I had never heard of the Slow Food Movement until I read this Bruce Sterling piece (link via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing) but I love the idea:
The Cornish Pilchard. The Chilean Blue Egg Hen. The Cypriot Tsamarella and Bosnian Sack Cheese. You haven’t seen these foods at McDonald’s because they are strictly local rarities championed by Slow Food, the social movement founded to combat the proliferation of fast food. McDonald’s is a multinational corporation: it retails identical food products on the scale of billions, repeatedly, predictably, worldwide. Slow Food, the self-appointed anti-McDonald’s, is a “revolution” whose aim is a “new culture of food and life.”
Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Italian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini. Their galvanizing moment, which occurred in 1986, was an anti-McDonald’s demonstration at which Petrini and his dining buddies brandished pasta pans while folk-dancing in the streets of Rome. This prescient intervention predated Jose Bove’s violent wrecking of a French McDonald’s by some 13 years. While the anti-WTO crowd was politically harassing corporate globalizers, Slow Food was methodically building constructive alternatives. Today, Slow Food is well-nigh as “global” as McDonald’s but networked rather than hierarchical. Year by methodical year the Slow Food network has stuck its fingers into a host of pies.
As a nonprofit heritage organization, the Slow Food empire retains a mere 150 full-time employees with a modest budget of $37 million a year. Yet Slow Food has invented the modern Italian food-heritage industry. Today it is a thriving ganglion of local chapters, called convivia, which number about 83,000 people in more than 100 countries. It’s also a publishing house specializing in tourist guidebooks, restaurant recipes, and heritage reprints.
The whole concept is just brilliant. You popularize things– not just food, but fashion, literature, art– all the totems of culture that, by their nature, can’t be scaled up to a global market and encourage other people in other areas to do the same with their favorite things. Using the Internet, you network, getting information out to the world, spreading the knowledge of the existence of these fun, unique concepts to other people who might like them or be inspired to do something similar. Viral marketing of the homespun, rather than the hyped marketing of the mass produced. A globally networked cottage industry. This is part of a larger Slow movement that seeks to curb the stress inducing speed traps of modern life without stifling pleasure, innovation and joy.
Here’s a Utopia for you: imagine a handcrafted, do-it-yourself world comprised of a loose network of neighborhood cultures, all sharing information and ideas, inspiring one another through cooperation rather than competition, making a living rather than a killing, chasing the Long Tail rather than the immediate profit, all for the love of being creative rather than the crass desire to make a quick buck at the expense of beauty and meaning. With windmills and solar power and free range livestock, backyard gardens, boutique couture, free municipal wifi. And no ponies. Maybe it’s a little over-optimistic or naive but we can dream.
This won’t save us in the short term from the worst excesses of Capitalism run amok, which we’ll be dealing with for years to come, as we rebuild our wrecked economy. But this could give the future a shape free of the cycle of boom and bust economic models that drive countries to war and depredation, just to enrich a few corporate shareholders and drive millions of people to an early grave from stress, depression and the general malaise of mental and emotional emptiness caused by the pursuit of ever more pointless mass produced stuff.
It starts with the basics: food. Then moves on to encompass the basic necessities of life: shelter, companionship and expression. All that which is at the core of what it means to be human. Expanding from there into the arts and infrastructure of the world is a bit more of a challenge but something that is worthwhile. People reclaiming not just the means of production but the meaning in producing.
All this navel gazing about economic models and do-it-yourself sustainability leads directly into the upcoming news about my book, The Machine of the World. Watch this space.