Sunday, November 25, 2007

Slow Food Indulgences

Another letter to the editor in November's ODE magazine responded to an article on the Slow Food movement by saying, in part, "I don't think encouraging our society to focus even more on our own pleasure is what we need at all. In fact, it is precisely our own selfish attachments ... that make us turn our eyes from how each of us personally contributes to the world's problems and what each might do to remedy them." If you view the Slow Food movement as an exercise in indulgence - as it is undoubtedly is for some people - then the "selfish" label makes sense. And some of the items on the Slow Food site lend themselves to this view: an article on the new Presidium for Fire Roasted Mesquite of the Seri or one on the first Michelin review of Tokyo.

But for many adherents, Slow Food goes far beyond selfish indulgence. On a personal level, Slow Food encourages paying attention to details, savoring the moment, valuing quality over quantity. These attributes are likely to lend more awareness of the world and how individual actions affect it; and to a calm, centered individual who can act on that awareness.

On a community or political level, the belief that a tomato is just a tomato - a round, red globe without identifiable taste, importable from anywhere in the world - leads to industrial agriculture and food that travels halfway around the world before it is eaten. Valuing a local, fresh tomato then has many economic, environmental, and political ramifications: Supporting small-scale farmers strengthens rural economies. Encouraging the sustainable agriculture that Slow Foodies treasure leads to lower levels of artificial fertilizers (hence less petroleum imported from the Middle East), less toxic run-off to poison rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, less use of pesticides that reduce biodiversity and destroy habitat for wild animals, and fewer road miles as food no longer needs to be brought by trucks, ships, and planes from far corners of the world. Preserving heirloom or heritage breeds of livestock and food plants retains biodiversity and genetic options for future needs, and fuels the fight against genetically modified foods. That's a pretty good list for an indulgence.

On top of that, Slow Food looks to people who can't afford the fancy foods that are often associated with it. On World Food Day, Roberto Burdese, the president of Slow Food Italy, addressed the Right to Food in a speech. "The Right to Food is the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active healthy life. It is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed." This certainly sounds like the beginning of a remedy to me, especially if it is acted on. It is certainly a far cry from a selfish attachment to one's own pleasure.

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