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Maple Street Co-op News Articles of Particular Relevance

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From Maple Street Coop News, April/May 2001 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op, 37 Maple Street, Maleny Qld 4552
Tel 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au



In Praise of Slow Food
by Ruth Parnell, Co-op News editor

So what is Slow Food?  It's the antithesis of globalised, homogenised, lifeless fast food which erodes local culinary traditions under the guise of production efficiency.  The Slow Food concept fits well with Maple Street Co-op's philosophy and in our region where the pace of life is slower and calmer than in the cities, where we are blessed with productive soil and bountiful local produce, and where there's not a transnational fast food joint in sight.  Maleny should be proud of the fact that when a fast food chain opened here a few years ago, it didn't stay in business for long.  This should serve as a warning to other fast food groups thinking of setting up shop here, as is rumoured. 

The Slow Food idea was conceived by Italian journalist Carlo Petrini as a protest against McDonald's opening an outlet near the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1986.  The idea struck a chord, and before long a global movement was born which has grown exponentially ever since.  It now has close to 70,000 members in 35 countries, and its mascot/emblem is the snail – the embodiment of slowness as a virtue.  In 1989, enthusiasts gathered in Paris to endorse the Slow Food Manifesto for the "defence of and right to pleasure".  In 1998, the official International Slow Food Movement was formed as a non-profit association, its head office located in Bra in the province of Cuneo, Italy. 

According to its articles of association, the Slow Food Movement operates to protect the right to pleasure, the respect of the rhythms of life and an harmonious relationship with nature.  It seeks to foster the diffusion of quality produce with a "correct attitude" towards the natural environment, while safeguarding consumer rights.  It also aims to explore and improve the culture of food and wine, to educate people about taste and aroma from childhood, to safeguard and defend the "agro-industrial" heritage and to respect the cuisines of each country.  It acknowledges that food is fundamental to human health, so by advocating the proper production and use of foodstuffs it aims to improve the relationship of human beings with their environment and with each other. 

In promoting the appreciation of the quiet, material, sensual pleasures of life, the Slow Food Movement also aims to disseminate knowledge so as to preserve the biodiversity of crops and livestock, defend age-old, craft-based food production techniques, and protect the historic, artistic and environmental heritage of traditional places of gastronomic pleasure including cafés, wineries and speciality shops.  Thus, time-honoured rituals of dining, feasting and hospitality as well as local and regional produce are supported over and above the "global taste village" with its standardised products and flavours, nutritionally bereft junk/convenience food offerings and manipulation of consumers and markets. 

The Slow Food Movement sounds like a recipe for culinary and cultural hedonism, and justifiably it is, but this is also a serious work in progress.  The movement is opposed to the creep of biotechnology in agriculture, viticulture and animal husbandry, for not only does this pose untold risks to the land and environment and to regional foods and cultures, its products are untested for human consumption and thus represent a major health risk.  Organic and biodynamic production techniques are favoured over modern agrochemical and monocultural techniques, and heritage seed saving and growing are seen as solutions to maintaining the integrity and biodiversity of local varieties over patented genetically modified versions.  Thus it also lobbies for correct labelling of GE products so that consumers can knowingly reject such items being foisted upon them.  The movement also actively fights against "hyper-hygiene" legislation which regulates against, say, regional cheeses being made by hand in the old-fashioned way with unpasteurised milk. 

The spirit of pleasure fostered so dearly by Slow Food advocates is summed up in the name given to the movement's local branches:  convivia (in Italy they're referred to as condotte).  The movement continues to set up Slow Food initiatives such as Taste Weeks and workshops, The Pleasure Game (twice-yearly, Italy-wide, 'blind' wine tastings), Friendship Tables (which finance charitable causes), The Hall of Taste fairs and a long-term project, The Ark of Taste, dedicated to protecting biodiversity and the right to taste.  It has an advisory commission of Slow Food experts who help ensure that food supplies worth saving – specially cured meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, herbs and vinegars, to name a few – are given the recognition and protection they deserve.  The Slow Food Movement thus seeks to form collaborations with various public bodies, producer and gastronomy associations and protection consortia.  It also encourages convivia to organise dinners, talks, conferences, cooking classes and tours of regional producers to spread knowledge, appreciation and enjoyment.

In Australia, nine such convivia have been established, including in Adelaide and the Barossa Valley as well as in Sydney and Brisbane, and many of their dedicated members make an annual pilgrimage to Italy to participate in various Slow Food festivals.  The Queensland group was formed in August 1999 and conducts four major functions each year as well as monthly get-togethers.  Special activities last year [2000] included a tour to Stanthorpe to sample local wines and further knowledge of olive oil, and a trip to the Brisbane Growers Market. 

You can become a Slow Food member for an annual fee of $80 for singles or $95 for couples/families [as at 2001].  For this you receive quarterly English-language copies of the Italian-produced international journal Slow, as well as the local monthly newsletter and other benefits.  If you're concerned about promoting quality local produce, defending culinary traditions and sharing enjoyment with like-minded people, then consider joining this inspiring, convivial group.  For membership enquiries, contact Leah Israel in Brisbane on 3374 3774 or at leah_israel@hotmail.com.  For more information about the Slow Food Movement, visit the website http://www.slowfood.com.

From Maple Street Co-op News,
April/May 2001 issue
Published by The Maple Street Co-operative Society Ltd,
37 Maple Street, Maleny, Qld 4552,
tel 07 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

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