Although my recent article on Masterchef clearly divided opinion, and as much as I would wish to share my less than flattering thoughts on Greg Wallace’s new restaurant in London as a result, I will now have to wait as I defer willingly to a number of requests for more information on the Slow Food movement I mentioned in the same text. It was remiss of me not to expand further having brought up the topic in the first place, but I hope I can fill in a few gaps today.

The Slow Food movement is borderless, global. It exists across all five continents encapsulating hundreds of thousands of members occupying their place in farms and villages, towns and capital cities alike. It has a worldwide president, an international board of directors, hosts conferences and exhibitions, undertakes fundraising and lobbying, flies no particular political colours and owns and runs its own University. Given its size and reach, if it made fizzy drinks or burgers, its fame would be assured and its name a benchmark. Therefore it is still a little surprising that the influence of such an important body is so often confined to the fringe enthusiast and its most pertinent messages often unheeded. I do not wish to sound too smug as my first understanding of their mission some fifteen years ago, was decidedly limited and my response somewhat discursive. How our world of food sourcing has changed since then along with my own perceptions.

Slow Food International was effectively founded in 1986 by one food activist, Carlo Petrini in the tiny Italian town of Bra, in Piedmont – the gastronomic heartland of northern Italy.  Originally begun as an eno-gastronomic association (wine and food to you and I) it later went on to encompass all aspects of today’s modern agro-economy and political thought, surrounding sustainable food production and distribution.

Way back then it was concerned with people’s apparent indifference to the food they consumed, where it came from and the method of its production. Thirty years ago the commencement and inexorable rise of fast foods caused precious little consternation in the world. We were happy with our new-found wealth, and were happy to spend it on ever more immediate gratification. One casualty, as we now know was the bio-diversity of our diet. The un-hinging of food source and food consumption one from each other, was an accidental by-product. That few foresaw. B.S.E, swine flu, collapse of codfish or tuna stocks and the global command of the supermarkets and the fast food chains, were topics mainly confined to scientific journals, economists or farming magazines. They were not the dinner party gossip they have perhaps now become.

Clearly Slow Food were already on the case. Their mantra of Good, Clean and Fair was as far reaching then as it is essential today. Good requires the understanding and support of the essential, natural qualities of what we eat and drink, and the producer’s ability to provide protection and expression of such qualities. Clean insists on respect for our environment via sustainable farming practices, a close and sensitive approach to all aspects of production, and the necessary protection of bio-diversity throughout. Finally Fair includes deference to the balance of global food economies and the respect of social conditions under which much of our imported produce is created. So the idea of protecting the plate as well as the planet have become something many of us now begin to share in earnest, whilst Slow Food continues to play its seminal part in consistently supporting this all-important dialogue.

As you have no doubt gathered, the name of the organisation was set in complete opposition to the term ‘Fast Food’ from day one.

Yet there is more. Members and volunteers around the world are set on their defence of endangered foodstuffs, be it grains, cheeses, vegetables, fruit or the myriad of animal breeds that are available for our consumption,and which are sometimes treated as an endless supply that just needs the swipe of a credit card to ensure their continued accessibility. Doubtless most readers of this column will not harbour such delusions, although it is clear that society still maintains the makings of a dangerous schism over the issues. We do after all still throw away one third of the foods that we buy whilst at the same time allowing others to dictate the quality, provenance and basic selection of comestibles made available to us. Slow Food has always flown in the face of these dictates and although their success is often at odds with increased comoditisation, their need in our world has never been greater as we move towards the demanding issues that face us all over our future food security. Perhaps Slow Food will triumph here, doubtless offering an alternative approach to quality food and drink, unrestrained by commercial branding and the concomitant environmental damage that is so often tolerated in the process. To find out more go to or visit your local Norfolk convivium.