Apr 18 2008

Slow Down, Food is Fun…

“Put a Spoon in Your Hat!”
Peasants Dancing by Pieter Bruegel
It is several years now since I became quietly interested in the growing momentum of the international Slow Food Movement. Up till very recently I watched its progress from the sidelines. Then a few months ago by chance, I met some of the people who drive Slow Food in Devon an I became more involved. Then a little while ago, I was invited to write an article about Slow Food for the Western Morning News, our Westcountry regional newspaper.

It occurred to me that it might also be of interest to all of you all over the world who read Raining Sideways so here is my article in full . …I wrote too much, of course, for the space available in the paper!

Food is Fun! Eating slowly is fun. Slow Food is fun. Yes it is, surely you remember? Or, is it true, have most of us have completely forgotten that eating is allowed to be a pleasure? Are we all getting exhausted, bored and confused by a plethora of food fears and too much information! All those Government health warnings are beginning to make me wonder if even eating is dangerous; maybe it is. What should I be eating; is it safe to eat this, should I eat that. How many pieces of fruit did they say? Is this good fat or bad fat? Should I only buy organic; what about the air miles and third world farmers. And then there’s my carbon foot print, what about that. I don’t want to carry the can for destroying the planet. Am I endorsing the suffering of animals kept in appalling conditions if I eat this? Can I afford to choose? Even drinking a glass of water is becoming a challenge; bottled or tap, fizzy or flat. How’s my heart doing; am I obese or just cuddly? Will I become diabetic if I eat all these yummy cakes and all those chocolates. How safe is all this stuff anyway? Maybe I should stop worrying and just throw it all away; oh, but what about the waste. Apparently in Britain alone, for some bizarre reason, we throw away a staggering twenty million tons of perfectly good food each year. Anxiety is fast overtaking the pleasure of eating.
While Michael Pollen is highlighting the bizarre chemical content of a large part of our diet in his new book; In Defence of Food, the Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating, pointing out, not before time, that we’re often eating chemicals not food at all when we open that easy packet, Delia Smith is “rapping” onto the screen entreating us to “Cheat” our way back into the kitchen one way or another. Heston Blumenthal offers up the deliciousness of his chemistry lab kitchen. Manic amateur cooks bust a gut on Master Chef. And hardly a day goes by without Gordon Ramsey racing round someone’s kitchen telling them, in his own inimitable way, they’ve got it all wrong. And then, of course, there’s the Food Channel. Oh it’s exhausting. How can anyone dare to cook up something after watching all that, even if they do have the skill and the time to do it. Years ago I trained as a professional cook and I’m becoming intimidated! And where has all the fun gone.
Eating is a necessity for life, like sleep and sex. Without all three, we would vanish, oh so quickly, from this planet earth. But we do seem to have forgotten that food is so much more than simply fuel for the perpetuation of life. We know of course that everyday meals are an essential for survival. As I said, without food we die. That is the human condition.

I sometimes wonder if we are becoming so overwhelmed with choice, advice and food as entertainment that we are forgetting that sharing food with our families and friends brings with it so much more than mere survival. Food fuels friendship, love; it opens dialogue, cements treaties, brings together disparate groups of people, nations even, in the act of sharing. All over the world in the poorest communities, sharing what little food there is brings welcome, comfort and companionship in times of crisis and despair. It engenders love, yes, love and harmony. Food is convivial, remember the Latin; convivere means “to live with, hence to feast with”…so it does!
It doesn’t matter whether we’re sharing a brunch or a breakfast, a long Sunday lunch, a sandwich with a friend in the park, a kids tea party, fish and chip supper in the paper (a must), a snatched snack with a colleague during a lunch break, supper in the pub or a really special dinner for two; we eat together, we share life. We talk, we chat, laugh, story tell, put the world to rights, argue, irritate, confront, enjoy each others company. It is through this closeness and sharing that we have the chance to overcome the stresses and tensions of our separate lives and learn to respect our differences and have a fleeting chance, once again, to learn tolerance and love.
We sit around tables, large or small, linger in the sun, lounge in front of the fire, eat picnics on the beach. We share sheep’s eyes in the desert or sushi in Japan. Mezzo and tappas, pasta or borsch, pizza or paella, curries and cous-cous; all around the world, when we eat together we share the source of life itself. And if you ask the Slow Food people, they’ll tell you the best way of sharing this source of life is always Slowly!
In 1986 Carlo Petrini started the Slow Food Movement as he witnessed, to his horror, a large shiny McDonalds land on the Spanish Steps in Rome. Before his eyes, in a flash, he saw the spectre of traditional food vanishing across Italy and the world. He saw small suppliers and farmers in jeopardy from the might of the food giants; he saw the demise of local produce and producers, years of skill and tradition going to the wall. Thanks to his energy and vision, Slow Food now has some 80,000 members all over the world with forty local groups or “convivia” in the UK alone.
Slow Food is slowly helping us to relearn the pleasure and true value of our local food. It is teaching us once more to celebrate the diversity of food in general and encouraging us to support our own food producers, growers, farmers. It is reminding us all to respect their skill and knowledge.
The Slow Food philosophy states that “everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. The movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy; a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet. Slow Food is good, clean and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.”
This philosophy is taking hold quietly all over the world. Each member country has its own local “convivia”, who in turn celebrate and preserve their regional and cultural traditions. There may be local feasts and picnics, visits to food producers and farms, fishing trips, talks, films, conferences, events for children; whatever is appropriate, educational and fun for their part of their country in their part of the world. Here in Britain the headquarters are in Ludlow, Shropshire with convivia thriving here in Devon and Cornwall and Somerset.
At this years international meeting in Mexico, Carlo Petrini rather charmingly and quaintly put it that “Slow Food has no ambition to be a political party….love & friendship are at the heart of it…we must nuture craziness & foolishness and live the adventure in a joyful manner together….. it is the autonomy of the convivia that make it anarchic but in a libertine way….”
So, lets put the fun back into food; share it with friends. Buy local, support the wonderful food producers we have in Devon and Cornwall. We live in a beautiful farming peninsula surrounded by sea! Support our Westcountry fisherman and our farmers. If we don’t, we’ll loose them all and become dependant on imported food whose provenence we know little of…. Go to the Farmers Market near you, check out your local Slow Food Convivium. But above all, whatever food you choose to buy, whatever you cook, whatever you eat, make sure it’s good, clean and fair. Eat it slowly with your friends and family, enjoy it and have fun.

One response so far

One Response to “Slow Down, Food is Fun…”

  1. tim relfon 22 Apr 2008 at 8:51 am

    You’ve done it now… didn’t have breakfast all that long ago and you’ve gone and made me hungry again!

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