Although it was billed as the 17th Saward Lecture it was really one part poetry, one part theater and one part lecture. Carlo Petrini, the Founder and President of the Slow Food International began his US tour the other night, coinciding with the publication of his newest book Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean and Fair.
After seeing his enthusiasm, I can understand how he’s managed to change the way many of us think about food. His work is essentially social reform, driven by a desire to transform our relationship to food. Slow Food’s origins can be traced to a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. Now, twenty years later, it has over 80,000 members in 100 countries. One of Petrini’s greatest strengths is that he’s a systems thinker. That is, he readily makes connections between agriculture, politics, ecology, economy and culture. He says, “gastronomy is political economy” and points out that the first act of life, a baby feeding from its mother’s breast, involves food, pleasure and giving. Petrini has inspired a movement calling for the safeguarding of local economies, the preservation of indigenous gastronomic traditions, and the creation of a new kind of ecologically aware consumerism that Alex Steffen refers to as “strategic consumption.”
More than just a reaction to fast food, Petrini has catalyzed a reexamination of our relationship to what we eat, what it costs us (economically and socially) and how it makes us feel. And that is something to celebrate.