Posted on Wed, May 09, 2012 by Slow Food USA
0 Comments | Categories: Cooking, Farms and Farming, Slow Food Chapters in Action,
I first encountered Slow Food in the small Village of Scansano, in southern Tuscany, on a crisp spring day in 1993 with the countryside painted pink in olive tree blossoms. My friend Janet Hansen, an American who had lived in Italy for 30 years, had just finished surveying her olive trees and harvesting a few artichokes for lunch when I pulled up. I knew my way around Tuscany well at this point, perfecting my Italian enough to ask questions and understand the answers. I’d witnessed my own culinary travel program in the hills outside of Florence flourish that year. I’d met farmers who made fresh pecorino (100% sheeps milk cheese) with an old stirring stick, forming it into straw basket molds. I’d seen firsthand the curious relationship between farmer and animal, and the affection with which a small enough farm treats the flock. Tillo could just call his sheep back to the barn in the evenings, no dog necessary. To fatten the pigs with something hearty, Signor Valentini fed them chestnuts.
Italy remains a place of preserved traditions, especially with Carlo Petrini and his friends bringing attention to the importance of protecting these old ways. In the last twenty years, I have noticed the terrible beauty of transition from the traditional to the contemporary. Cars now fill ancient piazzas with exhaust and noise. Urban sprawl has forced farmland to become scarce. We make room for commerce, shipping food from large agro farms and forfeiting the possibility of growing our own. We work too hard, eat on the run and complain to our doctors that we don’t feel well. Families break down. There is also this painful truth.
Yet as I travel, I see how the Slow Food movement has expanded as an antidote to losing a sane planet and our food cultures. It happens in pockets and through education. I just returned from the South of India, where I met a wonderful chef who asked me about Slow. He used the Portuguese spice trade to influence his menu, but wanted to take it farther. I pointed out that he had overlooked the culture in his own back yard. I could see his eyes flare at the possibility of celebrating his own cuisine and knowledge base by presenting it in a more contemporary way and having it be meaningful and celebratory. By remembering our past and using its wisdom, we can give way to what makes sense with ‘the new ways’ without losing sight of the ‘old ways’.
Nothing in the world will change how delicious a fresh pea tastes from the garden in spring. Nothing will make your chicken with preserved lemon taste better than when cooked in a terracotta tagine over fire, in Morocco or in your own home. From traveling, we can learn the flavors of mustard seeds and chili tempered in coconut oil. For thousands of years people have used what grows around them to please and entertain their palates as well as feed themselves. We eat with our eyes first, it is said in Morocco. But we can’t lose sight of where our food comes from and the benefit it has to our greater world community.
The Slow Food wave has hit the United States, where it is needed most. In the last twenty years the biggest change has been in our mindset, emphasizing the values of food produced locally pre-Industrialization. We are reconnecting to locally grown food and creating culture as we go. Growers and producers are taking chances, learning from other cultures to preserve food in a different way. There are now goat cheeses being produced in Alabama, home-brewed beer in every state, vineyards in never before planted regions and meat curing rivaling the best of Spain and Italy.
We are becoming increasingly aware that we need to slow down, and we have begun to develop better tools to enable this to happen. The awareness has become viral, to use a contemporary word. But in this case, we can support the terrible beauty in a positive way, to change artfully and authentically.
Peggy Markel, pioneer of international culinary travel, celebrates 2012 as her twentieth year in business as founder, owner and operator of Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures. For two decades, Peggy has brought her guests directly to the source of the best ingredients, most authentic traditions and greatest characters in Italy, Morocco, India and Spain. As a founder of the Slow Food chapter in Boulder, Colorado in 1996, Peggy remains committed to the movement wherever she finds herself in the world. Here, Peggy reflects on her years of connecting food, culture, people and travel with the principles of Slow Food. Learn more about Peggy and Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures at www.peggymarkel.com