The Birth of the Slow Food and Wine Movement in Italy

Founded in 1989 by Carlo Petrini, discussions about the Slow Food movement have spread across the globe. Virtually everyone who has been in the food business is familiar with the slogan “good, clean, and fair.” With millions of members spread across 150+ countries, the Slow Food movement is no doubt a fascinating subject of history, and it all started in the same year the Loma Prieta earthquake happened in San Francisco.

Carlo Petrini

How the Slow Food Movement Began

This movement started as a response to the lightning pace at which fast foods were spreading worldwide. It began in Italy as pushback against the establishment of what McDonald’s envisioned to be its largest outlet in the world — with seatings for at least 450 people. The Italians didn’t like the idea of the West invading their culture and tradition.[1]

The fact that the McDonald’s monument would be sitting next to the famous Piazza di Spagna upset the Italians even further, and the tension triggered a protest. Carlo Petrini and other activists saw this as an opportunity to protect the Italian tradition and turn people away from McDonald’s fast foods while encouraging good food and gastronomic pleasure. Members of the Slow Food movement are primarily passionate about what they consume for food and drinks, which explains why chefs, farmers, connoisseurs, fishers, producers of food and beverages (including winemakers), and academics make up a large number of the members.

The primary mission of the movement was to discourage the rise of fast food and prevent local food, culture, and traditions from being eradicated. The success of the movement became evident as more people began to question what they eat — people began to ask questions about the source of their foods and the impact it has on their environment. Hence, the motto of the movement became “good, clean and fair.

Slow Food, The Birth of the Slow Food and Wine Movement in Italy

Carlo Petrini

The Slow Food Movement Charter

The theme of the Slow Food movement is perhaps one of the reasons why the group is gaining more popularity and resonance around the globe, even today. It won thousands of people over by its demonstration of care for what people consume. One such instance is the organization’s manifesto that was prepared by Folco Patriani (the co-founder of the movement). In the manifesto, the group claimed that the people caught what he described as an “insidious virus” brought on by Fast Life which forces people to eat those fast foods rather than Slow Food.[2]

The proclamations in the manifesto reflected the group’s anger and what they stood for — resisting cultural importation that seeks to fracture Italian food customs. The movement pointed out the possibility of Italian McDonald’s erasing existing Italian culture and described it as culinary terroir.

As such, the slow food members were instructed to consume only homegrown and traditionally-prepared foods. The movement now has over 1,500 chapters around the globe that are geared towards upholding the Slow Food movement charter. Even though each chapter’s goal and objective are unique to the area where it is located, they all have the same primary objective — to disseminate the doctrine of the group, which is hinged on three aspects of food quality – good, clean, and fair.

By clean, the food must be produced in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the environment in regards to human health and animal welfare. Going by their prerequisites, good food is a fresh diet that improves the senses and is part of the local culture. Being “fair” is often referred to as the “social justice” arm of the organization. It seeks to ensure equitable pay and conditions for producers while also ensuring that good food is made available to consumers at affordable prices.

Even though producers are encouraged to uphold the theme of the movement’s motto, they don’t require any type of certificate that says “organic” to join. All it takes to join the group is for one to share in their philosophy of preserving traditional foods and protecting cultural diversity.

Slow Food at the Salone Del Gusto/Terra Madre

The Slow Food movement gained even more popularity at the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre that took place in Turin. It was an event that saw the convergence of the vast network of  “slow foodies” from all over the world. It opened as a “food Olympics” of sorts as over 3,000 delegates from over 120 countries made their entry into the venue, proudly waving their flags.

The event featured over 1,500 stalls where a variety of food products were showcased — cheese and, of course, pasta was on display alongside oils, pulses, vegetables, seafood, and alcoholic beverages, particularly wine. The event also saw a series of cooking presentations and workshops, networking meetings and presentations, and debates on diverse topics like the role of temperature in making cocktails.[3]

Over the five-day course of events, Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre saw many tasting workshops and thrilling exhibitions. The event attracted high-profile speakers and dignitaries, including but not limited to Prince Charles, Vandana Shiva, and famous British chef Jamie Oliver. It has also received support from the United States and goodwill messages from Pope Francis and Michelle Obama, who is known for her passion and advocacy for school gardens, among other things.

No wonder the founder of the Slow Food movement described members as “intellectuals of the Earth and the sea.” In addition to the showcase of diverse cultural food products and tastings, other highlights of the event in Turin include talks on climate change and industrial farming.

Did you Know?

Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre is a union of two distinct events: the Salone del Gusto, which is an Italian food festival that brings thousands of Italian producers together, and the Terre Madre, which is an international event that draws producers from over 160 countries to connect and discuss issues that affect their livelihoods and also put their products on display for an international audience.

Enter the Slow Wine Movement

The Slow Food movement, though intended to protect traditional and regional cuisine and the interests of small and local farmers and food producers, also positively impacted the wine industry as winemakers, tasting rooms, wholesalers, and retailers leveraged the platform the organization provided to draw the world’s attention to quality wine production and the need to uphold best practices in wineries all over the world. This has given life to the slow wine movement.[4]The interest of the Slow Food movement on food sustainability and climate change are issues that are of great concern to winemakers and vineyard owners as well, as they also seek better ways of enhancing production while minimizing wastage and negative environmental footprint. Guests at the landmark Salone del Gusto (Italian) and Terra Madre (also Italian) were treated to wine tastings and exhibitions. People were able to treat themselves to some of the best wines from around the globe on display while some were lucky enough to take some of their favorite bottles home for later enjoyment.

On this day

September 22, 2016 — The maiden edition of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto was held in Turin, Italy. It featured a series of presentations, exhibitions, and conferences at the Carignano Theater. 1986 — The Slow Food movement started in Bra, Italy when Mcdonald’s wanted to site the biggest McDonald’s in the world at the Piazza di Spagna. This move was met with protests by the Italians, and Carlo Petrini leveraged the fight for the protection of Italian local cuisines and customs. More Resource: Some Less Known Facts about the Italian Wine Industry

Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!

THE GRAPES AND WINES OF ITALY: The definitive compendium region by region

Vino: The Essential Guide to Real Italian Wine

References

  1. “Mcdonald’s Brings Americanization Fears To Rome.” 2022. UPI. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1986/05/10/McDonalds-brings-Americanization-fears-to-Rome/6908516081600/.
  2. “Sign The Manifesto • Slow Food USA”. 2022. Slow Food USA. https://slowfoodusa.org/manifesto/.
  3. “Slow Food Movement Growing Fast – Our World”. 2022. Ourworld.Unu.Edu. https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/slow-food-movement-growing-fast#:~:text=The%20Slow%20Food%20movement%20originated,in%20more%20than%20150%20countries.
  4. “Slow Food Launches New Wine Guide – Decanter”. 2022. Decanter. https://www.decanter.com/wine-news/slow-food-launches-new-wine-guide-47044/.

  Photo attributes: Bruno Cordioli from Milano, Italy, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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