Stephen Jardine: Get a taste for Slow Food

This weekend, a true food hero is in town. Back in 1986, Carlo Petrini decided the opening of a branch of McDonald’s in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome was the final straw. To try to halt the advance of the fast-food culture, he founded Slow Food and today it is the world’s leading campaign group for local and seasonal food with more than 100,000 members in 150 countries.

Stephen Jardine writes for The Scotsman. Picture: Jane Barlow

Petrini is on a rare visit to Scotland meeting the Slow Food faithful and looking for new converts too. Earlier this week, he gave a lecture about our increasing disconnection from what we eat and today he tackles that head-on with a visit to Edinburgh Farmers’ Market where he will meet producers and shoppers. After that he is off to Cannonball restaurant for a special lunch celebrating his visit. On the menu will be the best Scotland has to offer at this time of the year.

“Scotland’s food and drink revolution has been built on local produce and eating in season and we owe all that to the Slow Food movement”, said Cannonball owner Carina Contini. “Fast food had severed our connection to farmers and the land but Carlo Petrini and Slow Food are restoring it”.

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It has not been an easy road to follow. We’ve been conditioned to believe quick is good. From speedy broadband to fast cars, swift equals better.

So asking people to slow down is a tough ask. The key to Slow Food’s success has been the pleasure it brings. Hair shirts are absent from the movement and unlike some other food campaign groups, the emphasis is on pleasure rather than pain.

The Slow Food launch manifesto makes that abundantly clear. “Against the universal madness of the fast life, we need to choose the defence of tranquil material pleasure”, it states.

So instead of doing without, Slow Food is all about finding and enjoying the very best and freshest local food. In that sense, Petrini’s visit could not really be more timely.

With the Scottish Government demanding Scottish produce should dominate supermarket shelves by the end of the decade, change is taking place. It has never been easier to get local and seasonal food and yet we’re still just scratching the surface of its potential. We just need to keep up the momentum. The Year of Food and Drink will help, but we need passionate campaigners who will push for change and not settle for second best.

The appointment of Three Chimneys’ proprietor Shirley Spear as chair of the Scottish Food Commission is a step in the right direction. Instead of a predictable suit who will fill the post but not cause trouble, the job has gone to someone who is not afraid to rock the boat. Carlo Petrini’s visit this weekend is a reminder that people power can make a difference when it comes to what we eat. That should be an inspiration for us all.