A Delicious Revolution: How Grandma’s Pasta Changed the World

It was 1986 and a McDonald’s franchise was coming to Rome, adjacent to the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna.

Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was outraged.

What would fast food do to the food culture of Rome? Would it threaten the local trattorias and osterias, the local dining establishments of the working class?

Petrini rallied his friends and community to take a stand against this global industrialization of food, and the social and culinary costs of homogenized eating.

Instead of picketing with signs, he armed the protestors with bowls of penne. Defiantly they declared, “We don’t want fast food… we want slow food!”

And the idea of Slow Food was born.

Soon after, Petrini realized that in order to keep our alternative food choices alive, it was crucial for an “eco-gastronomic” movement to exist – one that was concerned with environmental sustainability (eco), and the study of culture and food (gastronomy), to truly draw the connection between the plate and the planet.

Carlo Petrini in California

With preservation of taste at the forefront, he wanted to support and protect small growers and artisanal producers, safeguard the environment, and promote biodiversity.

Three years later, on December 10, 1989, the Slow Food movement was born. The Slow Food Manifesto, drafted by co-founder Folco Portinari and endorsed by delegates from 15 countries, condemned the “fast life” and its implications on culture and society:

“We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods… A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life… May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.” (Excerpt from the Official Slow Food Manifesto, as published in “Slow Food: A Case for Taste” in 2001)

The concept of conviviality is the heart of the Slow Food movement: taking pleasure in the processes of cooking, eating, and sharing meals with others. As a result, Slow Food’s structure is decentralized: each chapter (or “convivium”) has a leader who is responsible for promoting local artisans, local farmers, and local flavors through regional events, social gatherings and farmers markets.

Education is the first step in gaining the appreciation that can lead to preservation. In 2004, Slow Food co-founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, offering undergraduate and master degrees in food studies. The University of New Hampshire, inspired by a visit from Petrini, launched the first U.S.-based “Eco-Gastronomy” major in 2008.

Today, Slow Food has over 150,000 members and is active in more than 150 countries, including national associations in Italy, the U.S., Germany and Japan. There are more than 170 chapters and 2,000 food communities in the United States alone.

Every two years, Slow Food hosts the world’s largest food and wine fair, Salone del Gusto, in conjunction with the Terra Madre world meeting of food communities, drawing over 250,000 visitors combined. Other international events include Cheese, a biennial cheese fair in Bra, and Slow Fish, a Genoan fish festival.

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