Today’s world moves at a lightning-fast pace. I can travel to the other side of the globe in less than a day, send messages to my friend across the country in a matter of seconds, and hear about current events two continents away just moments after they occur. Although the speed of such communication seems beneficial, many have wondered whether our desire for a fast-paced society has resulted in us losing other things.
Plagued by this concern, specifically regarding what people eat, Italian journalist Carlo Petrini started the Slow Food organization in 1986 to oppose the global spread of fast food. The founding manifesto states, “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.” Petrini specifically protested a McDonald’s opening in Rome across from the historic Spanish Steps.
Many others, believing that the “Fast Life” has harmful consequences, have followed his example, forming subgroups of the Slow Movement such as Slow Living, Slow Travel, and Slow Money. Slow Food, Petrini’s organization, remains the most significant of these subcultures. Spread across the world, with thousands of members and hundreds of chapters, the movement has a single goal: to improve the way we all eat. Local groups strive for this in different ways. Some chapters, staying in line with Petrini’s original goal, spend most of their time protesting the spread of fast food and encouraging the growth of small artisan food production. Others support organic and sustainable farming. Some groups think that the best way to change the current flawed food system is by educating the public about nutrition, the horrors of factory farming, and the lack of genetic variation among mass-produced crops. Other chapters work more directly with the government, lobbying for funding of organic farms and encouraging bills to limit the use of pesticides and genetic engineering in commercial agribusinesses.
Upon founding the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini stated, “everyone has the right to good, clean, and fair food.” Unfortunately, no matter how many reforms the movement creates, this goal seems unattainable. Cynics criticize the Slow Food movement as elitist, because not everyone can afford to buy only local, organic produce or spend the time to make dinner from scratch every night. The fact is that there’s a reason that fast food chains, large factory farms, and genetically homogenous crops have all become commonplace: for a comparatively low cost, they produce a lot of food. Organic farms don’t use pesticides, which means they have to throw out a greater percentage of their harvest than other farmers. The United States currently has 1 million farmers, but if we wanted to feed everyone only organic produce, we would have to increase this number to 40 million.
There is a middle ground, however. I understand that our society has progressed past the point at which we can only eat what’s produced locally, and it just isn’t feasible for every farm to become organic or for smaller businesses to replace all fast food franchises. However, even if Petrini’s original goal may never be attained, I agree with the Slow Food movement’s original ideology and the intention of the movement’s name. When people quickly grab a fast food meal, they are eating only to fulfill a biological need. Every chapter may strive for Petrini’s original goal in different ways, but simply by focusing so intently on food, they are instead turning meals into experiences. I believe that this mindset is the most important and universally accessible aspect of the Slow Food movement. Regardless of expense or even time, everyone can afford to slow down to appreciate and truly enjoy food.