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vegetable garden by Bethany72 on Flickr

It's perfectly fitting that the Slow Food movement began in Italy... land of wine, cheese, and meals made from fresh, simply prepared, wholesome ingredients. Though slow food is actually about practices that were in place long before now, the movement itself is fairly new.

Carlo Petrini founded the slow food movement in the mid-1980s after staging a protest against the building of a new McDonald's near the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Aptly named, slow food is in direct opposition to fast food culture. Though I doubt you'll ever find Petrini scarfing down a Big Mac, the fast food that slow food advocates against isn't only found in restaurants. Instead, they encourage a culture where:
  • food is grown locally and eaten in season
  • heirloom varieties of plant foods are grown and preserved
  • meals are based on local culinary traditions
  • there is education about the pitfalls of agribusiness and factory farming
  • family farms are preserved
  • food is grown organically
  • animals are ethically raised and processed.
The group has about 83,000 members in 120 countries right now, but the principles behind the slow food movement are gaining ground every day. If this kind of lifestyle interests you, I'll tell you how to get started after the break.

What does slow food mean?(click thumbnails to view gallery)

Locally grownOrganicEthically producedVarietyTraditional

Baby Steps

If you've been living a fast food life, making a change like this one can seem overwhelming. Though hardcore slow foodies strive to make everything they put into their mouths good, clean, and fairly produced, others try to strike a balance by living with one foot in each world -- slow food habits in a fast food nation.

What I learned during my first season in slow food was that a change like this one is not something I could do all at once. I tried... and quickly found myself feeling anxious every time I had to restock the refrigerator. So I took a step back and picked one place to start. It happened to be tomatoes.

It was August, and I knew that the farmer's market would be closing soon. I had neither the time nor the knowledge to preserve enough local food to get us through the winter, but I wanted to do something. Before my commitment could waver, I threw three enormous tubs of tomatoes into the back of my car and brought them home.

My husband and I stood and looked at them for a long time, wondering what in the world we had gotten ourselves into. But by the end of the night we'd frozen five batches of spaghetti sauce and three batches of salsa. It was midnight and I was exhausted, so I simply blanched the rest whole and froze them. They made excellent additions to soups and sauces all winter.

Whether you decide to jump feet first into the slow food movement or just dip your toe in a little at a time, here are some more steps you can take to adopt this lifestyle as your own.

Go Local

Why buy a peach that was grown 1,000 miles away when a farmer just two towns away has a beautiful orchard? Not only do those food miles contribute to global warming, your food also arrives days or even weeks after it's been picked, losing nutrients every day that it doesn't get eaten.

With a little investigative work, you can find local sources for your favorite foods. Local Harvest is a good place to discover local farmer's markets, farms, food co-ops, and even restaurants that use local ingredients. Community supported agriculture (CSA) is another option; pay a farmer for a share of his or her crops, and enjoy a weekly box of freshly picked, organic vegetables all season long.

Not everyone advertises on the internet, however, so keep your eye on your local paper for pick-your-own farms and local market schedules. Ask around your community as well; we found our CSA through our pediatrician. When you do shop, get the most out of your experience with these handy tips.

Produce makes up only a portion of your diet, so while doing your research, be sure to scout sources for milk, meat, eggs, and other favorite pantry ingredients as well.

Eat In

Make friends with your kitchen again, and even better, your cookbooks. Donate those boxes and cans of processed foods, and look for recipes that use ingredients you can find locally. My favorite cookbook is Simply in Season. The recipes are easy, delicious, and arranged by season so that when I have strawberries or zucchini coming out of my ears, I can quickly look up a recipes to get rid of it all.

As with many things in life, the internet has made recipe hunting easy as well. Got a crate full of blueberries? Type "blueberries recipe" into your search engine and start scrolling through for something that sounds good.

Blogs are another source of kitchen-y goodness. My favorite blogger who cooks and advocates about food issues is Expat Chef at The Expatriate's Kitchen, but I also like The Cleaner Plate Club, Eat. Drink. Better., and Thyme for Cooking.

Finally, grab yourself a reusable lunch bag and leave those fast food lunches behind for good as well. Margaret recently wrote a post about bento box lunches for kids: they are also an attractive, delicious solution for adults who want a healthy lunch. Lunch in a Box has a whole list of links -- just make sure, if slow food is your goal, to fill them with locally grown, organic goodies.

Buy Organic

Not only do organic farmers use methods that are less likely to harm the environment, eating organic foods will lower your exposure to pesticides and other chemicals commonly used on conventionally grown foods. In addition, organic foods are never genetically modified -- an issue that gives slow food experts great concern.

Organic food is expensive, though, so if you have to pick and choose, consider starting with milk, dairy, and meat. When buying produce, keep the "dirty dozen" in mind. In studies, these twelve fruits and veggies -- peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, and spinach -- were all found to consistently have the highest levels of pesticides, even after washing. Visit the Environmental Working Group for a handy, printable guide that you can take on your next shopping trip.

Grow Your Own

Growing your own food is a powerful feeling, especially in this day and age when we've become so dependent on others to fill our plates. Anyone can grow something, whether it's a backyard garden that can feed your entire family, or a small herb garden on your kitchen windowsill.

If you have a small yard, or live in an apartment, consider container gardening. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, even fruit trees can be grown in pots for your own homegrown produce. Growing a vegetable garden is considerably more work, but worth the effort in both yield and satisfaction.

Though winter hardly seems like the time to be puttering around in your garden, some crops, such as kale and other hardy greens, do well in the cooler temperatures. Research what crops might survive the winter in your area, and consider growing veggies year-round.

Learn How to Preserve

The growing season eventually ends, which is a tough time of year for someone who depends heavily on local farmers. Before it does, take some time and learn how to "put up" or preserve food for the winter months ahead.

If you're brave (I'm not) you can try canning, or you can simply freeze or dry what you want to save. Learn the basics at The National Center for Home Food Preservation. Better yet, invite over a knowledgeable family member, friend, or neighbor and let them teach you what they know while you enjoy the time working together.

Share Your Knowledge

If you have children in your life, take the time to share your newfound knowledge and lifestyle with them. Teaching kids where and how food grows, and what to do with it in the kitchen, will give them a foundation that will follow them for life. It's also an excellent bonding experience, and an opportunity to hand down family recipes and traditions.

When you've cooked a fabulous meal out of the food that you've grown or purchased, take some time to share it with friends or someone in need. The slow food lifestyle isn't just about eating, it's about developing a culture where creating and preparing food is a part of our daily lives, not a hurried afterthought.

Read, Read, Read

Bestselling books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, as well as Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, brought education and awareness to the issue in a simple, approachable way. Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food is another good choice, especially for people (like me) who feel a little awkward in the kitchen.

Online, websites like The Sustainable Table and The Ethicurean can help you get a deeper understanding of the issues behind slow food, sustainable living, and ethical eating practices.

Find Balance

Think of slow food as a continuum. You could try it for one day, for one day a week, or aim to make it a part of your everyday life. What I've discovered by taking gradual steps into the lifestyle is that the more I learn, the more I want to know.

I've also realized that how much I can do ebbs and flows with the seasons. For instance, there are some foods -- like mangoes and avocados -- that will never grow locally where I live, yet I just don't want to give them up. I compromise by only eating them in the winter time, when local fruit is scarce, and we can really use the extra vitamin C.

Slow food should never be about pressure or guilt, only about focusing on improving the quality, taste, and sustainablity of everything that you put on your plate.


  • ExpatChef

    Great and very comprehensive post! Thanks for the link! I am glad you like my site. I've got a lot of new seasonal recipes to get posted, and you kind remarks are just the kick I needed to get them up! Thanks again.

  • Bethany Sanders

    Thanks Expat Chef! Looking forward to those recipes!

  • ali b.

    Love this. Love how positive it is. Love the links. Love that it ends in "Find Balance." Beautiful.

  • 3 Comments / 1 Pages

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