“We have lost any sense of the sacredness of food,” Carlo Petrini said. Appropriate, since the impassioned founder of the Slow Food movement was speaking in San Francisco on a Sunday. I felt like I was attending food church.
“We create food pornography,” he said, “But we eat poorly on a day to day basis. Our relationship with food has become schizophrenic.”
Slow Food’s mantra for the past two years has been, “Good, Clean, Fair.” But Petrini was clearly thinking on a larger scale about the fate of the earth. “In just 100 years we have destroyed 80% of the earth’s biodiversity,” he claimed, “Only because we thought we could be stronger than nature.”
The solution? “We have to return to a place where we can reconstruct our relationship with nature. We must live and exist in harmony with the metabolism of the earth. Eat, digest, give back to the earth.”
Petrini meant this literally. “In Italian, the world ‘manure’ comes from the Latin word for happiness,” he explained. “S**t is happiness!”
Petrini also preached the sermon of moderation. “Psychologically, we are still afraid of famine,” he said. “We are all trained to be perfect consumers: Always take too much, always want more, always waste.”
“Our refrigerators are like family tombs,” he railed, “everything dying! And let’s not talk about all that frozen food – underneath there are some rabbits that came from Jurassic Park!”
(Guilty. Last night, as I ripped open a two-week old bag of baby lettuce and shook the contents into my compost bucket, I felt like a true food sinner.)
One place Americans could cut back, Petrini suggested, was meat. “The U.S. consumes 120 kilograms (nearly 265 pounds) of meat per capita. In Italy, we only eat 90 kilograms (about 198 pounds) per capita – but we are just as happy!”
And then, there’s the importance of slowness. Petrini told the story of a cook in Italy who ran a tiny restaurant that was only open for lunch. Her food was lauded by critics and fans, who urged her to open for dinner, too. “I don’t want to be the richest corpse in the cemetery,” she replied, refusing to bend.
“We are all going to the same place,” Petrini reminded us. “It’s better to go slowly, eh?
Slowness is like a homeopathic medicine. Everyday, take one dose of slowness.”
“Calma.” he said, raising his hand like a benediction. “Tranquilli.”
The crowd didn’t need a translator to understand that blessing.