I don’t claim to be objective about this movement — I love the philosophy of Slow Food. Though I have made dinners for which most of the ingredients have arrived at my house by express mail from far off places, even that eccentric behavior reflects my effort to buy foods from the people who produce them when they are fresh and authentic and taste their best. For me, Slow Food is a way to cook and eat attentively and spiritually, rooted in deep respect for the food, for my companions and for the Earth. My commitment to the ideals of the Slow Food movement, along with my political scientist’s fascination with a grassroots effort to reinforce community and quality of life, sent me on my way, last October, to attend the Slow Food Salone del Gusto (Halls of Taste). The Salone is a gathering of hungry and food-obsessed people who congregate every two years at an elegantly renovated Fiat factory on the outskirts of Torino, Italy, to taste good things from the Ark and to talk and learn about food.
For a food lover, it may be the most fun you can have. Part food fest, part trade show, part ideological showcase for the merits of biodiversity and ecological awareness, the Salone is a horde of people eating, sipping, chatting, and sharing a common passion.
There are tasting workshops of all kinds (we looked like hungry U.N. delegates with our headsets tuned to our native languages), organized visits to restaurants with famous guest chefs from around the world, awards ceremonies, and speeches on culinary geopolitics. Mostly, however, there was the food. While participants come to the Salone from all over the world, it is naturally easier for Europeans, and especially Italians, to make the trek. The British and the Irish were big presences, with lots of cheese (a Stilton that alone made the trip worthwhile), some wonderful preserves and chutneys, single malt Scotches and real ale.
Besides smoked wild Irish salmon and English raw milk cheddar cheese, other international Ark foods included basmati rice and mustard seed oil from India, four kinds of Andean fruit from Peru, nutty Argan oil from Morocco, the Tolosa black bean from Spain, the smoked Oscypek cheese from Poland and the intense Huehuetenango coffee from Guatemala.
This year, Slow Food USA got hung up at customs and saw their cheese products confiscated. Still, they were present with samples of various microbrews, pecans, dried cranberries and apricots, and Sharffen Berger chocolate from California.