An Elitist Reputation for Slow Food

From a September 15, 2008 article in Time Magazine titled “Can Slow Food Feed the World? – Why a movement with a reputation for elitism is adopting a more inclusive agenda,” by Bryan Walsh.

Slow Food – the anti-fast-food, anti-industrial-agriculture movement launched in 1986 by a left-wing Italian journalist – too often has tilted more toward high-class gastronomy than hard-to-solve public-health issues…Who cares about the perfect mushroom when more people are going hungry?

The movement’s leaders are responding by calling for reform of a global agroindustry they say has failed farmers and eaters alike. “How did we get to a place where it is considered elitist to have food that is healthy for you?” asks Katrina Heron, head of the San Francisco-based Slow Food Nation.

The one thing Slow Food and its critics agree on is that something is wrong with the global food system. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2007 50 million more people were hungry than in 2006. At the same time, unhealthy, heavily processed, American-style fast food has spread beyond our borders, eroding traditional ways of eating. The solution, say Slow Food devotees, is to shift to cuisine that is “good, clean and fair,” grown mostly organically by local farmers.

Sure, slow food tastes better, but agribusiness has long argued that industrial farming is the only way to economically feed a global population nearing 7 billion. Organic farming yields less per acre than standard farming, which means a worldwide Slow Food initiative might lead to turning more forests into farmland. (To feed the U.S. alone with organic food, we’d need 40 million farmers, up from 1 million today).

Of course, most Slow Foodies aren’t arguing that we should eat only organic arugula. In its broadest sense, the movement is trying to get people to stop and really think about what’s on their plate and how it got there. In the end, Slow Food is more interested in producing better-tasting food than leading a jihad against chemical fertilizers.”

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