We have come to understand the term “slow food” to mean everything that is the antithesis of fast food: meals that take time to prepare and eat, meals made from ingredients that are simple and whose origins are known, meals that rooted in a specific place and season.
The first Slow Food organization was founded by Italian activist Carlo Petrini in 1986. Since then, it has grown into a world wide movement. It is fitting that Slow Food has a prominent place at the World’s fair, which this year is hosted in Italy and promises to explore the topic of feeding the growing global population.
The Slow Food pavilion at Expo Milano, this year’s World’s fair, sits at the end of the mile-long street of international exhibits. The three-building pavilion frames a biodiversity garden, which demonstrates how people can grow small vegetable and herb gardens can be gown in containers. The buildings, which are inspired by the farmhouses of Lombardy, contain an exhibit space, a modest auditorium, and a restaurant, which offers tastings of Slow Cheese and Slow Wine. The buildings are constructed from certified sustainable wood, and after the Expo will be disassembled and re-used elsewhere.
The exhibition space introduces visitors to a history of food, with a particular focus on how food species are being diminished. A giant, obese corn man sits above a table explaining how corn has come to dominate global diets, in the form of heavily processed flowers and high fructose corn syrup. On another table, larger-than-life examples of the most environmentally damaging foods draw attention to problems associated with products like beef, plastic water bottles, bagged lettuce and shrimp.
Other parts of the exhibit are more hopeful—and playfully interactive. Visitors are invited to guess foods by their feel and smell, and hang tags from a tree defining what food means to them.
Protecting and promoting the diversity of food crops is like buying food insurance for the future, a future that is increasingly unpredictable under the pressures of global climate change. If we are too reliant on any single crop, like corn, we face a risk of widespread hunger and food access problems should that crop fail on a large scale.
Slow Food’s involvement in the Expo is not limited to its pavilion. On June 5, World Environment Day, the organization hosted a cooking class for local school children. The students learned to prepare ravioli, which is not only a traditional Italian dish, but also one that can be used to reduce food waste by filling the pasta with leftovers or scraps from other recipes. The event at the Expo was held concurrently with classes in the northern Italian city of Trieste, where students also made ravioli. In Nairobi, Kenya, another group of students learned to make samosas—a dish that can similarly be stuffed with leftovers.
“They learn to feed themselves without harming the planet,” said Annalisa D’onorio, a project coordinator for Slow Food who helped organize the event at World Environment Day.
In Trieste, Slow Foods has set up 50 different school gardens, which are tended by students. D’onorio said this project gives students an opportunity to learn in a setting other than at their desks, and can hopefully show them the pleasure of gardening and cooking. “They have to learn to love food and the earth,” she said.
Travel for this reporting sponsored in part by the UN Environment Programme.