For most college students, the struggle to save money is an ongoing battle. As a result, many begin to change their eating habits, choosing to head to the glowing golden arches of McDonald’s like insects to a bug zapper, or otherwise resort to the cheapest processed food available at the local supermarket. A major organization trying to slow this trend, however, is Slow Food, a movement with more than 130 chapters worldwide, including one on the UW campus.
Founded in 1986 by Italian Carlo Petrini, the Slow Food movement began as a way to resist the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. While the goal of Slow Food is to find alternatives to the current industrial agricultural system that promotes fast food, the movement also opposes processed food, the use of chemicals and the mass production of cheap commodity crops. Slow Food works to achieve these goals by living out its motto: “Good, clean and fair.”
“Good just simply means that the food is nutritious and tasty, clean means the food is raised or grown with sustainable practices in mind and fair means that the farmers are getting fair prices for their labor and the community is paying a fair price as well,” said Jen Bloesch, the Slow Food UW communications coordinator.
One common misconception regarding the Slow Food movement is that it’s just another trend promoting healthy eating. But the movement is more than that, seeking to reconnect people with their food heritage and keep traditional foods alive for generations to come. For this reason, the movement can even include “fatty, almost grotesque cultural food that can just kill you,” according to Slow Food UW co-leader Danny Spitzberg.
“Petrini would talk about how grandmothers are the people to go to because they make just the good stuff,” said Spitzberg, who had a chance encounter Petrini while living in India. “Not to be too romantic, but if you think of an old grandmother making dinner from all raw ingredients like they did in the old country, that’s the core value of the movement.”
Because the ingredients involved are more local and not processed or synthetic, a lot of the food does end up being healthier. Another great thing about the Slow Food movement is that farmers also reap the rewards.
“Slow Food supports the local economy, because by buying from local farmers, one is able to make connections and strengthen the community,” Bloesch said. “Also, it’s easier to demand transparency from local farmers, so consumers have more control over the side effects of their food choices.”
Working together, Slow Food Madison and Slow Food UW are working to bring the rich traditions of slow, sustainable and local eating to the area by connecting people with Dane County’s agriculturally advanced community.
Despite only recently celebrating its second birthday, Slow Food UW is constantly growing. In fact, UW is one of the first universities in the nation to begin a Slow Food organization. Slow Food’s biggest event, Family Dinner Night, occurs every Monday and includes a cooking workshop with a guest chef and a meal shared by everyone.
“The meals are always splendid and have included Lebanese, Thai, Spanish, Brazilian, Chinese, Italian and Wisconsin dishes all made with local ingredients,” Bloesch said. “The best part is students get a chance to cook, experience new recipes and build a community.”
Slow Food UW also regularly hosts movie nights with food-inspired films, various tastings and workshops ranging from composting to canning.
The most ambitious step on the group’s agenda right now, though, is to open a caf? serving locally sourced, organic and seasonal food that celebrates the people and places the food comes from and shares the story, traditions and heritage behind the menu, Spitzberg said.
“We realize that part of our purpose as a student group is to help improve the campus, so we want to create something unlike anything else on campus; a large living room, in a sense, with good food,” Spitzberg said.
In order to meet these goals, Slow Food UW is always looking for more active participants who want to promote the Slow Food movement.
“I’m really passionate about this group and the movement as a whole,” Bloesch said. “I think being a part of Slow Food has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I definitely encourage others to give it a chance; you won’t regret it.”
For more information on Slow Food UW and group events visit http://slowfooduw.wordpress.com.