Friday, May 7, 2010

Slow Food

While on Phillip Island, Australia, I had several meals out, one in particular was a very long Sunday lunch.

A leisurely three-hour meal might seem like a drawn out affair, but the view through dappled light out the second story restaurant, over the esplanade and across the bay was delightful, as was the opportunity to sit and relax and eat in an unhurried fashion while in good company.

At the two-hour mark, I did start to feel a bit restless; we'd had dessert and were waiting for coffee, which in Australia does not come with dessert, but after, as the grand finale and digestif to a meal.

And then there's the check, which does not come quickly, and sometimes not at all, well, not until you ask for it.

During my young adult years, living in Melbourne, long weekend lunches or lengthier dinners, never made me restless because that was, and is, how we choose to dine (sometimes) in my home country. In other words it's a cultural norm.

Whereas in Colorado, my adopted home, we don't sit long over a meal, particularly not when eating out where food is ordered, arrives promptly, is eaten rapidly, and often the check is delivered with dessert and coffee with the unspoken message to eat and beat it.

With that acculturation, it's no wonder I felt restless two hours into Sunday lunch; I'm no longer used to the practice of lingering over a meal without feeling pressured to move quickly on to the next thing.

Once upon a time, I understood the Australian preference for a drawn-out lunch or dinner as the definition of slow food; however, the slow food movement is so much more than a lingering meal.

The mission of Slow Food International states that "Slow Food works to defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives." And that slow food is "good, clean and fair food."

The intention of slow food international is to counteract the harmful health, environmental and social effects of fast food, defined as food sold in a store or restaurant with pre-cooked or pre-heated ingredients and served in a packaged form.

With an emphasis on the food cycle: where it comes from, how it's grown and who makes it, Slow Food fosters the joy and sensuality of eating real, unprocessed food.

Perhaps the pace of a lingering Australian meal is more demonstrative of the Slow Movement which "aims to address the issue of time poverty through making connections."

The culture of "eat it and beat it" is an illustration of time poverty and one that is definitely not conducive to connecting, not to the food, one's meal companions as in friends and family, or to the larger community.

Slowing down, lingering and conversing, whether over a meal or just a tea / coffee break is conducive to building relationship, and it's an opportunity to enjoy life's simple pleasures.

An outgrowth of Slow Food and Slow Movement is Cittaslow, Italian for Slow City, municipalities that are committed to improving their quality of life via a number of criteria:
  • a population of under 50,000
  • environmental protection and sustainability
  • local products
  • hospitality
  • infrastructure, road safety, bicycle paths
  • historic buildings
  • new technology
  • cultural and historical values and diversity
  • unique town identity
There is only one city is the U.S. which has the designation of Cittaslow and that is Sonoma Valley, CA. Sonama Valley chose to be Cittaslow "by claiming its own values instead of being another look-alike city with the same fast food, the same local craft products, and the same menus."

I've never been to Sonama Valley, so I'm wondering if along with their slow city status, they've managed to adopt a culture of the slow, lingering meal or if despite meeting the above criteria, they still eat it and beat it.

With the season of outdoor eating almost upon us, I'm going to make a commitment to invite some friends over for a backyard lunch in the garden, under the trees, at a long trestle table, French-country style!

And I'm going to see if we can linger over our lunch for an extended period, enjoying the spiritual, sensual pleasure inherent in a slow meal that encourages communion, without feeling anxious by the illusion that the day is wasted if we don't move quickly on to the next thing.

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