These days, in the foodie world, the term 'slow food' seems to be on everybody's lips, but what does it mean to you? As we rush around from carpool to playpen while taking conference calls, applying the adjective 'slow' to our dinner doesn't necessarily hold much appeal.
Confusing slow food with slow cooking is a common misconception, says Brian Kienapple, founder of Slow Food Nova Scotia, one of the hundreds of chapters of Slow Food found in 105 countries. "Slow cooking is a technique, a way to prepare your meal," he says. "Slow Food is a philosophy, as well as an international not-for-profit group. It's about history, tradition, culture and taste."
The slow food movement, started by Italian journalist Carlo Petrini in 1986, is different wherever you go, because geography plays a key role in the philosophy. "Slow food is a small-scale food system tied to the specific region you live in, and to the history of the ingredients," says Kienapple. "It's very localized."
Essentially, slow food rejects the modern drive-through and the prepackaged, convenience way of eating, in favour of older traditions, ingredients steeped in local history and, Kienapple says, taste that is far superior.
"There is a globalized food system where everything is standardized. You can order a burger in Moscow or in Truro and get the exact same burger," says Kienapple, quickly adding that there's nothing wrong with that. "Slow Food isn't the Greenpeace of food," he says. "McDonald's and other chain restaurants have done a fantastic job of feeding the world -- we're not taking anything away from that, we're just saying there are side-effects. Go ahead, take your kids to McDonald's, load them up with cheeseburgers, we're not telling you not to. We're just saying there is an alternative food system out there, one that focuses on taste and history, that you should know about."
Kienapple says recent news about what's in our food and where our food is coming from has people asking questions, and the answers they get may not be entirely satisfactory.
"If you ask the meat manager in your grocery store where your pork chop came from, they probably won't have a clue," he says. "That's just the way that food system works. But if you buy a pork chop at the farmer's market, the person who sells it to you will be able to tell you not only where the pork chop is from, but what animal exactly, what it was fed, whether it grew outside or in a barn."
Supporting local small-scale farmers, cooking with ingredients such as Red Fife wheat or Berkshire pigs, which are linked to the history of the region, sounds great, but also like a lot of work.
It doesn't have to be, says Kienapple. You can become as involved as you like, from joining the organization to having a dinner party. That's right, having a dinner party. "Slow food is also about taking the time to eat together, having a communal experience," he says. "You have a dinner party with your family and friends, open a few bottles of wine, eat some great food, yak for a couple of hours -- that's slow food."
You could take it a step further, says Kienapple, by asking questions at the grocery store. Where does this milk come from? What does that ingredient mean? Or shop at a farmer's market, buy some local ingredients and turn them into a meal for your next dinner party.
Eat fresh, eat locally, and most of all, enjoy the eating experience. That's slow food.