Yes, slowing down. It’s a great idea. Particularly, if perhaps least probably, in Italy. But there, for the past few years, a ‘Slow Food’ movement (using the English as a deliberate conceit) has grown with remarkable speed. Every other year it holds a ‘Salon of Taste’ in Turin - home to the Italian motor industry - and this year I’ve been paying a visit.
Expecting something a little eccentric, tucked away in some gastronomic haven, I was unprepared for what has turned out to be (among other things) a vast international trade fair occupying the better part of Lingotto Fiere, a convention centre which was once a car factory. Massed queues awaited entry to what is reportedly Turin’s most popular event, dedicated to the pleasure principle and to ‘good, clean and fair food’.
Mind you, getting there was a little slower than it should have been. For reasons I won’t go into, at one point my companions and I found ourselves following a car we hoped belonged to the manager of a hotel we had duly booked but had no beds, back into the Alps whence we’d come, in search of another hotel he couldn’t find.
Once we’d broken in to the Salon of Taste, so frantic was the pace, so overwhelming the crowds sampling cheeses, salamis, olive oils, wines, local concoctions of all kinds from almost everywhere (including Afghanistan), it was easy to overlook the political point. But dozens of conferences and workshops covered everything from land grabs in Africa to the art of urban gardening and Slow Fish. Associated with Slow Food is Terra Madre, a rapidly expanding confederation of small food producers from around the world, which occupied another cavernous exhibition hall.
The inner sanctum of Taste, however, lay in the Workshops. Here, in gigantic classrooms equipped with serried ranks of wine glasses, we sampled the glories of Icelandic dried fish with local Volcano beer, the jam of rare pears or the classic cocktails of New Orleans. I write this in a state of grace, having just consumed one of the finest lunches of my life in the vineyards of La Morra outside Turin.
Yes, extravagant and indulgent. No, the principles of Slow Food are not entirely correct and don’t exclude meat, profit or private enterprise. Of course, a balance between pleasure and principle can never reached simply by placing the two words together.
But, since change there has to be in the way we produce and consume food, I can’t for the moment think of a better way of encouraging it than the sheer pleasure Slow Food.