A pair of hands making homemade tagliatelle pasta on a kitchen countertop

What Is the Slow Food Movement?

How did the Slow Movement start and what are the values they stand by? Learn about the movement's push towards a more sustainable food system.
Author Headshot
Olivia Higgs
Jan 16
3.5 mins
Jan 16
3.5 mins

We hear a lot about fast food, but what exactly is slow food? There is the romantic image of Italian nonnas kneading pasta dough or slowly drying tomatoes out underneath the sunshine but slow food means so much more.

Who Started the Slow Food Movement?

The slow food movement is a global grassroots organization which was founded in 1986 by Carlo Petrini in Italy. The focus is to promote traditional and regional cuisine as well as the use of locally grown and produced foods. Another key part of the movement is the preservation of agricultural biodiversity. All of this is part of the organization's goal is to counter the negative effects of fast food and globalization on local cultures and the environment.

The movement all started as a protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1986. Petrini and a group of activists formed the organization to promote the values of good, clean, and fair food. Below are some of the key principles to the movement.

Sustainable produce

Clean food means food that is produced using environmentally sustainable practices, without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms. And by sourcing regional ingredients made by small, local producers, we reduce the mileage and emissions associated with our meals.

Fair and ethical farming

Fair food refers to food that is produced in a way that is socially and economically just, with fair wages and working conditions for producers. It also means thinking about the local communities, making sure not to buy ingredients coming from land that has been illegally, underhandedly, or unfairly taken - otherwise known as land grabbing. And when it comes to the meat that we eat, we make purchasing decisions based on how the meat is farmed and the welfare of the animals.

Cooking with the seasons

Many are used to getting ahold of every product imaginable all year round whether it's in season or not. As a result, we often then forget when fresh produce is in season. By opting to eat seasonally we lower our carbon footprint and support small-scale local farmers. Another benefit is fresh produce tastes at its best when it is in peak season - who doesn't like extra crisp apples or juicy strawberries?

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Local traditions

With the slow food movement starting in Italy, it's no wonder it has a big emphasis on tradition. Italian cuisine has a history of passing recipes down through the generations with many taking pride in how their 'nonna' knew best. The food world has seen many exciting new influences as a result of globalization. The benefit, is we have all opened up to new flavors and dishes but one thing we must be wary of at the same time, is that we do not lose the local food knowledge and traditions that have survived through the generations.

Reconnecting with food

We associate the food that we eat with the supermarket aisles and are more and more disconnected from where our food comes from. As mentioned before, part of the slow food movement is better understanding what produce is in season when and how to cook with rather than against the seasons. Not only is this better for the environment but brings more variety to the meal rota.  But another part of reconnecting with food, is the pleasure of eating and the therapeutic process of cooking the food - whether it's long, slow meals filled with idle chatter under the Italian sunshine or gathering multiple generations around the kitchen countertops to all help out in bringing the family feast together.

Slow Food Movement Criticism

Despite its efforts, the slow food movement has faced criticism and challenges. Some have argued that the movement is elitist and exclusionary, as its focus on traditional and artisanal foods may not be accessible or affordable for everyone. Others have pointed out that the movement has not always been effective in bringing about significant changes in the food system, especially in the face of powerful multinational corporations and government policies that support industrial agriculture.

Criticisms aside, overall the slow food movement has made important contributions to the global conversation about food and agriculture. It has raised awareness about the negative impacts of fast food and industrial agriculture on local cultures, the environment, and human health. It has also supported the preservation of agricultural biodiversity and traditional food practices, providing a platform for small-scale producers and communities to showcase and promote their products.

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