I'm not really a member of the Slow Foods movement, although I did resist the urge to buy the prepackaged chicken lettuce wraps that my kids begged for. I'll even admit that I succumb to the occasional child-pleasing Happy Meal when I just need to feed them. But I saw something this morning that really pushed fast food to the limits. It was a machine with two spigots, dispensing chili and "nacho cheese" at the touch of a button. This really takes fast food to a whole new level.
According to USA Today, "Slow food is everything fast food is not." The organization Slow Food USA "is part of a global movement which believes everyone has the right to good, clean and fair food." They advocate for food and farming policies that are "good for the public, good for the planet and good for farmers and workers." The slow-foods movement, active nationally and internationally, is also alive and well locally, manifested in the many farmers' markets dotting the valley, the Colorado Proud program at our local supermarkets and the school district's work to reinvigorate school lunches through the Fresh Approach program.
But what exactly does "good, clean and fair food" mean? Because, let's face it, some days I don't even have time to look for organic raspberries. In a sense, this is really the whole problem. The slow-foods movement advocates taking time to plan and enjoy eating. Planning menus, shopping for whole, healthy ingredients and preparing food as a community are all key parts of this movement. Eating fast food on the run is such a different experience compared with sitting around the dinner table to enjoy good food with your family and friends. Slow foods are, in part, about using food to bring a community together.
Contrast shopping at the farmers' market with shopping at a big grocery store. At the farmers' market, you stroll along, maybe carrying a basket or tote bag for your fresh fruits and veggies while you nibble on a cracker spread with freshly made jam. At the grocery store, you put on your game face, arm yourself with a list and maybe a coupon flier and pilot your unwieldy cart up and down the aisles. You encounter friends and neighbors at both places, but at the grocery store, you are rushed, trying to keep your meals balanced and your cart moving straight. At the farmers' market, you are there to enjoy the whole experience. You chat with neighbors, meet the farmers who grow the foods, taste new foods, plan menus and breathe fresh air filled with savory smells.
The Slow Foods movement also asks people to consider where their food comes from. Clean food refers to food that is good for the planet, as well as our bodies. This means that food is grown and harvested in ways that have a positive impact on local ecosystems. Finally, the Slow Foods movement promotes food that is fair. In this context, they "believe that food is a universal right." This right extends to mean that everyone, regardless of income, should have access to healthy food. Food that is "fair" is also "produced by people who are treated with dignity and justly compensated for their labor."
Thinking back to my morning encounter with the chili-cheese machine, I imagine that to some, this machine probably seems like a godsend. I recall what attracted my attention to the machine, as I watched two young men pile their hot dogs high with the oozing sludge ... and did I mention that it was 8 in the morning? I shuddered slightly and then turned around to fill my coffee cup with the "steamed milk mix" because I just didn't have time to milk the cow this morning.
Jaymee Squires is the graduate programs director at Walking Mountains Science Center. She participates in the Slow Foods movement by growing herbs and vegetables very slowly.