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swirl and savor

The Slow Food Movement in a Snail Shell

Beth Ribblett

To the uninitiated, the exact meaning of the Slow Food movement can be a bit elusive. Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.

Slow Food burst into being in 1986 as a protest to McDonald's establishing its first outpost in Rome's historic Piazza di Spagna. The prospect of the golden arches among the city's baroque facades was too much for Carlo Petrini (pictured below), a journalist and gastronome from the Piedmont region of Italy.

Petrini and fellow founder Folco Portinari wrote a manifesto to champion slow food as an antidote to the "fast life" and "fast food" that have drastically altered cultures worldwide over the last 100 years. As Portinari wrote, "Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food." The Slow Food Manifesto was signed on November 9, 1989 at the Opera Comique in Paris and was endorsed by delegates from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and Venezuela.

The gist of the manifesto and the movement is to cook, eat and live slower. This is done by avoiding mass-manufactured products and preserving local and regional foods and traditions and especially focusing on the cultural cuisine and the associated food, plants and seeds, domestic animals and framing within a region.

Slow Food has over 100,000 members that are involved in over 1,000 convivia - local chapters - worldwide. Membership dollars fund a host of programs dedicated to educating through school and campus based initiatives, promote local and regional foods, safeguard biodiversity and connect people around the country with their food and the people who grow it.

Feeling moved by the Slow Food movement? Derrick Schneider, author of the food blog Obsession with Food and a Slow Food member for years, had a few suggestions for those hoping to slow down.

1. Become a regular at the farmers' market.
Local growers have the freshest ingredients you can buy and are a great source of information. As Schneider puts it, "Don't feel shy about asking how to cook something or how it grew." Farmers and food artisans are usually happy to educate their customers about the products they grow and create.

2. Get a cookbook to guide and inspire your changing habits.
Getting used to buying whatever looks best (as opposed to the specific ingredients needed for a particular recipe) can be a challenge, but a good cookbook can help you plan meals and menus around the treasures you find at the farmers' market.

3. Be willing to look around for high-quality food.
Depending on where you live, a wide variety of products, from cheeses and wines to grains and sweeteners may be available. Contact your local Slow Food chapter to find sources for hard-to-find products, or ask around. You may be surprised by the variety of high-quality food that's out there once you start looking.

4. Sit down and share meals with others.
Enjoying food in the company of loved ones is an important part of the Slow Food philosophy. As Schneider suggests, "Sit down with your family--or even your roommates--at the dinner table and enjoy each other's company. Open a bottle of wine or beer and just take a moment to slow down and appreciate your life. Eat slowly and have a conversation."

If the Slow philosophy piques your interest, please join Jeff Roberts, author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, on Wednesday for a free Slow Food New Orleans event at St. James Cheese Company. This evenings “American” themed festivities will include small plates by local chef Bart Bell, samplings of sustainable and organic California wines by Swirl Wines, accompanied by artisan American cheeses from St. James Cheese Company and beer by Kirk Coco of NOLA brewing.

We’ll have a Slow Food information and membership table set up if you are interested in joining or you can go to Call Swirl, 504.304.0635 or St. James Cheese, 504.899.4737 for more information. St. James Cheese is located at 5004 Prytania Street