Why "Slow Food" Is Back

As our disconnection from food grows more dissatisfying, the slow food movement is gaining steam.
  • Transcript


Question: Why has the idea of “slow food” regained popularity?

Glenn Roberts: I don’t think slow food ever went away; it just was on the fringe.  I think everybody remembers Quaker Oats took 45-minutes-to-an-hour to cook, if they’re my age.  And now they take 30 seconds in a microwave.  And I think that if that’s particular right inside of the things I do because oats are a phenomenal part of the rotations of the crops we grow.  But I use that a lot.  Not because Quaker is evil, but because that’s a good representation of how we saw food move from post-World War II until the middle '90s.  And I think that other people would see it as, "Oh fast food and fast food chain restaurants" and they tie it immediately to food disease-related issues.  I just see it as a diminishment of flavor over time.  I see these pop and crackle flavors I was always involved in the food production industry in hotels and restaurants.  So, I saw chefs, as a rule, abandoning these multi-day stock reduction systems for cuisine and moving into systems that didn’t require that to save labor, save food costs—it actually is more expensive to not make stocks, but they were thinking they were saving food costs.  And I watched that entire wave happen while still the classics were still being taught worldwide.  You know, stock is endemic to civilization, it is not something we thought up to have a fine French restaurant. 

And as I see the movement to then step away from trying to abbreviate things and as I watched people start to put the moniker together, Carlo Petrini being I guess the first person that really popularized the idea, it was actually an outgrowth, I think more from the fact that we didn’t want to lose something than the fact that we were losing something.  A lot of people just assumed that we didn’t want to lose something, whereas my interest in what happened with the people who did slow food and became interested in slow food was, they thought they were retrieving something.  And the, I think, deep will to have some sort of authentic and meaningful nutrition is really where all this lives.  And the word “authentic” has been beat to death so I hate to use it.  So we could try for something else, which would be there is a certain sort of marker over time for the kinds of experiences that gives you sustenance and well being.  And we talk about the idea of slow cooking, capturing that well being because it doesn’t blow so much out of food. When you don’t put fast heat to something, just mechanically, there’s more there when you’re done cooking than if you try to cook the same thing in five minutes versus cooking it in an hour. 

And there’s a lifestyle that goes with that, learning to be conscious while not present that goes with it, and I think that that idea then would be... it’s highly feminine because it’s multi-layered and the multi-phasic individuals on the planet usually are women.  It comes to them naturally, men not so much.  But the idea then that cooking can become something you can do many, many different things at once without tending to any one thing at any one time.  And I think that is actually the draw.  I think people became bored with the idea that they were delivered everything and it became... they became—that’s the other thing that gets beat to death—we’re disconnected from our foods.  Well, we were disconnected from the process too; that the chef’s are not doing stock and all that.  That all came about with the word "instant" and I think that’s pretty much the zeitgeist.  If it was instant, well then you say, what’s next?  And if you haven’t thought that through really, really well, you get boredom.

Recorded on April 28, 2010
Interviewed by Priya George