Slow Food Italy fights fast-food failings

During the Prince of Wales’ recent visit to Italy, Charles told Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini, that he would gladly sponsor a benefit week for Slow Food producers affected by the deadly and devastating earthquakes in Amatrice last year. Slow Food was founded in 1986, first coming to local prominence when a group of activists protested against the opening of a new McDonalds near the historic Spanish Steps in Rome. The organisation’s objectives are to preserve traditional and regional cuisines from the culinary sector’s increasing industrialisation and demand for fast food. However, in recent years the Italian organisation’s growth has lost momentum, especially in the UK, and a high profile endorsement from a figure such as Prince Charles could galvanise a Slow Food revival.

 Charles has spoken out against global food production methods on numerous occasions and has long been an ambassador for a more local model of food production and distribution. The horsemeat scandal in the UK is proof that even the biggest retailers don’t actually know where all of their supplies are coming from. This poses an obvious threat to public health, in addition to showing a gross lack of consideration for the quality of what is being produced. In a world where the aggressive search for cheaper food is driving local producers into the ground and increasing the profits of large-scale food companies, surely organisations such as Slow Food are exactly what are needed to help build a sustainable food production network?

 Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation at the United Nations estimate that we are only producing enough food to supply the world’s growing population until 2050. On top of that, 1.3 billion tonnes of food fit for human consumption is thrown away each year, largely due to the supermarket’s increasingly high aesthetic requirements and simply because the industry is overproducing in certain areas. A more local, regulated food distribution system would help reduce those staggering food waste statistics, in addition to preserving local cuisines.

 The latter point is especially pertinent to the regionalism of Italian food and wine production, and food laws passed last year by former PM Matteo Renzi, shows why it is unsurprising that the founder of Slow Food is an Italian. The laws make it easier for shops and restaurants to give excess food away to charitable causes, as well as being able to donate food that is passed its sell-by date, without risking sanctions for health and safety violations. Undoubtedly, these laws are a step in the right direction, and the number of sandwich shops and restaurants that promote Slow Food in Italy is testament to the mindset of the Italian population with respect to the culture of food.

 However, this mindset is unfortunately not shared by all. The modern consumer is becoming increasingly impatient and time-pressured, generally valuing convenience over sustainability, price over quality. Prince Charles believes that global fast-food production is extremely expensive and the only reason the prices appear cheap in the shops is because the costs are falling somewhere else, or are being stored up for the future. The greatest challenge Slow Food now faces is encouraging people to consider the long-term future of fast-food culture and the methods in which the food is being distributed to the consumer. The movement has caught the imagination of over 100,000 international members but it will require further support if it is to turn the tide on the current consumerist culture. 

Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cambridge on their recent visit to Italy