Slow Food with Carlo Petrini

A bowl of penne seems puny compared to a fast food giant like McDonalds, and such a stark contrast is an excellent way of making a point. Slow food and fast food are opposites. Fast food is a product of an industrial food chain, while the Slow Food Movement supports food that is good, clean and fair. That means local food chains rather than industrial ones.

The juxtaposition of traditional penne with globalised hamburgers is a poignant one, and Carlo Petrini has an amazing ability with these kinds of examples. The leader of the Slow Food Movement is an inspiring speaker. His talk at the Sydney International Food Festival went for more than an hour, and he was so energetic he only sat down once. The rest of the time he was speaking passionately in Italian, gesticulating intensely, and somehow managing to leave gaps for his talented translator to give us the message in English.

Carlo Petrini believes that food is valuable, and not merely a commodity. He described the top down photographs of food in magazines as being like corpses, and reminded us that these photos of food are at risk of becoming like pornography. There is more to food than recipes and presentation. Food should taste good, it should be enjoyed in good company, and it should be produced sustainably.

Today we spend approximately the same proportion of our incomes on mobile phones as we do on food, but perhaps we have our values misplaced. Carlo explained “When I eat a piece of prosciutto, it becomes Carlo Petrini”, and he patted his stomach. “But this thing”, and he waved his mobile phone in the air, “is always outside of me”.

Embellishing this point, he told us about the owner of a famous mountaintop restaurant. When asked why she was only open for lunch she replied that she did not want to be the richest person in the graveyard. She valued her food for its quality, not merely its worth as a commodity.

In the case of food, what is logical from an industrial perspective is not necessarily logical for local communities, or from the point of view of common sense. Carlo’s example of this was his visit to a famous capsicum growing region in Italy, where he ordered peperonata at a restaurant. The sauce was flavourless, and when he asked where the peppers were grown he discovered they had come all the way from the Netherlands. Worried about the local capsicum growers he was reassured that they were making a living growing tulip bulbs in their greenhouses.

These kinds of ironies of industrial agriculture are surprisingly common, and Petrini had plenty of examples of them. Modeling farming on factories leads to a kind of uniformity that just doesn’t necessarily make good food. Carlo talked about the loss of a breed of cow (whose milk production was relatively low) leading to the loss of a type of cheese. This demonstrated how local cuisine and biodiversity go hand in hand.

To support local tastes and agriculture we have to be prepared to pay a higher price for produce that is locally and sustainably produced. In addition to this Carlo suggested supporting school and community gardens, which can make local produce accessible for lower income families. Running out of time Petrini finished his lecture on a good note. Since we were in the Sydney Opera House he sang us a snippet of opera – in Italian of course.

More about Slow Food
Slow Food Australia
International Slow Food Movement

I’d like to thank Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella for sending me a ticket to this lecture.

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16 thoughts on “Slow Food with Carlo Petrini

  1. Great review Arwen. I totally agree. I am trying to grow my own fruit and veges – but just wish there was a local fruit and veg grower I could go to for some more local produce…

  2. I would have loved to attend this lecture! This man is so right! Why is it that he does not have a wider audience? even though the slowfood movement is now international the steps that are taken are such baby steps! instead of devoting time and energy to producing good, local and healthy food, governments are busy making wars and god knows what else. Sadly even a tiny country like Lebanon is seeing the level of food quality decrease as people resort more and more to imported fast food and neglect the land and its offerings

  3. after reading your post on potato growing i started my own little edible garden and now have a few herbs and veggies growing in a tiny 2 x 2m plot out on the front lawn πŸ˜› did you manage to find a copy of the book ‘moveable feasts’? it’s ironic that a major portion of food grown commercially nowadays is developed more for transportation capability than anything else which is quite sad for our tastebuds and a little disheartening.

    • That’s so exciting that you’ve started a garden! Thanks for the reminder about moveable feasts too, I must admit I’d forgotten it, but I’ll seek it out again.

  4. slow food – this is us here in crete. we also have dutch vegetables imported to our town, and they are just as you describe – utterly tasteless

    the only thing i dont make myself is bread – i might do some baking once a week, but that’s it most of the time

  5. Thanks for sharing, Arwen! However, I’m a little puzzled by some of the points he made. Don’t good recipes go hand in hand with food that will taste good? Recipes are just instructions on how to make ingredients taste good to people who are cooking something for the first time! And also, the restaurateur’s reply doesn’t really answer the question. (Does being open for dinner mean your food is terrible? It may only mean you want to make people happy with good food even at night!)

    Regardless, I do agree with the principles and I love the natural shots you took here πŸ™‚

    • Manggy, I think your attitude towards recipes is great, and doesn’t seem contrary to the ideals of slow food. I think Carlo was criticising recipes being used as rules, or commodities to be sold, rather than as methods for making good tasting food.

      With the restauranteur, I guess the point is that just because you have an opportunity to make more money doesn’t mean that the you have to take that opportunity. Even in a restaurant food shouldn’t be simply a way to make a profit. I don’t think there’s any ideological objection to opening for dinner.

  6. Wow. Excellent report, Arwen. Lots of things to think more deeply about. Some markets in my area have started making signs that tell you where the produce comes from and that helps a lot in choosing what to buy and what not to buy. It’s harder to eat locally when you live in a place like Chicago, though, as the growing seasons are so short.

  7. I always enjoy reading your blog – it’s refreshingly different and always maintains a air of calm serentity. So I’ve passed on my “One Lovely Blog” award to you – please head over to my blog to collect it! πŸ™‚

  8. I think it is now more and more people are growing their own vegies and fruits these days. We are so blessed and thought that our decision to buy a property in the countryside was a great one after all. We can grow selective fruits and eat our own vegetables all year round, and the best thing is the children are having great early years of their lives, close to nature and animals. They know where the food is coming from. I just love living in the countryside.

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