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Slow Food

By Richard Fisher

Carlo Petrini, an Italian culinary writer, was livid when a McDonald’s opened adjacent to Rome’s famed “Spanish Steps.” He sensed what a devastating effect an accelerated-pace lifestyle was having on our health, families, businesses and careers. So in 1986 he launched the worldwide “Slow Food” movement.

This movement stresses the use of fresh, local and seasonal produce, along with the use of recipes handed down through the generations, sustainable farming, artisanal production, and leisurely dining with family and friends. It also preaches “eco-gastronomy,” the notion that eating well can, and should, go hand-in-hand with protecting the environment.

Last year I came out of the pantry and joined our local “Slow Food” organization, www.slowfoodtallahassee.org. I fully realized that “speed kills” and since “we are what we eat” food plays a large role. Yet, my progression moved at a snail’s pace.

Although my dining-out choices centered on Tallahassee’s more healthy cuisine, my home dining choices proved less desirable. It was difficult to escape carrying home processed food that contained the alphabet of chemical ingredients. Home cooking, for me, appeared unattainable. I was worried that the prep time would be too time-consuming and that our spices were older than our married children.

Sadly my thoughts had succumbed to the cult of speed, forgetting that the operative word in Slow Food is “slow.” Consequently, before departing on a food shopping trip to New Leaf Market I grabbed a single desired recipe.

For months I had procrastinated attempting to recreate the mouth-watering dish pictured on the recipe. However, this recipe would now double as my shopping list and my first attempt at authentic scratch cooking.

Gathering the necessary ingredients was simple, even acquiring fresh spices was no problem, a large variety of spices were stored in jars and sold by weight. I purchased a smidgen for my recipe while the more experienced shoppers filled small plastic bags.

That evening I flitted around the kitchen like a New York chef during lunch hour. The operative word “slow,” which I had conveniently forgotten, was soundly brought back to mind when my wife Judy cried out, “slow down!” I would soon learn that earnest food preparation is not only a creative, but also an organized, process. Judy had me begin by placing all the ingredients and utensils on the kitchen counter. Then I was left to peel, dice and pre-measure my prep ingredients before commencing what would become my new hobby.

I became completely engrossed in the process, and quite captivated by the aroma of the garlic and onions sautéing in the saucepan. Although I had worked through and missed my customary evening news program, I felt no regret. We were quite satisfied with the results, although the finished product had little resemblance to the recipe picture.

When one works at, and creates, a likable product it becomes a natural desire to share this creation with others. Granted some mixing or cooking mistakes resulted in unpalatable mush (working too fast), but portions of dishes that I took pride in were put into plastic containers and given to family or friends. A hearty chicken soup became a favorite of our shut-in friends.

As time passed, some recipes were keepers, others rejected. Then one evening, following a telephone invite to our kids to break bread with their parents, a strange realization manifested itself. I had inadvertently drifted into and become part of the Slow Food movement. The root meaning of the word “companion” means “with bread,” or as Carlo Petrini would put it, “leisurely dining with family and friends.”

Recently I purchased a new food processor which has helped me create quicker meals—Slow Food does not necessarily mean that preparation be time intensive. Still, most Slow Food advocates confess that occasionally, because of time restraints, they indulge in a quickly prepared commercial meal. Slow Food adherents are not dogmatic, but practical.

Got to go, Rachel Ray is about to appear on The Food Network. I won’t try to copy everything she creates, nevertheless it’s relaxing and I usually pick up a few tips. Repeating one of her oft-quoted farewell comments I would also like to say, bon appetit!

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