Ever stopped to wonder why you do the things you do? Why do you enjoy running? Why is someone presenting a message in a certain way? And where does the food you’re eating come from? The last question is one that the organization Slow Food hopes to answer. Tonight I went to an event to find out more about Slow Food NYC, what they do and how I can help to spread the word about diet choices and local produce. It was an inspiring presentation and, despite only discovering the existence of the organization yesterday, I’m already eager to begin helping.
Slow Food was started as a reaction to the growing fast food market, by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986. Its original aim was to preserve traditions in cooking and eating, from old recipes, to using food and dining as a way to socialize. The organization has grown and is now active in over 100 countries around the world. Its mission is to “create a dramatic and lasting change in the food system” and transform food policy in the US. Since World War II, convenience food has become a staple at meal times for many families in America. Our culture has evolved to make food faster to prepare, cheaper and easier to produce on mass.
Although I’m sure these stats don’t apply in New York, the average US household today spends less than 10% of its income on food. People are spending less on food overall, and more on dining out than eating at home. Here’s a table showing the proportion of household income spent on food in different countries. Although it’s slightly out of date, it shows that spending on food per capita in the US is lower than in France, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and Norway. This could be related to the price of food in the US as well as its priority in modern society. Both Slow Food and myself believe that it’s important to change the convenience food culture. Home cooking is often much healthier, with less sodium, fat, preservatives and chemicals than found in many restaurants and pre-packaged meals. Eating is an important social occasion that brings people together and helps create a happier home environment. And finally, buying and using local produce supports local farmers in an aim to reduce the industrialization of food, where a pig or a banana must be a certain shape and size to be accepted.
Where Slow Food USA focuses on food policy transformation, local chapters, of which NYC is the largest, focus on education and events in the area. Slow Food NYC works directly with Title I schools in New York, where there is a high high percentage of students from low-income families, in order to educate children about food. It looks at the quality, sustainability and nutrition in local foods and restaurants and awards a snail of approval to those that meet its standards. The organization’s goals closely match my own to educate people about the industrialization of food, sustainability and health and I plan to attend their events as a volunteer very soon.