Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Slow Food in Cardiff

Slow Food stands in opposition to fast food. Instead of production lines of industrially-produced year-round products, Slow Food champions locally-sourced and traditional products and regional, seasonal cuisine. A revival of traditional food culture, it encourages the farming of plants and livestock characteristic of local ecosystems.

Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini and fellow activists in Italy, three years after a pivotal 1986 campaign against the opening of a McDonalds near Rome’s Spanish Steps. It was conceived as part of a broader ‘Slow Movement’ (see footnote). Slow Food is today a non-profit organisation operating in 150 countries worldwide. Its mission is to celebrate and protect traditional foods and cooking traditions, and to support grassroots producers of artisan and sustainable food and drink products. One of its main achievements has been the Ark of Taste, an online catalogue that gathers information about disappearing local food products (e.g. fruit and vegetable varieties, rare animal breeds, cured meat and cheeses). Anyone can send a nomination for a food product to the Ark, which this week had 2,312 products on board. 

Members within national Slow Food organisations are associated with local groups. Local groups have opened all around the UK (Slow Food UK), with Slow Food Cymru having branches in north and west Wales.

The inaugural Slow Food South East Wales meeting was held in The Cwtch at Chapter Arts Centre on Monday 23 Feb 2015. The meeting was organised by Carol Adams, Director of Food Adventure Ltd, a company much in line with the Slow Food agenda in that it takes groups on tours of local food and drink producers. I joined a diverse group of food producers, chefs, food activists and food writers/bloggers to hear three guest speakers explain what Slow Food means to them.

Margaret Rees is the Slow Food Board representative for Wales, was a founder committee member of Slow Food UK and set up the first Slow Food group in Wales, in Carmarthenshire in 2002. She described the development of Slow Food Cymru, where active branches are also centred on Anglesey and Machynlleth. She pointed out that the UK was late to join Slow Food, yet is one of the member nations where the loss of food culture is most acute. The role played by the Chef Alliance within Slow Food Cymru was noted; for example, Slow Food Cymru leader Gareth Jones is a chef and top Welsh chefs, such as Shaun Hill, are actively involved. Margaret also noted the Welsh pig and sheep breeds in the Ark of Taste. A recent development is a possible link with a Slow Food group in Patagonia.

James Swift of Trealy Farm Charcuterie in Monmouthshire spoke of how inspiring it was to attend Terra Madre. This is the International Slow Food event (organised by the international Terra Madre network of food communities), held every two years, at which small food producers, farmers and chefs from all the Slow Food nations meet and exchange experiences. It was held in Turin last year, where a 30-strong delegation from Slow Food UK attended (7 from Wales). James contrasted the UK ‘dining club’ approach unfavourably with the more dynamic contributions from other countries, which were more inclusive and political (with a small p) with campaigning being a more typical mode of operation. He noted the sense of injustice driving many Slow Food groups worldwide.  James concluded by stressing the need for better networks to link small food producers in the UK. 

The final speaker was Shane Holland, Chair of Slow Food UK, the Slow Food Board representative for England and group leader for Slow Food London. Slow Food London is an actively campaigning group that takes on an educational role in schools and crowd-funds cookery demonstrations for those with limited cooking skills. Shane believes that Slow Food UK groups should interact with the wider community, which makes them more inclusive and increases membership. A survey conducted by Slow Food London showed that events did not drive membership, but specific campaigns can, for example, on sustainable fishing, rare breeds, heritage crops, and seed saving and swapping. He noted that ‘terroir’ can be used in a wider sense, for heritage crops and animal breeds cultivated and reared in their traditional areas, and that the landscapes we value look the way they do because of food production. Therefore, the way to maintain both food culture and the environment is to support traditional, artisanal and quality food and drink production.

The speakers reiterated the Slow Food view of consumers as ‘co-producers’. Consumers through purchasing decisions can support local food products, and by taking an interest in how food is produced can also help producers by campaigning to overcome the problems they face.

Mark Adams, of Food Adventure, summed up proceedings. The interest expressed from a cross-section of people interested in local food (both producers and ‘co-producers’) suggested that a South East Wales Slow Food group could make a valuable contribution to supporting local food culture.

Slow Food (International):

Slow Food UK:

Slow Food’s European campaigning (pages 10-11):

Food Adventure Ltd:

The wider Slow Movement offers a step-back from many of the accelerating or unsustainable practices of modern living (e.g. Slow Cities, Slow Finance, Slow Living, Slow Design, Slow Travel, Slow Cinema, Slow Sex…). A key text for this wider movement is Carl Honoré’s 2004 book ‘In Praise of Slow’. Slow Food has emerged as the most successful manifestation of the Slow Movement.

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