Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fast Slow Food

I think there's a misunderstanding that needs rectifying.

I've heard critics of the Slow Food movement say plaintively, "But I like some fast food... like char kway teow and banh mi and pizza." I don't think adherents to Slow Food have a problem with a carefully and well produced food item; what they do wish to see the end of, is the absolute dumbing down of once important elements of a food culture. Food variety is going to become as extinct as quickly as the animals and birds we’re knocking off every few years.

Take pizza for instance. There’s pizza and then there’s pizza. There’s unidentifiable fat with plastic cheese and nasty processed meat sort of pizza, delivered by a spotty youth on a motorbike who is no advertisement for the product. And then there’s thin crisp dough topped with a ‘less is more’ essence of tomato sugo, a slice of provolone and a couple of olives. Maybe an anchovy if you’re feeling risqué. And sold with pride by the person who made it.

I’d call the first version fast ‘food’ (I use the word food loosely. Maybe it should be called fast ‘food.’) and the second slow.

Slow food does not dictate that you must grow everything yourself, cook every single dish from scratch, and never eat out. I had the ultimate slow breakfast last weekend ~ delicious ful madammes (Egyptian beans) ~ cooked long and slow with lots of spices and topped with a free range egg. And I had it out, at an Egyptian restaurant, to which we drove by car.

Marvellous quickly prepared fresh food is available all over the world. Pho, flash in the wok noodle dishes, felafel, bacon & egg rolls. All ready to the consumer in the wink of an eye. But it’s their preparation and provenance that determines whether they’re slow or fast. Did the pig for the bacon and the chickens for the eggs grow up in a cage full of its own excrement, choking on ammonia? Was the bacon smoked using a cornucopia of chemicals in a factory with dodgy hygiene standards? Was the rice for the noodles of the pho genetically modified.

The Slow Food movement, if I’m not mistaken, just wants to see respect, care and concern taken over the growing and production of the ingredients that go into our favourite bodily function ~ eating.

In my world, the slow includes: slowing down to think about who produced it, in what circumstances, using what aids, in what sort of factory, to what end. It doesn’t just mean braising something for 5 hours.

Rules to live by:

If it contains more numbers than things you recognise in the ingredient list DO NOT put it in your mouth.

If it’s claim includes less fat, less sugar, less salt, DO NOT put it in your mouth, and at least ask yourself ‘less than what?’

And perhaps the 7 most important words of the 21st century given to us by Michael Pollan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

And perhaps I’d add one more word ~ SLOWLY. You know your mother would applaud that.