Contents: UU World Back Issue

Savor Life by Slowing Down at the Table

By Sonja L. Cohen

If you are a speed-reader you'll want to slow down to digest this.

When you see articles advocating that you reclaim time from your hectic life, are you seized by a feeling of all or nothing—either you change your entire life to include long home-cooked meals and handmade gifts for all, or you are doomed to continue your chaotic, overscheduled life as is?

from the Massachusetts Council of Churches

Perhaps there's a middle way. A small Italian-born movement is charting a new course. The Slow Food Movement is as easy as taking the time to enjoy a walk or a meal with friends. It's not about doing everything slowly; it's about intentionally controlling the rhythm of your life, and it's attracting the attention of Unitarian Universalists.

The Slow Food International Manifesto states that the twentieth century began and developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first inventing the machine and then taking it as a life model. We are, it argues, a people enslaved by speed, mistaking frenzy for efficiency and having succumbed to the Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, our homes, and our diets. The Slow Food answer to this threat to quiet material pleasures begins at the table and works its way out from there. The movement urges us to “rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of fast food.”

The Slow Food movement began in Italy in 1986 as a response to the opening of a McDonald's in Piazza Spagna in Rome and was launched as an international movement in Paris in 1989. The movement has about 80,000 members in more than 100 countries around the world, but its ideology has an even broader appeal. Slow fooders, as followers are sometimes called, respond to the rush of the modern world by intentionally enjoying life, especially food, making deep connections to people and places, and living at a reasonable speed.

Often viewed as the Satan of the modern fast-food world, McDonald's has become the example by which we pace our lives. George Ritzer, in a piece in the book Slow Food, says this is primarily because it is the leading force in the fast-food industry and, therefore, a model for other sectors of society hoping to duplicate its success. They seek to mimic McDonald's' basic principles, such as an emphasis on efficiency; on quantity over quality; on predictable products, settings, and experiences; and on the replacement of skilled human beings with non-human technologies. Ritzer uses the term “McDonaldization” to describe the process by which these principles have spread throughout the fast-food industry, other areas of American society, and increasingly other societies worldwide. McDonaldization is exactly what the Slow movement hopes to counteract.

Carl Honoré, in his book In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, says that despite criticism, the movement is not about doing everything at a snail's pace, or returning the world to some sort of preindustrial utopia. It's about regular people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world. “This is why,” Honoré says, “the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto —the right speed.”

The Slow movement's emphasis on taking the time to experience things includes shopping in farmers' markets. Not everyone has the time or money for such pursuits, but almost everyone can enjoy traditional street foods such as fish and chips or souvlaki. The operative word here is enjoy, which Slow fooders do by embracing local culture and tradition.

Take for example Maurizio Maggiani's experience of the simple act of eating farinata. A traditional Italian “poor-man's food,” farinata is a mixture of chickpea flour and water baked with olive oil and seasoning. Cooked rapidly, it forms a golden brown crust on top of a creamy white base and is cut into chunks and eaten hot:

Ah, how sweet the daily “shots” of farinata seem, even in retrospect; how exquisite their intake whether hungry or not. Leaning against the grimy wall of a steaming hot bakery, sitting beside piles of firewood, with paper in my hands and a glass of white wine between my knees; such is true joy. . . . The two pieces—half a pound if the farinata is perfect—will be the barricade on which I have fought to the very last an admirable but desperate battle against the contemporary world. Against the first-past-the-pole system, against first and second nouvelle cuisine, against California wine and Internet sites. . . . In the name of worthless stuff, almost impossible to digest. Like eating in the streets, laughing and joking with your mate, and proving yet again that what could have been a base porridge of chickpea flour is actually transformed in your hands and mouth into a truly noble substance.

What makes Maggiani's farinata experience so special is his connection to the food and the experience of eating, something many Americans tend to shy away from. Instead of grabbing a cheeseburger at the drive-thru and wolfing it down before he has time to taste it, Maggiani embraces the act of eating. One of the greatest pleasures in his life has been the experience of eating farinata, savoring it, and it is startling that something so simple could bring someone such joy. What is the equivalent of farinata where you live?

Perhaps the best way to ease into a Slow Food lifestyle is to do so in a group. Some Unitarian Uni­versalist congregations, like the Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Muskegon, Michigan, have Slow Food groups that meet to exchange ideas and sponsor slow meals. The Rev. Dr. Nana Kratochvil said their group evolved out of a series of adult enrichment courses they did three years ago, one of which was a four-session presentation on Slow Food. The group meets monthly for a potluck with Slow Food values, and they talk about home-cooked foods, regional foods, and Slow Food resources like the local farmers' market. Usually ten to sixteen people come to the potlucks, and Kratochvil says they enjoy not feeling hurried to get to other things.

Italian Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini summed it up nicely in a conversation with Honoré: “If you are always slow, then you are stupid—and that is not at all what we are aiming for. Being Slow means that you control the rhythms of your own life. You decide how fast you have to go in any given context. If today I want to go fast, I go fast; if tomorrow I want to go slow, I go slow. What we are fighting for is the right to determine our own tempos.”


Take Back Your Time Day Web site:
Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America edited by John de Graaf, Berrett-Koehler, 2003; $14.95.
Slow Food Web site:
In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré, Harper San Francisco, 2004; $24.95.
Slow Food edited by Carlo Petrini with Ben Watson and Slow Food magazine editors, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2001; $24.95.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
: 36-37

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