We all know fast food- food that is processed and made for people on the move, feeding our stomachs and busy lifestyles. However there are implications to the convenience of fast food. Some of the outcomes include poor nutrition, excessive packaging, stress on agricultural supply chains and ultimately a societal disconnection to food. 

The ‘fast food’ phenomenon is underpinned by the capitalist mantra of efficiency and growth. It extends beyond the traditional fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC and has infiltrated into traditional restaurants and eating patterns. The rise of Uber Eats and food delivery has negatively impacted the hospitality industry. The rise of out of season fruit and vegetables has impacted the agricultural industry and the environment. The rise of processed food has impacted our health and packaging waste consumption. 

The Slow Food Movement

Carlo Petrini along with a group of Italians started the Slow Food Movement to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, to counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us. It kicked off in 1986 when Carlo and supporters rallied in a demonstration on the intended site of a McDonald’s at the Spanish Steps in Rome.

After this, in 1989 the Slow Food Movement manifesto was created and spread around the world. Currently in their 30th ‘official’ year, the Slow Food Movement is in over 160 countries.

From their manifesto, quality food needs to be: 

1) Good: A food’s flavor and aroma, recognizable to educated, well- trained senses, is the fruit of the competence of the producer and of choice of raw materials and production methods, which should in no way alter its naturalness.

2) Clean: The environment has to be respected and sustainable practices of farming, animal husbandry, processing, marketing and consumption should be taken into serious consideration. Every stage in the agro-industrial production chain, consumption included, should protect ecosystems and biodiversity, safeguarding the health of the consumer and the producer.

3) Fair: Social justice should be pursued through the creation of conditions of labor respectful of man and his rights and capable of generating adequate rewards; through the pursuit of balanced global economies; through the practice of sympathy and solidarity; through respect for cultural diversities and traditions. 

Their focus is connecting people to produce as well as to create the space for consumers to understand and appreciate food. This is incredibly important for local farming communities across the world, including Australia. As urbanisation continues to grow, regional communities are losing critical services and industries. Sustainable and ‘slow’ agriculture is one method to revitalise regional centres and help local consumers to create new industries  (ecotourism, hospitality and manufacturing) alongside agriculture. 

Slow Food in Australia

In 2017,  Slow Food Central Highlands in collaboration with Australia Food Sovereignty Alliance hosted the first Slow Meat Symposium in Daylesford. The Symposium had farm visits, butchery and cooking demos, feasts and debates about how to progress the Slow Meat movement in Australia. There was even a visit to a regional abattoirs to show how they are revitalising their trade to accommodate to the steadily declining access to processing for small-scale, pastured livestock farms. More recently there was a Slow Fish conference in Melbourne.

The slow food movement is growing through regular, regional farmers markets. However, the disconnection of food between farmer and consumer largely caused by major supermarkets is a concern for local communities. There is a need to create bridges between urban and regional environments that are meaningful, accessible and affordable.
Slow Food Melbourne is a branch of the international community and can their website can be found here

Local Agriculture: Piccapane Farm in Puglia, Italy

In the heartland of the Slow Food Movement, I dropped into an organic, slow farm in Italy’s south, Lecce, Puglia. This is a heavy Agricultural based municipality with 60% of local land designated for farming. Lecce is becoming a tourist hotspot with its famous Baroq history as well as the emergence of agritourism. Many farms have farmhouses, restaurants and local farming experiences for tourists who want to get off the beaten track and learn about local food production. A key element of the slow food movement is supporting small landholder farmers, which is a dying trade in most parts of the world.
Giuseppe runs an organic farm called Piccapane with vegetables, olives and grains on his property just outside of Lecce. He has been on the property for over 20 years after making the career shift from management consulting to agriculture. ‘I wanted to feel productive and work with my hands. It is a busy job but it is very satisfying.’ Giuseppe explained. 

On the farm, he often has WWOOFers (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) who come from all over the world to work with him and learn about agricultural practices. ‘We have a lot of people come to my farm for months at a time to learn about the importance of agriculture as well as the practices. We have even had Italian young professionals who have come and then shifted career paths into agriculture as they understand the importance of it for their own future and for the future of Italy.’

The main production on the farm is olive oil. However Giuseppe and the team also grow  vegetables to feed local families through a weekly vegetable box service as well as through local stores. ‘It is important for me to have food that connects with the local community. Our vegetable boxes are a way for local families to have the freshest produce. We often have them come out to the farm so their children can learn about local food.’ Giuseppes shares as we wander through his vegetable plot. He wants to change the culture of immediacy when it comes to food. Each week the vegetable boxes change slightly depending on the season and availability. Customers accept that they may not be able to get specific vegetables, but they do get fresh, organic produce. This mindset shift is slowly changing the way locals are consuming. This is enabled by the local CSA – Community Supported Agriculture group, which Giuseppe founded and wants to continue to grow. 

Giuseppe picking a carrot from the vegetable patch
The preserves and sauces Giuseppe makes with excess produce
Giuseppe showing some of the grains before they go to the local bakery to be made into bread and pasta.

‘We also have a program for school children to come to the farm to see where their food comes from. Education is absolutely critical if we are to shift mindsets and our relationship to food. Last year we had over 250 students from the local region come to our farm, cook and learn about food. Ultimately, I want to plant little seeds in children about food and sustainability so one day they might pick a career in this field or consume food in a sustainable way.’ 

His farm is an open, local example of the benefits of agriculture in communities. As we sat down for lunch at Giuseppe’s place, there are people who have heard of his farm and previous WWOOFers who dropped in for a visit. Giuseppe’s place is filled with drying racks for herbs with jars of organic tea, grains and granola. 

Giuseppe serving up 0km food, all from his farm.
Grains, seed and legumes are a healthy snack for everyone
Drying racks for herbs

We wander around his farm after lunch. Giuseppe uses permaculture principles on his farm to maximise the biodiversity and minimise the impact on the land. The garlic and onions are bordering the patch and the vegetables that need more shade are nestled close to the olive trees. The olive trees are healthy and strong, however there has been a bacteria that has plagued many of the older trees, devastating local olive production. Fortunately, the majority of the trees on Giuseppe’s farm are healthy as they belong to a species which seems to be resistant to the xylella bacteria. 

Paddock to Plate Restaurant

The farm also has a restaurant and guesthouse that boasts a ‘0km’ sign, with almost all the food on the menu coming from the farm. ‘We want to use this as an example that you can do sustainable, delicious food in a healthy, accessible way.’ Giuseppe shares. ‘Ultimately we want people to walk away thinking that what we put in our body is a priority and knowing where food comes from is a way to ensure healthy living.’ 

In the restaurant, there is a young family from Belgium who found out about the farm on the internet. Their kids run through the olive trees and occasionally pick them out of curiosity. 

The beautiful and spacious guest house close to the restaurant
Outdoor seating for the restaurant
Local produce including pestos, olives, pasta and tomato sauces.

Local Challenges 

The farm is Giuseppe’s passion but it doesn’t come without its challenges. The overheads of the restaurant become costly and seasonal volatility in market demands and crop production plagues him. ‘I have learnt that when I experiment, I need to just try small patches. Instead of 1000 units, I now try 100.’ It is difficult to adapt to market trends when the production cycles are longer and there is little guarantee in demands. He is refining his process but wants to keep expanding his vegetable box production. It seems that the local community is growing in acceptance of slow food production, however there is still a long way to go. Convenience and supermarket prices are still a challenge as the ‘busy lifestyle’ of consumers impacts food choices. 

The CSA vegetable boxes are an important connection between farm and consumer, however Giuseppe fears that organic food is still not a priority for local people. ‘People are more interested in spending their money on cars and clothing, not food that will nourish them.’ This cultural mindset may be one that takes decades to shift.

Overall 

The Slow Food Movement has been effective, however in Giuseppe’s eyes it is still not mainstream. ‘We need to focus on education and changing consumer behaviour through shifting mindsets.’ As our populations become more urbanised, accessibility of local food is important. 

Thinking about the future of regional communities across the world, local agriculture is a really important yet challenging issue. Supporting people like Giuseppe and taking conscious acts to understand local food production in your area is an important first step. 

Food policy development of local Government is another way to further stimulate regional economies through agriculture. The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) is aimed at urban policies, however these can be adapted for both regional and urban communities. Check out our previous post about the Pact here

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