What Is the Slow Food Movement?

Megan Stubblefield
Slow Food

The slow food movement is a global initiative focused on encouraging people to stop eating fast food, instead taking the time to prepare and eat whole, locally-sourced foods. The focus is not only on nutrition, but also on preserving culture and heritage as it relates to food.

History of the Slow Food Movement

'Slow Food' stands in opposition to 'fast food' in more ways than one. According to Meghan L. Holmes from the Food First Institute for Food and Development Policy (FFIFDP), the Slow Food movement founder Carlo Petrini was reacting against a McDonald's restaurant that opened in Rome, seeing it as a threat to native food traditions. Holmes states that the movement itself began in 1989, largely with an eye towards moving away from real or perceived fast-paced food consumption habits and eating traditional cuisine instead of rootless fast food. The movement has expanded significantly since then.

According to SlowFood.com (SF) many of the major milestones of the Slow Food movement began to occur throughout the 1990s and have continued until the present, after the movement got its start in Paris in 1989. SF chronicles the modern timeline of the Slow Food movement, showing how Slow Food organizations began to appear throughout Europe, Slow Food international fairs were held, and numerous other Slow Food foundations, networks, campaigns, projects, and initiatives began.

Objectives and Policies

People within the Slow Food movement have multiple goals in mind. Slow Food USA (SFUSA) indicates that it has maintained many of the Slow Food Movement's original goals, which included preserving local food cultures and emphasizing the joys of eating, based on the idea that fast food was making it difficult for people to savor what they ate. However, Holmes states that the movement's goals have expanded to include broader environmental, labor, and health concerns.

Slow Food Boston (SFB) discusses some of the movement's health-related and ecological concerns about the natural resources, chemicals, and additives necessary for large-scale industrial agriculture and the quantity of fossil fuels that are required to distribute food throughout the world. According to SFUSA, supporting local farmers and agricultural workers and promoting animal welfare are also fundamental Slow Food objectives.

SFUSA states that the Slow Food Movement rejects factory farming but does not reject the consumption of meat altogether. Instead, they recommend that people limit their consumption of meat and buy meat from smaller farms that meet high animal welfare standards. SFUSA states that the Slow Food movement opposes the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and supports GMO labeling. When it comes to certified organic food, the SFUSA takes a mixed stance and states that farms can meet the standards of Slow Food with and without organic certification.

Slow Food Movement Organizations

The Slow Food Movement is extensive in the United States. SFUSA is one of the largest international grassroots organizations dedicated to the goals and objectives of the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food Boston is just one of SFUSA's many chapters throughout the country. However, Slow Food is a huge international movement. According to SF, there are Slow Food organizations in many major industrialized nations, including Switzerland, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom, although many other countries have still been involved with the movement. Organizations like SFUSA operate using a network of volunteers that work as educators in different communities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

Assistant Professor Stephen Schneider at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa outlines many of the disease outbreaks and labor rights scandals of the modern food industry that have surfaced in recent years, all of which are the sorts of problems that the Slow Food Movement seeks to address.

  • Given the goals of organizations like SFUSA, the success of the Slow Food Movement could potentially lead to mass improvements in persistent societal health and environmental problems.
  • Local farmers and small business owners could receive a tremendous amount of support on an individual level.
  • Some Slow Food organizations, including SFP, have willingly printed critical statements on their websites, suggesting that they are at least receptive to constructive criticism.

Cons

However, there are people that support the goals of the Slow Food Movement but criticize its methods and its potential biases. Heather Rogers at the American Prospect outlines in detail many of the systemic factors that still favor industrial agriculture at the expense of the sort of agriculture championed by the Slow Food Movement.

  • Slow Food Portland (SFP) referenced a panel discussion where many of the speakers criticized some Slow Food Movement members' focus on individual consumer choice and lack of emphasis on pushing for reforms in the agricultural industry.
  • In an opinion piece, Karen Hernandez at the Feminist Wire considers the feminist implications of the Slow Food Movement, particularly its emphasis on time-consuming home food preparation.
  • She also illuminates some of the class issues surrounding some of the demands of the Slow Food Movement, including the expense of regularly cooking fresh local foods.

Slow Food Lifestyle

Not everyone can practice a Slow Food way of life, but it is still an option for many people. According to SFUSA, people can incorporate Slow Food principles into their lives by eschewing processed foods, eating free-range poultry and grass-fed meat, preparing natural ingredients from scratch, raising their own food at least in part, and maintaining a strong level of awareness about the sources of their food. The SFUSA also encourages people to join or support the Slow Food movement. People can be involved on an individual or societal level.

What Is the Slow Food Movement?