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Oxford Companion to Food
Slow Food an Excerpt

It’s Food and Wine month here at the OUP blog, in honor of the publications of The Oxford Companion to Food and The Oxford Companion to Wine. Each Thursday we will present a delectable selection from the editors of these volumes. To start us off here is an excerpt from The Oxford Companion to Food about Slow Food. To learn more about Slow Food check out Madison Magazine, The Atlantic (subscription only), the New York Times, or NECOA.


Slow Food is an idea, a movement, and an international non-profit organization with its roots and headquarters in Bra, Italy. The idea itself was formed in the 1980’s by a group of people connected with the left-wing ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana). At first, they took the name Arcigola after ARCI and the magazine La Gola, a name that can also mean ‘arch appetite’. A protest against the opening of the second McDonald’s restaurant in Italy, in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome in 1986, inspired the name Slow Food and its symbol, the snail. Three years later delegates from fifteen countries met in Paris to sign the Slow Food Manifesto and the international movement was born

What started out as a gastronomical association, in favour of the pleasures of the table and a slow life, soon evolved and now describes itself as an eco-gastronomic movement. The quality of the food and drink on our tables is seen as closely linked to the work of farmers and producers, to the environment, and to the preservation of biodiversity. Its mission, therefore, complements the many initiative by individuals and other groups to promote better food and the preservation of technologies and communities involved in its production. It may be distinguished from them by greater political drive and recognition of the value of concerted action.

Slow Food has 80,000 members in 104 countries around the world. Italy has the largest number (38,000), with USA second (14,000) and Germany third (8,000). Most members belong to one of the 750 local chapters known as convivia. Carlo Petrini is the international president of the organization.

Agricultural biodiversity, or the genetic resources for food and agriculture, is disappearing at an alarming rate. In an attempt to counter this loss, the Ark of Taste was established in 1996. Named after Noah’s Ark, the goal of this project is to rediscover and catalogue rare and unique varieties of cultured plants, breeds of domesticated animals, and artisanal food products. This idea was taken one step further in 1999 with the creation of the first Presidium. The Presidia are small projects where Slow Food works with groups of artisan producers to ensure the quality of their products and promote them. Since 2003 the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, established in partnership with the region of Tuscany, oversees and supports the Ark and Presidia projects, especially in teh developing countries.

One of the major events organized by Slow Food is the Salone del Gusto (Hall of Taste) held in Turin every other year. It gives visitors an opportunity to meet producers, in particular the producers of the Slow Food Presidia, to taste their products, and attend taste workshops. Other events include Cheese in Bra, Slow Fish in Genoa, Aux Origines du Gout in Montpellier, France, and Westward Slow in Denver, USA.

The University of Gastronomic Sciences was founded in 2003 by Slow Food and the regional authorities of Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont. The university offers a three-year undergraduate degree, and two postgraduate master programmes.

Terra Madre (Mother Earth) is a conference of food communities where nearly 5,000 farmers and food producers from more than 120 countries convened in Turin, for the first time in 2004. A food community in this context is a group of people who work together on the production and sale or marketing of one product, for example the wheat grower, the miller, and the baker. The next Terra Madre will be expanded to include chefs an researchers in the food communities’ networks.

This article from The Oxford Companion to Food, is by Ove Fossa, president of the Norwegian Slow Food Ark Commission and an amateur food historian.

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