Slow Food: why we should all be slowing down in the race for quality healthy ingredients

The Staff Canteen

This week, 1st -9th June, is Slow Food Week, a celebration and endorsement of local, healthy and quality food by Slow Food UK, the national British organisation of the worldwide Slow Food movement.

Slow Food is not just about ingredients but a whole ethos and way of life that more and more chefs and members of the public are adopting. With a presence in 150 countries, over 100,000 members worldwide and the support of a roll call of top chefs in Britain from Richard Corrigan to Atul Kocchar, from Angela Hartnett to Raymond Blanc OBE, The Staff Canteen decided to delve deeper into what is capturing the imagination about the not-for-profit organisation with a snail as its symbol.

The Slow Food way

‘Good, clean and fair’: this is the motto of Slow Food, a worldwide movement whose UK operation is based at ‘Books for Cooks’, the famous cookbook shop in London’s Notting Hill. It is a phrase which tries to encapsulate a whole philosophy of food from ‘farm to fork’ but could fairly be extended as an approach to life in general. Perhaps with such a broad coverage the phrase could use a little ‘unpacking’ as they say nowadays. Catherine Gazzoli, CEO of Slow Food UK, explains it like this: “First of all it’s about quality: the taste and nutritional value of the food – the ‘good’; then there’s the ‘clean’ factor: how far it has travelled, the environmental background of the ingredient or product; and finally ‘fair’ in that the producer who’s put time and love into making such a great product is paid a fair price.” But the remit doesn’t just stop at producers and suppliers. As Catherine Gazzoli goes on: “It’s about engaging with people’s consumer choices and that could mean everyone from a chef to a new mum deciding what kind of baby food to prepare.” Slow Food then is a ‘broad church’ and Slow Food UK seeks to put the approach into practice through several different schemes:

Slow Food Baby, focusing on encouraging new parents to make healthy food choices for their babies; Slow Food Kids, targeting 4-11 year olds; and Slow Food on Campus, promoting healthy eating to university students up and down the country.

Forgotten Foods and the Chef Alliance

In terms of food industry professionals such as producers and chefs there are the Forgotten Foods and Chef Alliance projects. The first is an attempt to save small-scale, local produce under threat of extinction from factors like industrial agriculture and environmental degradation. Forgotten Foods aims to rediscover these ingredients and return them to the marketplace. There are over 60 UK Forgotten Foods currently being targeted from Dorset Blue Vinny cheese to Yorkshire forced rhubarb, from the authentic Aylesbury duck to the badger face Welsh mountain sheep. The aim is to preserve our food heritage and biodiversity. As Catherine Gazzoli puts it: “We don’t want to end up with one kind of apple.” The Chef Alliance is an invitation-only list of industry-leading chefs who support the principles of Slow Food in their cooking and sourcing of ingredients. There are more than eighty top chefs in the alliance with Richard Corrigan as its founding member and other illustrious supporters like Michel Roux Jr, Giorgio Locatelli and Tom Aikens to name but a few. These chefs actively support Slow Food UK by using Forgotten Food ingredients and featuring them on their menus. It’s a natural continuation of what chefs who are serious about seasonality, locality and provenance are already doing. As Richard Corrigan says: “Being part of the Slow Food movement just makes sense to me. I grew up on a farm in Ireland and we lived by Slow Food principles without even knowing it.”

History: from Italy to the world

The Slow Food Movement was born in Italy in 1986, the brain child of Carlo Petrini, a journalist and activist who founded the movement as a reaction against the rise of fast food in Italy, symbolised by the opening of a McDonalds near the Spanish Steps in Rome. The movement quickly spread beyond Italy and in 1989 the International Slow Food Movement was established in Paris with the signing of the Slow Food Manifesto. In 2000 Slow Food USA was created with an office in New York and in 2008 Slow Food UK was set up with an office in London and Catherine Gazzoli at the helm. Catherine is a pregnant 35-year-old married woman with a New York accent and seemingly boundless energy. She was born in Geneva to Italian American and French American parents and grew up in New York, Paris and Rome. With such an international background, it is perhaps unsurprising that she began her career with the United Nations working for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) supporting local small-scale farmers. Her first project was working with cassava producers in central Africa. Already a member of Slow Food in both the USA and Italy, Catherine moved to London in 2008 where she worked alongside British Slow Food members to set up Slow Food UK as a formal non-profit organisation with charitable funding. One of Catherine’s first steps was to widen the appeal of Slow Food in the UK. “The demographic of Slow Food in the UK at the time was 50 years plus,” says Catherine, “which was fine but the feedback we got from the British membership was that the direction needed to encompass new parents, students and young people because the decisions they make now will stay with them for life.” Hence Slow Food Baby, Slow Food Kids and Slow Food on Campus were born as well as a whole host of other events which take place regularly across the country.

Slow Food Week and beyond

Which brings us back to Slow Food Week. Currently in its second year, the country-wide campaign sees events taking place across the UK. On Sunday Richard Corrigan hosted a five course Forgotten Foods tasting menu at Corrigan’s Mayfair with other Michelin-starred chefs including Adam Simmonds and James Sommerin. On Monday Atul Kochhar and Giorgio Locatelli created a special ‘India Meets Italy’ dining event using Forgotten Foods at Kochhar’s restaurant, Benares. Tonight sees Anna Hansen of the Modern Pantry and Stevie Parle cooking ‘New flavours with Forgotten Foods’ at Parle’s restaurant, Dock Kitchen. There are also a host of local events and Slow Food menus running in restaurants up and down the country as well as the launching of six new Forgotten Foods to celebrate the occasion. With the vast array of activity and celebrity endorsement, Slow Food UK appears to be going from strength to strength, mostly by tapping into a growing public awareness of the need for healthy, nutritious food sources; and by bringing on board big-name celebrity chefs. Are its long-term global plans just as big and bold and can it really hope to affect a worldwide change in consciousness away from fast food, ready meals and large-scale industrialised food production?

“The long term goal is to reverse trends of obesity in the global north and malnutrition in the global south,” says Catherine Gazzoli. “It’s all about little steps. How do you eat an elephant? The answer is, bite by bite. These are really big issues and there’s not just one solution. At Slow Food UK we’re trying to do small things that make a big difference.”

Click here to see all the events for Slow Food Week See Atul Kochhar’s Slow Food recipe for Karala pork curry here See Stevie Parle’s Slow Food recipe for clove rose and mutton biryani here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th June 2013

Slow Food: why we should all be slowing down in the race for quality healthy ingredients