Slow Food Story

Reviewed by: Julie Bélanger

Slow Food Story \ directed by Stefano Sardo
Trailer

In an age of cheap thrills, many have found solace in celebrating traditional and regional ways of growing and preparing food. This documentary is an intimate portrait of the man behind the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini, and the gastronomes that helped make it a global crusade.

Petrini began to promote local small-scale food traditions after a McDonald’s was built in 1986 in one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, near the Spanish Steps. He was deeply disturbed by the pervasiveness and homogenizing impacts of fast food culture taking hold of Europe. “This took away our joy, this passive consumerism, where our individuality and identity don’t exist,” Petrini explains during a speech at an international conference.

Through interviews with Petrini’s friends and family, director Stefano Sardo traces the slow food movement from the small Italian town of Bra in the 1970s to its current influence as a vast international network that connects some 2,500 communities and 100,000-plus members in more than 160 countries.

Petrini was always “full of grand ideas, almost like a volcano,” says his childhood friend and movement co-founder Azio Citi. Slow food grew out of Petrini organizing leftist political rallies in local taverns with great food – think strategizing for workers’ rights between mouthfuls of fresh pasta served with truffles, butter and fine wine.

His approach helped reinforce and expand the local activist network by “uniting over food, and taking pleasure in it, at a time when political activism was a sacrifice,” says Silvio Barbero, president of Slow Food Italia. The intertwining of politics and food was not without controversy, as judging the qualities of meals at militant communist gatherings was likely considered decadent and bourgeois. But given the contentious gender issues related to food and the equitable division of housework, Petrini’s pairing was certainly appropriate.

As Petrini focused more on food, some of his colleagues worried he was stepping away from his political origins, but the socialist paradigm remains entrenched in slow food ideology. “Farming and food couldn’t be from just one country – like Trotsky, the revolution couldn’t be in only one country,” explains Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. Today the foundation encourages culturally appropriate approaches to slow food, and works to ensure that food is both accessibly priced and that producers are fairly compensated and have safe working conditions.

Petrini, who eventually founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, is still known for his playful activism and ability to connect with audiences. With plentiful footage of politically fuelled parties and feasts, Slow Food Story is a thought-provoking, feel-good feature. While light on details about the perils of fast food or the benefits of small-scale agriculture, the film captures slow food’s evolution from a local concern to a global organization that has planted 1,000 vegetable gardens in 25 African countries.

Warning: Do not attempt to watch Slow Food Story unless you have a delicious homemade snack on hand.

Slow Food Story, directed by Stefano Sardo, Italy: Indigo Film, 2013, 74 minutes.

Reviewer Information

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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