkets' quest for ever cheaper products means that we are about to see a massive influx of food from even further away. Chinese onions, for example,'she points out. 'That's a long way to come and incredibly wasteful, but the supermarkets get the produce so cheap it makes twisted sense to them.'

Of course Slow Food can seem terribly worthy even, dare one say it, a little snobbish. But that's the fault of food's pricing structure.' Wendy argues, 'It shouldn't be necessary to be on a large income to afford a tasty tomato. Not so many years ago we all ate quality fruit and veg at reasonable prices.' It's true. Those of us that grow vegetables in a garden know that tasty veg don't conform to some standardised size and shape and that potatoes normally come with mud on them and there's nothing wrong with that.

Get involved

Slow Food organise tasting sessions around the UK and Europe, helping people identify what makes good food great. A recent cheese session, focussing on English cheeses was a great success and an eye-opener for many of the guests. The next Slow Food event will be in Ireland this March and details are available on the Slow Food website. It's a chance to celebrate the best of Irish food and culture, with events ranging from special Presidia dinners at some of Kenmore's best restaurants, to watching artisan black pudding, raw milk cheese and chocolate being produced.

In fact a glance at the website, gives more of a flavour of what the Revolution is all about. The slow concept unfortunately seems to extend to the website which is frustratingly snail like to load. But then, good things invariably come to those who wait.

Neapolitan chef Antonio-Tubelli

Slow Food needn't mean hanging around