Saturday, October 28, 2006

Slow Food versus Jamie Oliver

I have been watching the latest show by the excellent British chef Jamie Oliver, called Jamie's Italian Escape; albeit it is in reruns, it's still entertaining. The premise is this cute near-30 year old takes it upon himself to improve his already stellar chef abilities, by taking a vacation in Italy, travelling around and finding out how to cook The Italian Way for real. Throughout the show, there are many examples of how Italians are all "food experts", how food is important, even sacrosanct, to family, how food is very regional and different between regions for the same recipe, and how children in Italy are educated at an early age to know about where the food they eat comes from and looks like. This all in contrast to how he found things in English schools to be atrocious, and took it upon himself to improve the deplorable conditions, and the food we were feeding our kids.

Yet, on the other hand, I've come across an organization called Slow Food, whose manifest is to slow down the "Speed of Life" and the end effect of this, that we all end up eating Fast Food and live less of a quality life. This organization was started in the late '80s by a fellow in Italy, who saw how fast food establishments were taking over, how people were speeding up their pace, and thus losing interest in the food they eat, where it came from, how it tastes and how their food choices affect the rest of the world. An interesting concept, and one which I will investigate, they establish convivums to create taste for regional cooking, interest in traditional foods and heirloom vegetables and fruits. One of their manifests too is to establish an educational vegetable garden for school children to learn about food, which has been shown to be effective.

I believe that Jamie would agree with the concepts of Slow Food. At one point in one of the episodes, he bemoans the fact that Italians seem to take family very seriously, that they make time for them every day, and that he often sees his children only on weekends. In another episode, he visits a monastery which had one of the oldest herb gardens in all of Italy, which he found sadly neglected and really no longer existent, and which he helps to re-establish.

So, which is it?

Has Slow Food worked so well in the past 15 or so years, that Jamie could thus find little evidence of the effects of Fast Food? I doubt that is the answer.

Has each of them focused on only one aspect of the situation, magnifying that to prove the point they are trying to make? More likely, but still not the whole answer.

Is Food and Family important to some people, and not to others? More likely. Each of us is different, and each of us tries to find the answer to what makes them happy.

The answer, as you may have guessed, is different for each of us. We all must make choices in this life and world, what we focus upon, what we allocate our time to, what we give priority. How simple it would be for all of us to have the time to go to the local Farmer's Market, grow our own fruits and vegetables in our backyard gardens, know where our food comes from and what has gone into making it, who has grown that lettuce your eating in that salad, who has raised that chicken you're eating for dinner. Simple, no. Easy, no. Difficult to change your habits and make the time to ensure that the food you are eating and feeding your children is the best it can be? Yes. But take the time to do so, make small changes, and you will find that your enjoyment of life is a little better each and every day.

For me, the choice of where I live has meant tradeoffs. Living in a condo, I don't have to worry about the state of the lawn, or shoveling in winter; at the same time, I have had to cook my daily food in the cramped quarters of a galley kitchen. I have been contemplating what it would mean to move to a larger home, my work is such that I am often stressed and tired upon arriving home, so the upkeep on a home could be bad, while I would enjoy having a large kitchen and the possibility of a vegetable garden in the backyard. I do frequent Farmer's markets, and try to find out where my food is grown or comes from, but it's not always easy or convenient. But that's life.

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