Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Review - Slow Food Nation

I really want to tell you about the vegetarian chili I made last night, but I'm having issues with photo uploads on a couple of different websites (I think Firefox is telling me that it REALLY wants to be updated, even though it just got updated a few days ago). Instead, I thought I'd tell you about a book I just finished reading.

Before I do that, let me preface what I thought of said book with a quick glimpse of a very much undetermined project. It's not even a project yet, it's just a glimmer of a project that is slowly developing in my brain. It's a sprout of a project that involves food and eating and growing and learning - which, interestingly enough, is what Slow Food Nation is about. Food, eating, growing, learning - many different incarnations of each of those words (and a few other important words I will mention in just a moment). This inkling of a project is really wrapped up in my (intense) passion for all things food and my desire to grow around this desire a home that involves living as sustainably as possible and eventually producing as much of what I consume as I am capable. And along the way, sharing that with others (you). I am only at the beginning of this project - which is really the beginning of a life - and reading and learning as much as I can about various aspects of food, food production, food life, food culture seems just as important as practicing all I can in my own kitchen and my own home. I'm nowhere near perfectly sustainable yet, but as I can make improvements in my life I am going to and I want to share this process along the way.

Which brings me back to Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini. Petrini is actually the president of the international organization Slow Food (click here for the Slow Food USA website). The basis of the organization and of the individual gastronomes we should aspire to be - the "new gastronome" - is only three small points. Good. Clean. Fair. They are concepts that can be applied locally as well as globally. While reading, I didn't feel overwhelmed by the immenseness of these ideas. Yes, they are big, but knowing I can do my own part locally, made me feel more comfortable with these ideas and made me feel like he was aware that little old home cook me can slowly incorporate myself into part of a larger movement. I don't have to drop all of my "bad" products right away, but I do need to assess these "bad" products, why I use them, and whether or not I can smartly switch to another "cleaner" product. I felt like he knew this was a learning process and that you can't just flip a switch and be a smarter consumer (though, he would like you to start being a "co-producer" - someone who has an awareness and an involvement in your food supply).

Petrini takes the time to really develop these three key points and discuss how they can and should be applied to numerous aspects of our food production industry as well as our eating and shopping habits. While it seems repetitive at times, I didn't find it tiresome. Each chapter contained a gentle reminder that the reason he is discussing a particular point is to tie it back in to the entire concept of good, clean, and fair. I did not find him preachy, in fact, I found him to have a very pleasant voice. He also interwove "diary" entries throughout the book of his own encounters with various food cultures, people, and experiences that have helped him develop his own sense as a gastronome and a member of food communities.

Most importantly, he stresses that being a gastronome is a continual process that involves a commitment to learning, but just as importantly, a commitment to sharing the knowledge one has gained. Sharing and distributing information freely is crucial to the network of food producers and food consumers as that is the only way one can make informed decisions using good, clean, and fair principles. I really thought of us here in the blog-world because we have an immense network in front of us with an infinite number of connections. Even though some of us don't have the same volume of readers as others, we are all able to influence and interact with each other in a way that allows for not only the distribution of knowledge, but the developing of ideas in a manner that is much more multi-dimensional than usual.

Having spent some time as a sociology major, I found his discussions on the preservation of culture and the importance of retaining traditional agricultural and food production practices very interesting. The reliance on monocrops and redistribution of excess agricultural products from the United States has done quite a number on local agriculture in less industrious areas of the world. Even in our own area, it's interesting to think about what kind of local traditions and histories we feel it's important to catalogue and all of the information that we never catalogue because we think of it as irrelevant. I think even in terms of our own personal and family history there is a lot we are willing to forget, not necessarily intentionally, but just because it is overlooked as something that is mundane and/or a part of habit. Rethinking traditions and how we retain them and share them is something I would like to think about more.

I enjoyed this book also as a jump off point for future readings in a lot of different areas. I think even if you disagree with him on some of the solutions he offers for larger global problems involving the environment and food, the principles of good, clean, and fair he develops are definitely worthwhile for anyone concerned with how and what they eat.


  1. Thanks for the post - it actually makes me want to read a food politics type book, which I usually avoid (I'm a bit drowned in food politics, usually) But I love the slow food movement. It's beautiful. I also love their magazine, "Colors." But especially your before last paragraph - I totally hear that and feel like I've tried to say it before. I think we forget useful family history as a subconscious response to the need to forget painful family history - and we can't separate out the painful memories from the joyful and the useful, so in many cases, all of them have to go, since the past won't stay still long enough for us to really get a good look at it and understand what we want to keep and what we can't (I say it much better in my first or second blog post somewhere)

    On a semi-related note - how do you cut a post (what was calld "lj-cut" in the good ol' livejournal days) in blogger like you did in this entry?

  2. I'll have to check out Colors (I love magazines). And this book wasn't your typical American food politics book (Petrini is Italian). Where Fast Food Nation was kind of "OH MY GOD LOOK AT WHAT'S GOING ON! DID YOU KNOW THAT THIS WAS GOING ON?!?!?!", Slow Food Nation is more along the lines of, "I want you to know that this is going on so we can talk about it."

    And to do the cut, when you're writing a post it's the button all the way on the right that looks like a torn piece of paper. I forget what they call it.. like a page jump or something... That's how you make the cut.