20th of March 1986 marked the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome in Piazza di Spagna. The launch was not a welcoming sight for the employees of Valentino whose elegant palazzo across the same square was the very manifestation of haute couture. The renowned fashion designer did not think twice and promptly sued the American food chain for constant noise and an unbearable smell of fried food fouling the air.
Valentino was not the only one that this newly opened fast-food restaurant in the heart of Rome rubbed the wrong way. Thousands of Italians took to the streets to protest, commenting on the negative impact of fast food and Americanisation of their culture. This is how the slow food movement was born.
The slow food philosophy opposes the idea of fast-food and is based on these three principles:
- Clean. This thesis refers to ecologically clean food manufacturing which is as harmless to the environment as it is to the people that consume it.
- Fair. Manufacturers should be paid a decent wage for their labour, consumers should be able to buy food at affordable prices.
- Good. A rather subjective point but, as you may have guessed, a cheeseburger is not considered good or flavoursome in a slow foodie’s mindset. Preference is given to traditional local dishes made of seasonal produce.
We are here to tell you exactly how you can bring these slow food principles into your daily life.
1/ Use eco-products
Sustainability isn’t just about using “clean” chemicals and refill options for the products you use. It also comes into your food shopping experience. When choosing food, opt for those certified by LEAF Marque standards that promote sustainable farming practices and try to prioritise biodegradable or compostable packaging. Many cities now have shops that encourage customers to bring their own bags, jars and long-lasting packaging.
Familiarise yourself with the key labels which manufacturers can only display following independent checks according to a set of criteria. These labels have much more weight than a simple product description which can claim sustainability but, more often than not, has no official backing other than a marketing strategy.
When speaking about eco-products, it is important to understand that uncertified foods bought at a farmer’s market are not necessarily regulated. Our instincts tend to paint a rosy picture of market food, where we expect sustainable cucumbers, strawberries and cabbage left right and centre irrespective of certifications.
Unfortunately, apart from the overall food safety and hygiene standards, nobody can guarantee that these vegetables, fruits and berries were grown without the use of chemicals and fertilisers which can be easily purchased in any gardening centre.
2/ Cook at home more
Not as simple as it sounds, considering the frantic pace of life of anyone living in a big city. But the slow food mindset insists that simple homemade food is the foundation of healthy and conscious eating. Instead of rushing to the nearest café before work and snacking on a croissant on the go, we suggest that you start planning your meal prep better.
Just 15 minutes each morning will suffice for planning a simple but delicious breakfast that will cradle you from the hustle and bustle of the outside world and protect your stomach from fast-food options. A lunchbox packed the night before will not only fill you up at work but also save you from unhealthy snacking throughout the day and binge eating in the evening. It is hard to picture a family dinner without some homemade food. There is no need to put up a feast on a daily basis but simple meals made with whole foods are the mantra of the slow food mindset. It does not take long to make a thick vegetable soup or pasta but you will certainly know exactly what has gone into your meal.
3/ Take pleasure in food
The slow food philosophy advocates for a consciously paced eating ritual, which is not just about satisfying your hunger but also about enjoying the food’s taste, smell and look. The more pleasure you can take out of food, the more you will want to cook healthy meals and act responsibly when choosing the ingredients.
So, put your smartphone away, turn of that Netflix series that has been playing in the background or leave that book on your bedside table. Start seeing meal times as a wholesome activity which has no tolerance for multi-tasking. Fully sink into the process: observe your food, appreciate the way it is served, inhale the aroma of its spices, savour each bite and do not rush to gobble up your meal in one go, even when you are really hungry.
4/ Use authentic products
Preservation of traditional local foods and dishes from the omnipresent globalisation is another dimension of slow food advocates’ work. The 1996 project The Ark of Taste initiated by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity focused on gathering products and small-scale production systems at risk of extinction. It encourages everyone to contribute, be it by rediscovering certain foods and putting them back on the table or by eating less of endangered wild species to preserve them.
What you can do is explore The Ark of Taste’s online guide for the country you live in. For each region you can find food products selected by the Slow Food Foundation or nominated by individuals, from the Irish peach apple in the UK to the Andalusian chicken in Spain. There is a total of 5,685 products from around the world. So, next time you think of going to a chain supermarket or café, think again and visit some of the independent businesses that might be using local produce instead and introduce you to some artisanal Somerset cheddar or a Cornish saffron cake (if you’re travelling around the UK). You are bound to get an unforgettable culinary experience but also offer valuable support to the local food production.