I first encountered the concept of “slow food” at the restaurant Sunmoon in Sofia, Bulgaria (and should you ever find yourself in Sofia, I highly recommend it). They served up delicious homemade sourdough bread and a range of tasty vegetarian options, and their menu stated that they were part of “the international movement of slow food.”
What was the philosophy behind slow food? I was intrigued by the concept, and I decided to do a little research. If fast food meant greasy burgers and fries prepared in minutes and coated in preservatives, slow food had to represent a more satisfying way of eating.
The slow food movement is all about “food that is good, clean, and fair for all.” The founders of the movement, which began in 1989, believed that too many Americans had succumbed to a lifestyle that they dubbed “Fast Life.” Living a “fast life” means living like a machine — always working, never stopping to relax and enjoy what you’re doing.
I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of us. Living a “fast life” seems pretty similar to being “stuck in the rat race.” We’re constantly pushing ourselves towards things that society says we should want, and we never stop to consider if we’re truly happy — or if we even really want the things that we’re spending so much time striving for.
The founders felt that one way to counter this lifestyle was through food. What are you eating if you’re living a “fast life?” A granola bar for breakfast and black coffee in a paper cup (possibly spilling it on yourself as you rush to work in the morning), a quick sandwich and a bag of chips for lunch, snacking on a candy bar from the vending machine, another big cup of coffee around 2 p.m. just to get through those last few hours at the office, a frozen pizza for dinner?
This may sound like a stereotype of a frazzled employee, but it’s the reality for many people. We often move through our days without considering the nutritional value of our food and whether or not we’re properly fueling our bodies. We eat while we’re on the go or at our desks or in front of the TV, we scroll through our e-mails during dinner, we consistently choose convenient over healthy options.
Sometimes, we have to do this out of necessity — someone who is working long hours for little pay may not always have the time or energy to prepare a healthy meal when they return home. But many of us do have the time to spare, and yet we scarf down the more convenient option anyway, unwrapping the plastic packaging to get at the microwavable plate of empty calories underneath.
The slow food movement aims to challenge that habit. Their manifesto states that “a firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.” Supporters believe that if we take time to cook healthy, satisfying meals and slow down to truly enjoy eating them throughout the day, we can become more deliberate and mindful in our other activities as well.
The slow food movement also encourages a focus on regional foods. Rather than always eating foods shipped over far distances, we should try to focus on local specialties. “Eating local” all of the time may be impossible, but checking out a local farmer’s market on the weekend or patronizing restaurants that source their ingredients from nearby farms certainly doesn’t hurt.
And this movement is just as much about the environment as the food on our tables. “Slow foodies” (full disclosure, I made up that label) see how the push to live a “fast life” is harming our planet. The packaging needed for fast food and frozen dinners, the huge demand for animal products that contribute to climate change, and trucking huge quantities of food across the country can all be damaging to our earth. Encouraging people to eat fresh, local foods can help.
Even this common-sense concept can attract naysayers. “Not everyone can afford that!” “Americans are working crazy hours, how can we slow down to eat?” “Some people have to drive miles and miles just to get to a regular grocery store — forget about a farmer’s market!” And these objections aren’t wrong, but they aren’t reasons to give up on this movement — these are just obstacles that we can all come together to solve.
Urban farming, organizations like Food Not Bombs, and school gardens can all help more people access sustainable, healthy foods and give them more time to sit down and enjoy their meals. By focusing on access and education, the slow food movement is part of a larger food justice movement that can help us a create a better, cleaner, fairer world for all — starting at the table.