Carlo Petrini and His Slow Food Movement

A Reaction to Fast Food

 

January 2,2010

Everyone knows what fast food is - food that is ready to eat as soon as you order it.  

Simply drive to the nearest McDonald's, Burger King, etc., enter the lane for the drive up window, speak your order into the microphone and then proceed to the pick-up window where your ready to eat food will be waiting for you.  

If you can spare the time, you can also exercise the option to park your car, walk inside, order and pick it up at the counter and then sit down at a table and eat it.    While the sit down option is slightly slower than the drive through option, the entire atmosphere of the establishment is one of get in, order, eat and leave.  

These establishments exist for the purpose of providing people in a hurry with a quick meal at a reasonable price.

According to Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of Physics when one object exerts a force on another object the second object exerts a similar force on the original one in the opposite direction or, in layman's terms, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Anyone who has ever fired a rifle is familier with this law since when the bullet is fired forward from the rifle the rifle itself kicks back against the person doing the shooting. While not as precise as physics, a similar phonenomen exists in the social sciences as when society undergoes a major cultural or political change a reaction in the opposite direction eventually follows.

For Humans, Food Satisfies Both Physical and Social Needs

Fast food as we have come to know it came about in the 1950s and 1960s with the rise of the automobile which, in turn, gave rise to small roadside stands offering a quick meal from a limited menu.

People out for a Sunday drive or traveling someplace by car liked the convenience of being able to satisfy their hunger without having to delay their trip.

Ray Kroc then took this to the next level by building a nation-wide (now world-wide) chain of restaurants that provided the same fast service and standard menu throughout the chain. While the food was not gourmet by any means, there were no surprises either as the food and service were nearly identical throughout the chain.

For humans, food has come to be used to solve two basic needs - nourishment and fellowship. We need food to survive and for this anything that is edible and contains the nutrients needed to sustain life and provide energy will do. We also use food as a means of drawing closer to other human beings - the celebatory feast, a romantic engagement, the family dinner table, etc.

It is common for people to get together when they eat and many holidays and social occasions have food or a meal as the focal point of the event.

Of course we can grab a quick bite of food alone consuming it for the sole purpose of nourishing and re-energizing ourselves. Food can also serve just a social and not nutritional purpose as when we sit down with a friend over a cup of coffee which, while enjoyable, can hardly be considered to be nourishing in the nutritional sense.

So called fast food has the reputation of being an act of solitary consumption undertaken to satisfy our body's need for nourishment.

We are eating not for social reasons and not eating to enjoy the taste but mostly to curb our hunger pangs. Going from dining on food that has been lovingly prepared and intended to be shared and leisurly enjoyed with family and/or friends to solitary dining for the sole purpuse of sustaining life represents a major cultural shift and it is not surprising that this type of revolution would bring about a counter revolution designed to promote and restore the old order.

McDonald's, being the first utilize the fast food formula on a large scale, has come to be looked upon as the originator of fast food. It is somewhat ironic but not really surprising that McDonald's was also catalyst for the slow food movement - a movement not as well known as McDonald's but one that, like McDonald's, has established a global presence.

McDonalds Was Catalyst Behind the Slow Food Movement

It all started in 1986 when McDonald's announced plans to build a restaurant near the Piazza di Spagna in Rome.

While the company has had its critics ever since it began branching out from the original hamburger stand started by the McDonald brothers in California, its opponents remained local and disorganized.

However, when McDonald's attempted to open their restaurant in the center of Rome they incurred the wrath of Italian author and social critic Carlo Petrini who ended up starting the Slow Food Movement which has since spawned chapters world wide.

In essence, the Slow Food Movement stands for not only a return to traditional preparation of food and the leisurly consumption of such food with family and friends but also a return to traditional agriculture with its emphasis on the small family farm.

While I find a lot to like about the slow food philosophy, I am somewhat turned off by its elitist distain for fast food and those who produce and consume it. I also question their belief that fast food is a major break in human eating habits. Finally, their romantic attachment to the small family farm is plain economic nonsense.

Farming is Hard Work

Let's start with my third criticism above, the call for a return to the small family farm.  For modern urban dwellers, the family farm evokes images of an idyllic past when life was simpler and less stressed.  

However, in reality farming is hard work, so hard that when the Industrial Revolution came along many people willingly exchanged farm life for toil in factories.  Even today in developing nations millions prefer toiling in sweat shops and living in urban slums to rural farm life.  Further, the emergence of large scale agribusiness has improved working conditions for farmers considerably compared to the past.

While the decline of the family farm and rise of agribusiness has led to a great improvement in the living standards of those formerly employed in agriculture, it has made an even bigger impact on human life as a whole.  

From the dawn of time until almost the present day, hunger and famine have been a fact of life.  Today famine still occurs in isolated local areas of the world usually in places where socialist and other economic meddling by governments disrupts markets and destroys incentives to work.  

Thanks to the Green Revolution and other advances in agricultural technology the problem today is obesity resulting from over abundance of food, not malnutrition and starvation from the lack of food.  

While obesity and the diseases it causes is a serious health problem, we have to realize that, difficult as it may be, individuals can avoid the health risks of obesity by watching their diets, while individuals have no control over malnutrition and starvation resulting from a lack of food.    

Fast Food Has Been Around Since Dawn of Time

Continuing in reverse order, I will take up my second criticism which is the idea that fast food is a modern phenomonem created by companies like McDonald's and others in the so called fast food industry.

I am sure that our Neolithic ancestors in the era before learning how to make tools for hunting and had to rely on bugs and what was left over after a larger animal had feasted on its prey, did not sit down and dine leisurly on the leftovers.

Instead, they grabbed and ate what they could quickly and got out of there before some larger beast came along and made a meal out of them. Similarly, soldiers on the march, workers in fields, hunters, laborers and slaves on various projects all relied on a short meal break for nourishment and then back to work.

In my Hub entitled Cranberries - History and Recipes, I mention a food called Pemmican which is a mixture of dried fruit, dried meat, dried corn and other dried foods often mixed with maple sugar and/or meat fat then stored in pouches to be eaten while traveling. The ingredients were dried to preserve them and the meats and other ingredients selected because of the nourishment and energy they provided.

Pemmican could be eaten on the run which made it a an ideal food for Indians and pioneers out hunting or trapping. In the same Hub I mention the French Courier de Bios who were involved in the fur trade for France when France had its North American colonies. Pemmican was their main staple as they rowed their canoes from Montreal and into the interior of the continent to gather furs and return with them before winter.

I once read where pemmican was an ideal food for them as they would simply grab a handful of pemmican from their pouch, dip it in the water to moisten it as they continued paddling - those fellows from three hundred years ago were no different than the office workers of today who shove some fast food into their mouths while remaining at their desks during lunch while answering the phone and typing between mouthfuls.

John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich

(Public Domain Photo Courtesy of WikiPedia.org   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Montagu,_4th_Earl_of_Sandwich.jpg)
(Public Domain Photo Courtesy of WikiPedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Montagu,_4th_Earl_of_Sandwich.jpg)

Then there is John Montague (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich who is generally credited with inventing the sandwich. Whats cooking.net gives two versions of the story explaining how he gave his name to what we call the sandwich.

The first being that he loved to gamble and often became so involved in his game that he did not want to break away and eat so he had his servant put some meat between two slices of bread which he could munch on while he gambled.

The other version refers to when he was a Cabinet Minister and would dine on meat between two slices of bread while he continued to work at his desk - in both cases his object was getting food into his system for energy and sustenance without having to take a break from his game or office work.

For Families With Young Children, Fast Food Can Be a Leisurley Dining Out Experience

As can be seen from above, fast food has been with us since humans first walked on the Earth.   If anything, the modern fast food industry has made a great improvment in both the food and the way it is consumed.  

Not only can one find more variety on the menu of most fast food establishments than was available to the Courier de Bois, the Earl of Sandwich and all the others from Neolithic man on down, but they have also made it both less expensive and easier for workers to get a meal faster and have time to sit down for a few minutes to eat with co-workers  or relax for a few minutes with a book or newspaper while eating lunch.  

Modern fast food restaurants also provide a relatively inexpensive and easy way for families with young children to dine out.  

While sitting down as a family for dinner at home is a great way for a family to come together, it is also nice to dine out as well.

Ironically, for parents with toddlers in tow, a child friendly fast food restaurant is probably the best place to enjoy a leisurely meal with your spouse without having to leave the children at home with a baby sitter.

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Comments 14 comments

Chuck profile image

Chuck 6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Jan 13, 2010

Thanks to all for your wonderful comments.

This is the first opportunity I have ha to reply to these comments as my wife and I have been enjoying slow food and a slow life style for the past two weeks as we have just returned from a 9 day Caribbean cruise.

I actually finished this article using my netbook on the plane from Tucson to Miami and then published it from the Miami airport while waiting for the bus to take us to our ship.

Other than using the free wifi Google provided in the airport over the holidays, my netbook stayed unconnected from the Internet and used only to store my pictures during the cruise. At 55 cents a minute for a slow on board wifi connection, I was more than happy to take a vacation from the Internet as well.


martinkono 6 years ago

Very nice hub. While most of us were born before fast food became so popular and we know that slow food is certainly better, teens and younger people do not have such a certainty unless we teach them.


Delaney Boling profile image

Delaney Boling 6 years ago

Incredibly well-written and thought out! I myself am a proponent of the slow food movement though I am not so militant as to enjoy some fast food every once and awhile. On the contrary, I enjoy being able to stop in a drive-thru after work, rush home and eat in front of the television. For this reason alone, I choose to refer to fast food as "convenience" food. Sure, I'd rather be able to enjoy a well-prepared meal using locally grown sustainable produce but anymore, who has the time? All things said, the more food changes, the more it stays the same. One can look at food as being fuel or look at it as being art. I choose a little of both. Good hub.


sweetie1 profile image

sweetie1 6 years ago from India

Very nice hub , first time i ever read someone combined burgers with the third law of motion by Newton. nice one


samsoft profile image

samsoft 6 years ago from NIGERIA

Oh, this great


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

I found myself chuckling a bit when you said "the sit down option is slightly slower than the drive through option," only because I can't think of how many times I have been sitting in the drive through line, saw someone park, get out, go in, and come out with their bag of food before I even got to the pay window. I think the drive through option CAN be quicker at times, but I think it's more a matter of perception than a reality since you have other things in your car to help pass the time...like playing with the radio, or texting, or checking the gas guage. When you're standing there drooling and hungry all you really have time to do is think about how hungry you are, and so pass the minutes much more slowly (perceptually).

As for fast food vs. slow food, I do think that there is a large group of people who consume fast food on a far more regular basis than perhaps they should. And it is good food. I can't deny that. But for my wife and I often times it's a treat. We'll have a greasy hamburger complete with fries dipped in ketchup at least two or three times a month. But slow food is something even more of a treat. This is where you go to get catered to. And this is more like the dinner table in that you have time while your food is being prepared to actually talk to one another and reflect. And while fast food is run in, chomp, run out, slow food often allows one to sit for a bit after the meal as well, inviting even more intimacy within a group and creating a far more memorable and cherished experience.

In any event that's my two cents. Very interesting hub, by the way. Enjoyed the historical tidbits as well.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

Good hub, well and wittily written. So interesting, too, and the very title got me right off the bat. Slow food! i liked that about "pemmican". I wondered what it was when I came across a reference in books. Also the Earl of Sandwich. I've heard the gambling story, but not the Parliment story version.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Great article, I am sending this to my son, Jerry. Have fun and keep writing these wonderful articles of yours.


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida

Very good hub. Thanks for all the info.. food with fellowship is definitely better and goes down easier (and maybe does you more good)than 'whole foods' or 'organic' foods eaten solo??? Just a thought!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Very good hub. You obviously put some thought and time into this article and I agree that the slow dining experience is the way to go. thanks.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

Very interesting hub! I'm not against fast food in general. I just wish more fast food was healthier.


bobmnu profile image

bobmnu 6 years ago from Cumberland

Another good hub. You forgot one of the famous fast foods that helped settle the western US and the Native Americans used it extensively....Meet Jerky. Meat that is slowly cooked over a fire for several days until it was dry and hard. It would keep for weeks on the trail and could be consumed by biting off a piece and chewing it for hours. It was also used as a base for a meet soup or stew when you had a few roots and leaves to cook in a broth you would add some jerky and have some meet flavoring and a few chunks of meat in your stew.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Nice hub, but I have always taken my children, who are grown now with children of their own, to slow food places. If you start when they are young, the family can have a great dining experience and eat something healthy and delicious. I also advocate eating at home in the dining room by candle light. You would be amazed how relaxing that is for the entire family. I do it every single evening.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

Chuck, well thought out piece. Certainly, while dining at McDonalds I have seen many large families enjoying a meal together, so it is hardly a solitary way of dining for many. On the other hand, many of those people are severely overweight. You may argue that it is easier to count calories than to starve, but the problem is that neither starving, nor self-consciously determining how many calories to eat is a very functional way of managing one's life. There's a vast difference between someone who is too busy paddling a canoe or hunting down game to stop for lunch, and someone who sits at a desk all day.

Farming, hunting, canoeing are all hard labor that consumes many calories a day. To assume that someone can sit at a desk all day and then have the energy to exercise in the evening is not realistic. An intergrated life is one in which we eat in order to live and exercise in order to live too -- without having to make unnatural calculations about calories in and out.

It's precisely the loss of the physical element of work that has made it so hard to lead a balanced life. Nobody wants to be sentenced to hard labor, but it makes a world of difference whether someone else is standing over you with a whip or you are your own boss.

The family farm was hard work, but at least the family owned it.

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