I admittedly know very little about the Slow Food Movement so I thought I would do a quick bit of digging and see what I could come up with on a cold, rainy afternoon. After you’ve finished reading I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!

For the uninitiated, the Slow Food Movement (SFM) seeks to encourage people to recognize the pleasures associated with food consumption, whether it be the way something tastes, or the enjoyable social time spent preparing a meal or producing its components. It seeks to foster communities with food as a unifying factor, as the consumption of food is one thing all people share. By coining the term ecogastronomy, they have put a name to the appreciation of environmentally considerate methods of food production with the hopes that every meal will be a reminder that we can all make a difference with our food choices, and can contribute to a more sustainable supply chain.

In terms of specific goals, SFM endeavours to: protect and support local communities by making the connections between producers and consumers more direct, with the intent of benefiting local economies; decrease food miles; encourage sustainable behaviour with respect to the environmental impact of food production; preservation of local identities and cultures; contribute to the understanding and practice of respecting one’s right to good living; approach all of the above from a multiple bottom line perspective, to ensure that the economic, social, and environmental needs of food production are all met (Tencati and Laszlo, 2012).

These are some fairly lofty goals, seeking to undo the harm that decades of the agro-industrial complex have caused, but every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A decade ago, Jones et al. (2003) wrote that it was fortunate that SFM started in small cities in Italy rather than large ones, because they felt that the actions of a Slow Food city could merely provide “small-scale environmental improvements and ameliorations”, and concluded that it is highly doubtful that SFM could ever challenge the agri-food industry and convert the modern world’s eating habits. Ten years on it would be interesting to note what SFM has achieved.

With continued wide-spread deforestation, erosion of agricultural lands, urban sprawl draining natural resources, governmental concessions made by deregulating genetically modified crops, and the ongoing success of fast food chains, it would appear as though Goliath has yet to be slain. Destruction always moves with greater rapidity than construction, so it should not be expected that SFM would have resolved centuries of environmental misuse in a mere decade, but shouldn’t mean that SFM is without its merits… the movement is slow, after all.

A quick scan of the literature reveals very little in the way of critiques on the effectiveness of the slow food movement, which isn’t necessarily indicative of its success, but could be reflective of its value as something worth studying. The critiques I did manage to unearth were related to the commoditization of Slow Food labelled products, where issue is taken with the establishment of production standards and creating consistency with products, which is seen as detrimental towards the ideals of biodiversity that SFM sets forth (Lotti 2010). Lotti makes a valid point here, and begs the question as to whether or not the Slow Food organization should be commoditizing or branding food as a governing body, since it does seem a bit counter to its purpose. Adopting some methods of the conventional food system should not be frowned upon per se, as it is a system that clearly works, albeit with some kinks; however, perhaps the movement would be better served to simply offer its constituents advice in the matter of branding and product uniformity on a producer by producer basis, which would leave room for diversity among the movements supporters.

Overall, I see SFM as a constructive way of dealing with the agroindustrial complex, building a viable alternative to the conventional food system that coincides with the push for tighter regulations on certain malpractices, and morally questionable activities. It presses the conversation without being confrontational. Combining action with activism, re-linking food with the environment, SFM unites intellectualism, environmentalism, and spirituality without the use of emotional triggers. It is this that allows newcomers to join the conversation not out of guilt or anger, but with a clear mind and perhaps a new perspective since anyone who needs to eat should share an interest. It is perhaps because of this mentality that 1500 associations have developed worldwide, including right here in Guelph (http://slowfoodguelph.ca/)!

References:

Jones, Peter, Peter Shears, David Hillier, Daphne Comfort, and Jonathan Lowell. “Return to Traditional Values? A Case Study of Slow Food.” British Food Journal 105.4/5 (2003): 297-304. Print.

Lotti, Ariane. “The Commoditization of Products and Taste: Slow Food and the Conservation of Agrobiodiversity.” Agricultural Human Values 27 (2010): 71-83. Print.

Tencati, Antonio, and Laszlo Zsolnai. “Collaborative Enterprise and Sustainability: The Case of Slow Food.” Journal of Business Ethics 110 (2012): 345-54. Print.