The Slow Food movement began as a protest against the building of a McDonald's near the Spanish steps of Rome in the late 1980s. Today the movement counts more than 100,000 members from 132 countries -- including local groups here in both Spokane and Stevens County. Slow Food members look at food as more than caloric gas with which to fill the physiologic tank. They believe food should be savored, and that the production, preparation and consumption of food are sacred.
The Salone del Gusto is overwhelming, and I wander the immense hall consuming a bewildering array of samples from around the world. An egg from a hen living on a goat-milk diet, soft-boiled and served with white truffle shavings. Sheep's milk cheese aged in pig bladder. Peruvian tomatillo marmalade, Transylvanian pickles. Twenty-year-old mead, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar. Wild strawberry jam with rose petals. Sausage made from a pig's head with lemon and orange. Smoked fat from 3-year-old free-range pigs (most livestock pigs live about eight months). Garlic flowers marinated in artichoke oil. Honey made from acacia, rhododendron, lime, dandelion, thyme and chestnut flowers. Truffle salami. Prosciutto up the wazoo -- so much better than what you can get in the States. And at every turn, vino, vino, vino.
Thousands of people milling about, stuffing their faces and getting their collective buzz on is truly a beautiful thing. Which is why I was surprised to hear Slow Food's founder, Carlo Petrini, tell me: "I'm sick of masturbatory gourmets, people who smell a glass of Bordeaux for half an hour and speak divinely, as if they are priests, 'Oh, it has the wonderful smell of horse sweat.' No more cooking shows, please; no more stirring pots on television."
This comment embodies a shift in the focus of Slow Food. While the movement started as a healthy response to fast food, it's often criticized as an esoteric supper club for people with the means and the time to have long, drawn-out dinners together. While many Slow Foodies are aware of the environmental and social consequences of food production, these topics have generally served more as dinner conversation than rallying cry. But now there is a focused effort to make social, political, and environmental activism part of the agenda.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hile the Salone del Gusto maintains the traditional Slow Food values of good and clean food, the adjoining Terra Madre brings together 8,000 farmers, businesses, educators, students and activists for discussions and workshops on responsible, sustainable and fair food production practices. The passageways connecting the two events are lined with stands celebrating the street food of the world, with dishes like tripe sandwiches, deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with meat and cheese, shish kebab and fried calamari.
This year, for the first time, there is also an emphasis on textiles and music. Says Petrini: "Natural fibers are part of the farm economy, so they need to be here. Agriculture is not just an economic sector, like steel. It's much more. It's life. Rapport with the land. It's social and sacred. This is about identity. That's why we didn't want professional musicians playing so-called 'world music' that's stolen from farmers. We wanted real farmers playing real farm music."
This widening shift in focus will serve the movement well. Personally, I've never felt the need to join Slow Food because I don't need a club to help me be a food snob. I already obsess about where my food comes from. I already sit down for epic feasts with my friends.
But an organization that takes an active role in making good food a right and not a privilege, that seeks not only to comprehend the full consequences of our food choices, but to do something about them on a large scale -- that's an organization that can gain my support.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ess than a week into his term as the new president of Slow Food USA, Josh Viertel addressed the 800 members of Slow Food USA who made the trip to Turin, and announced: "The problems in our food system disproportionately hurt poor people and people of color. These are the people who are less able to access the benefits of Slow Food. I'm going to change this organization so that it's not just about pleasure. We are going to become a social justice organization. I want to live in a world where the food is good for the people who eat it, the environment, and the people who grow it."
Viertel told me that, in addition to moving the organization in a direction that's more activist and less pleasure-centered, he's determined to bring more young people into the movement. He thinks that the shift toward activism will do that by tapping into the natural idealism of youth. "Young people are the ones who don't want to inherit the world as it is, who have a stake in making it better," he says. "Youth are leading the sustainable food movement."
I shared a spleen sandwich with Alice Waters, chef, author and matriarch of the Slow Food movement for decades before it had that name. Alice has written a book, called Edible Schoolyard, about putting kitchens and gardens in schools.
In addition to connecting kids with their food, she thinks school gardens will help them comprehend the struggles of farm workers. "We need to include the farm workers at every discussion. We may understand good food, we may understand clean food, but we don't understand fair food. Asking for a few pennies more for tomato pickers isn't enough."