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Based on research that shows the connection between nutrition and cardiovascular disease, the Mediterranean diet contributes to better health. However study authors rarely specify that the Mediterranean diet is meaningless without high quality products. If we eat bland vegetables with no smell, if the small amount of meat allowed comes from animals kept under stressful conditions, and if the fish that is so highly recommended is pumped full of antibiotics, then what is the benefit of trying to cook Mediterranean?
The agrifood industry is in the process of taking over the fundamentals of life, transforming the social family meal into the solitary indigestion of fast food. We are no longer truly eating—we are only getting by. The agrifood industry continues to increase production to the detriment of quality, which is causing us, slowly but surely, to forget the pleasure of eating.
When we think of fine dining, more than ever we think of people who are affluent, who can afford to spend a lot of money on meals in high-end restaurants. In short we feel as if the pleasures of the table are exclusively reserved for the privileged few. To deny the pleasure of eating is, in a way, to deny our capability of satisfying our own senses and our critical ability to understand and make our own choices. In other words, it is to lose our sovereignty over food. Enjoyment should absolutely not be associated with excess, but rather moderation. Common sense should apply to every moment of our lives!
The Slow Food movement, founded in 1986 in Bra, Italy, is a reaction against globalization and food standardization. The snail is the mascot of this slow but steady and determined revolution. In response to the emergence of fast food, the Italian initiative seeks to sing the praises of slowness at the table. This international nonprofit association now has a presence in over 150 countries. It promotes food knowledge and enjoyment, respect for nature and its production cycles, the dignity of subsistence farmers, biodiversity, and eco fine dining. Today it is almost impossible to find another association as deeply rooted in so many different locations across the world and that has inspired so many offshoots and slow movements, including Cittàslow, Slow Parenting, Slow Art, Slow Media, and many others.
The list of projects that have already been implemented is long and includes the protection of biodiversity and traditional production methods, education about the pleasures of taste and the senses, the organization of the largest international food show, the conception and founding of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, as well as the establishment of the Terra Madre network. This extensive network of food producers, cooks, educators, young people, and musicians from around the world gathers together every other year. Their goal is to promote local and sustainable food production that is in balance with our planet and respects the wisdom that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Carlo Petrini, president and founder of the Terra Madre movement, asserts that “the future belongs to epicures”, meaning those who value food and want all its extraordinary characteristics to evoke admiration in future generations as well. The movement is aimed at those who want to enjoy and make the most of the diversity of recipes and flavors, the variety of production locations, artisanal creativity, following the rhythm of the seasons, and savoring the pleasures of the table. Because anyone who knows how to appreciate the true value of food knows how to protect the environment and its ecological balance. What could be more enjoyable than biting into a juicy, delicious tomato? This feeling of vitality gives us satisfaction, joy, and pleasure.
Let’s take it a step further. Imagine that you are tasting cheese made by the same manufacturer, from the same cows’ milk, but at different times of the year. This is one way of feeling and sensing the different characteristics each season brings, and which are affected by the type of pasture, climate conditions, and so on. All these aspects that can characterize milk, including its taste, color, texture, and original smell make for a totally unique cheese. That’s the expression of nature!
The more we value foods that are good, clean, and fair, the more we help protect our planet Earth!
We do in fact want foods that are good—fresh, flavorful, and in season—that satisfy our senses and form our identity. We also want foods that are clean, i.e., grown using methods that respect the environment and human health. And we want foods that are fair—ones that are not only reasonably priced but also generate a decent income while taking into account human rights and the costs of production on a human, social, and environment level.
The best way to protect ourselves against poor-quality products, Slow Food stresses, is by educating our tastes. This is the recommended method for avoiding meal standardization and protecting local cuisine, traditional production methods, and endangered plant and animal species. It’s an ingenious way of introducing a new, less intensive, and more natural agricultural model.
Our greatest challenge now is to focus on listening to what is happening inside ourselves, while putting aside any intellectual evaluation, for the sole pleasure of awakening our senses to the act of tasting. Once we are in touch with our original and creative impulses, we will be able to taste the true nature of life!