No matter how hard fast food chains try to dress up their products they are, nevertheless, cooked fast, sold fast and mostly eaten fast by consumers who don't have time to waste, or youngsters who have been brainwashed by sales spiel and whose parents don't have time to cook a meal for them. As consortiums spread their nets and make life a struggle for small, privately operated businesses, there are those who take a stand to protect and respect this threatened aspect of society.
Italians have always had a love for food, family and taking time out to savor the flavors of life. Thus in 1989, an Italian called Carlo Petrini decided to launch a resistance movement to combat fast food with - what better than - slow food. Three years previously, Petrini organized a protest against the building of a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome, armed with bowls of penne.
The eco-gastronomic, member-supported non-profit Slow Food organization now boasts some 83,000 members and has expanded across the globe to 100 countries. The movement endeavors to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat - where it comes from, how it tastes and how food choices affect the rest of the world. Recognizing the connections between plate and planet, members promote the preservation of cultural cuisine, safeguarding natural food plants and seeds, and encouraging non-invasive breeding of domestic animals.
Slow Food-ers spread their philosophy gradually, hoping that the trend of understanding they preach will bring respect for Homo Sapiens and oppose "the universal folly of Fast Life." They strive for the preservation of natural goodness in our food products, and are wary of the invasive methods and long-term effects of genetically modified produce. Applicants interested in joining the movement - whether in a country that has members or setting up a new countrywide network - are linked with existing chapters, or "convivia." Presently there are some 850 convivia throughout the world.
Slow Food in Israel got off to a slow start, even though the country has many diverse ethnic groups who want to safeguard their cultural food heritage, and food is high on Israelis' list of priorities - often in unhealthy abundance. Some time ago Petrini came to Israel and met with a group of local chefs, but failed to motivate them into promoting the slow food trend. However, in recent years the idea took root in the heads of some devotees of the cause of healthy eating. Four local convivia have been established so far, in Jerusalem, the Upper Galilee, western Galilee and the Judean Hills.
Speaking with the enthusiastic members, one can sense their devotion to the cause: They want to promote a fair relationship between man and the soil, and maintain respect for the chain of production. "Foods like these are disappearing from our culture. As we speak, dozens of vegetables are becoming extinct - only genetic banks may save them," notes Shai Seltzer, who produces a range of pungent cheeses at his goat farm in Sataf in the Jerusalem Hills. Seltzer operates a classic cottage industry: a small family business that emphasizes quality, rather than quantity. "I don't want to be a large businessman. I have no desire to be a mass producer like Tnuva," he says.
Seltzer, whose succulent cheeses are coated with coal powder, grape leaves or wine barrel residue, points to Slow Food's manifesto calling for the protection of the right to taste.
Israeli cheeses and wines from small producers have been promoted through Slow Food abroad. On September 20, the city of Bra in Piedmont, Italy saw the opening of another Slow Food Cheese gathering. Israeli cheeses were sampled and relished together with others from around the globe during the four-day festival, where an estimated 150,000 visitors thronged the streets, savoring hundred of cheeses from diverse countries and sipping the accompanying wines. Slow Food promoter Rafam Haddad accompanied the Israeli producers, including Seltzer, who flew in with some 40 kilograms of specialized new cheeses.
Avigdor Rotem of the Pausa Inn in She'ar Yashuv in the Upper Galilee and Sandro Pellegrini, a wine producer from Moshav Shahar were interviewed recently on Channel 10's morning program, where they talked of the aims of Slow Food to heighten awareness of what is good and healthy to eat. Small family-run restaurant owners in particular, such as Eliran of "Azoura" in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda market, welcome the Slow Food approach which fits their philosophy of healthy and natural products.
In 1996 the ever-increasing Ark of Taste catalog was created by Slow Food devotees, under which they identify and safeguard over 500 threatened animal breeds, fruit and vegetable varieties and prepared food items. In 2000, a further step was taken toward safeguarding and promoting the work of artisan food producers when the "Presidia" were created. These are small-scale projects where Slow Food assists with the production of traditional produce and helps them find markets locally and internationally. There are now some 270 such projects worldwide.
Israel has many excellent products of this type that can be helped in overseas marketing through the Slow Food network. The aim of the convivia is to bring producers and consumers together so that with open minds each side can learn from the other - the consumer learns about the product and samples it, while the producer receives constructive criticism or praise.
One August evening found Upper Galilee members gathered at the Pausa Inn on the spacious veranda that opens to its verdant garden. First on the agenda was a sampling of the local Barnea olive oil with explanations about the olives pressed for its production and methods employed. Baskets of fresh bread were passed around to dip and enjoy; the bread was served in baskets woven by Brigitte Reshef in her cottage industry. Reshef took the floor to tell about her work, then nibbles of prosciutto and chorizo appeared, cured and smoked by the host. These were washed down with some of Moshe Maron's home brewed beer.
Wines produced by the Palter vineyard, which had been breathing to one side, were brought forth, poured and savored with explanations from the producer while Portobello mushrooms on a bed of baby salad leaves appeared from the kitchen. These were followed by courgette, cheese and mint rissoles that accompanied fried filet of fresh sturgeon, and in case this was not enough there was also a richly flavored aubergine salad.
Fruit expert Yigal Chen spoke of the connection between his methods of production and Slow Food's approach, while peaches and plums in a tempura coating were placed on the table. Demonstrating the diversity of peaches, they also appeared in a tarte tatin, the rich caramel sauce flavored with sage. All the produce served was locally grown and the evening was a perfect example of how to appreciate and savor food in the Slow Food manner.
As interest and support for the aims of the organization gather momentum throughout the country, Israelis may yet learn to savor and appreciate the efforts of our local growers and producers - and always look for their produce on the shelves.