Slow food is all about local and traditional foods made to be savored. It’s a reaction against the mass production of the fast food industry.
The slow food movement promotes healthy, locally-sourced food and regional traditions to combat the mindless and hurried consumption of food in the modern day.
It encourages people to cook wholesome meals – and take the time to really enjoy their food.
And it’s about preserving local cultures and heritage in a world where fast food franchises are wiping out diversity with their homogeneous menus.
The slow food movement
The slow food movement was born in Italy in 1986 as a backlash against the opening of a McDonald’s near the historic Spanish Steps in Rome.
Founder Carlo Petrini saw the American fast-food giant as a threat to the local food traditions that were slowly disappearing.
Today, the Slow Food Movement has grown to 100,000 members in 160 countries. There’s even a local chapter here in Cairo.
These local chapters often host regional events like wine tastings and farmers’ markets, and celebrations of local cuisines.
The slow food movement is involved in anything from educating consumers about the risks of fast food to lobbying against pesticides and running seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties.
And it’s spawned offshoot movements that also promote slower and more sustainable lifestyles, including slow fashion (with its focus on fair wages and the environment) and slow travel (which combats overtourism).
Slow food meaning
Here are the basic principles of the slow food movement:
- preserving local food cultures and traditions
- emphasizing the joy of eating and savoring your food
- encouraging local farmer’s markets
- promoting traditional foods and the stories behind them
- working to preserve family farms
- promoting organic farming
- teaching gardening to young students and prisoners
- encouraging the farming of plants that are part of the local ecosystem
Slow food vs. fast food
Slow food is a reaction against the dangers of fast food – to both people’s health and the environment.
The movement lobbies against pesticides and genetic engineering. And it warns of the dangers of industrial agriculture (including environmental concerns and the fossil fuels used to distribute food worldwide).
The slow food movement raises awareness of overproduction and food waste caused my the mass consumption of junk food. And it stands in support of local farmers and labor rights, aka fair food.
The movement also promotes animal welfare. It’s not strictly vegetarian, but it does argue for limiting your meat consumption and buying meat from small farms.
Slow food examples
So what’s actually considered slow food?
It’s any meal that meets the main ideas of the movement. It doesn’t have to be organic or necessarily healthy, but a slow food meal is often made with locally-grown foods. It’s made with the nourishment of the body in mind. And it’s eaten mindfully and appreciatively.
A slow food meal is the opposite of a fast food combo that’s scarfed down in the car and hardly remembered hours later. It’s against the “fast life” where consumption overrides pleasures and customs.
Slow food is prepared with knowledge of where the ingredients come from, whether they’re made fairly with respect to the workers and farmers, and how their production impacts the environment. It can often include free-range poultry and grass-fed meat, though much of slow food is plant based.
A slow food restaurant will often serve regional cuisine with a focus on quality not quantity. This kind of restaurant will often source their ingredients from local farmers and artisans instead of using processed or imported goods.
The ark of taste
The slow food movement’s Ark of Taste project aims to catalogue endangered heritage foods worldwide.
As many regional products are slowly disappearing – and loosing out to more commercial varieties – the Ark of Taste seeks to promote biodiversity and regional cuisine.
The ark includes animal and vegetable species along with products like cheeses, sweets and breads that often come with traditions passed down through generations.
The project aims to raise awareness of food products that are facing extinction. It also educates consumers how to protect this heritage by supporting diverse foods.
Many incredible, distinct foods are disappearing worldwide due to industrialization, climate change, wars and migration.
The Ark of Taste raises awareness of these threats. And since 1996, it’s catalogued some 5,700 products from more than 150 countries.
These products are all unique, sustainable and part of a specific ecoregion. They range from raw salt from the Siwa Oasis in Egypt to the rustic plant of amaranth grown in the Argentinian Andes.
The slow food movement has been accused of being elitist – and unrealistic for many people who lack the time and money to eat whole, healthy foods.
Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini says that “everyone has the right to good, clean, and fair food.”
But in reality, these whole foods are often more expensive.
And preparing slow food is a time-consuming process with costly ingredients that not everybody can afford. It takes time to develop the knowledge to appreciate and discern different cuisines.
If you’re a busy student or a working mom, for example, you may not have the luxury to shop for specialty organic tomatoes at a weekend farmer’s market. And it’s often easier to just order some take-out instead of cooking a wholesome, homemade meal.
You may love the concept of slow food.
But how can you realistically bring these slow food principles into your everyday life?
Here are some practical tips:
- Plant an herb garden. If you have a patio, a balcony or even a kitchen windowsill with potted plants, then grow some herbs to sprinkle over your meals. A pot of rosemary won’t make you an off-grid minimalist – or even cut your grocery bill. But it will give you an appreciation of fresh, wholesome food that you’ve grown yourself.
- Cook some staples in bulk. Learn how to meal prep and cook up batches of basics like rice, potatoes and chopped veggies in bulk. Use these ready-to-eat ingredients to throw together healthy and affordable meals throughout the week. Meal prep saves you both time and money – and it’s a great alternative to junk food.
- Support local eateries. When you’re eating out, opt for the small ma and pa restaurants over international franchises. Pick eateries that use local ingredients and serve regional foods over cookie-cutter commercial restaurants.
- Buy fresh ingredients instead of processed foods. Learn the art of a simple and quick sauce made from scratch. They’re tastier than their jar counterparts – and they can also be prepared in bulk.
- Record your family recipes. Spend some time diving into your family’s food culture and traditions. Make a catalog of your favorite recipes and regional favorites from your culture that have been passed down through generations.