In winter, people are meant to slow down.

BY ALEX COLBY
At this dead low time of the year, otherwise known as the long, cold, bleak and thoroughly depressing New Zealand winter, Alimentary likes to take things slow. Not for us are attendances at things like breakfast events, which are surely liked only by those with fascist-type body clocks – or in Auckland by those who have no comprehension of the traffic problems that are attendant upon being anywhere in the city at 8 am.

When people phone and invite us to such thingies we always reply (cue faked clacking of keyboard or rustling of diary pages) that, oh dear, we already appear to be, sadly, booked at that time. In actual fact at that time we are still tucked up in bed, which we consider to be an entirely sensible reaction to darkness and cold.

In winter, we have an appetiser - oops, appetite...

In winter, we have an appetiser – oops, appetite…

Alimentary likes all the hackneyed things about winter: holing up at home with books and movies and magazines, warming up room décors with rich colours and extra throws and cushions, and despite their impact on the waistline, tucking into roasts and casseroles and puddings. On a cold and rainy weekend, it is very satisfying to devote an entire afternoon to making something delicious and substantial for dinner. Unsurprisingly, in recent years we have come to follow some of the principles of the Slow Food movement.

Originating in Italy but now established around the world, the Slow Food movement’s multifarious aims include the preservation of traditional food cultures and the promotion of agricultural practices that respect the environment and encourage sustainable local economies. One of its most appealing ideas for us is that people should also try to live more ‘slowly’ – especially in winter when it is rainy and cold.

... For roasts...

… For roasts…

One of our writers, John Corbett, has a piece about the Slow Food movement which you can find on the Food TV website at www.foodtv.co.nz/16-13/news/A-fraternity-of-food. Here’s an abridged version:

If you think the idea of a McDonald’s outlet at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome is a cultural slap in the face, you’re not alone. For Italian food journalist Carlo Petrini, it was also a call to action.

In 1986, when the multinational fast food conglomerate announced it was planning to open its first Italian franchise in one of Rome’s most famous landmarks, Carlo rounded up relatives and friends in his native city of Turin and journeyed to Rome to stage a ‘Pasta-In’.

Cooking and giving away large quantities of traditional Italian dishes to bemused but enthusiastic crowds, Carlo Petrini and his helpers told them: “We don’t want fast food, we want slow food.”

As protests go it was a light-hearted one, but on that day Carlo’s initiative gained a name and a movement was born.

...and boeuf en croute...

…and boeuf en croute…

Nearly 30 years after McDonald’s plans for the Piazza di Spagna were defeated, Slow Food (which has a snail as its symbol) has grown into a worldwide association of more than 100,000 members in over 150 countries, represented by more than 1,500 local chapters known as convivia. As a movement, it has also come a long way from one man’s concern about the harmful impact of global fast food franchises and industrialised food production on Italy’s traditional food and wine producers.

Today, the multifarious activities of Slow Food include the study of food production techniques, the defence of biodiversity by promoting sustainable models of agriculture that are respectful of the environment, and the support of small-scale, sustainable local economies worldwide.

With the visionary Carlo Petrini still at the helm, the movement also organises conferences, events, exhibitions and workshops such as the Salone Internationale del Gusto, which celebrates artisan foods; the Ark of Food, which promotes protection status for heritage and endangered crops; and Terra Madre, an extraordinary meeting held every two years in Turin, which unites delegates as diverse as Mexican farm workers, French chefs, Mongol herdsmen, Californian university professors, Vietnamese fisherfolk and Italian wine producers in the defence of traditional foods and livelihoods and biodiversity.

It’s an impressive range of initiatives for a non-profit organisation that is funded by member contributions (in New Zealand individual membership of Slow Food costs a $105 a year and $130 for couples), and which relies heavily on unpaid and volunteer efforts.

... and pudding...

… and pudding…

The growth and development of New Zealand’s food culture in recent decades has seen the Slow Food movement gain acceptance here. The first New Zealand convivium was established in Christchurch at the turn of the century and in 2006 the town of Matakana, just north of Auckland, was registered as Australasia’s first ‘Città Slow’ (Slow Town). Current New Zealand convivia are in Ahipara, Waitakere City, Auckland, Kapiti, Wellington, and Marlborough.

“Because New Zealand has fortunately not had the urgent food issues that other parts of the world have faced, the Slow Food movement here tends to centre around the eating experience,” says Claire Inwood, of the Waitakere City convivium. She and other convivia members are quick though to correct any misconceptions that Slow Food is purely about enjoying long lunches, or is only about gourmet foods, or aimed at leisured, middle-class people.

“Our members come from all walks of life,” Claire says, “and they’re united by their shared interest in good, fresh, seasonal, local food and knowing where it comes from.”

As befits an organisation with a grass-roots emphasis, the activities of Slow Food convivia are frequently hands-on.

The Waitakere City convivium, for instance, has been deeply involved in gardens for schools projects in its region with members rolling up their sleeves more than once to help with the physical labour. As with other convivia throughout New Zealand, internet blogs and regular email newsletters keep the 55-strong Waitakere City membership updated about progress.

It’s much the same in Marlborough, where members of the country’s second largest convivium have variously helped to establish a kitchen garden for a hotel, assisted with grape harvests and otherwise got to grips with local food and produce through classes in pickling, preserving, bread making and fish cookery conducted by local chefs. The convivium has been nominated for a Trustpower Community Award for its work in encouraging the protection of Marlborough’s food heritage and promoting a culture of food appreciation.

“The support we’ve received from the Marlborough community since we started in early 2007 has been great,” says Marlborough convivium member, MJ Loza.

“There’s a real public acceptance of what we are doing and that it is not elitist. People understand that it’s all about knowing where your food comes from and all the good things that come from that. And there are so many world-class food producers in the Marlborough region that we’ll be busy for a long time to come.”

... and oh, did we mention Vin Santo? This one is the real deal, supplied to you-know-His Holiness-who...

… and oh, did we mention Vin Santo? This one is the real deal, supplied to you-know-His Holiness-who…

The central principle of Slow Food, here and overseas, is the promotion of pleasure – in good food, in wholesome and sustainable ways of producing it and in the benefits that it brings to individuals and communities.

But it is striking how the experience of attending a Slow Food event transcends simple hedonism. One summer weekend afternoon I joined some of the Waitakere City convivium on a visit to a West Auckland winery. At the end of the visit the group, which included an encouraging number of younger people, tasted four of the wines we had just seen in various stages of preparation in tanks and vats. As we sat under a shady trellis of grape vines, a group of strangers brought together by a splendid common cause, the talk turned general – and the reason why Slow Food’s local chapters are called convivia became clear.

Cheese, a Slow Food biennial event dedicated to milk in all its shapes and forms, is the biggest international cheese fair in the world.

Cheese 2013 will take place in Bra, Italy, from September 20-23. For more information about Cheese 2013, and the international Slow Food Movement, visit slowfood.com.

Photographs by John Corbett, taken at (top to bottom): Millbrook Winery, Jarrahdale, Perth Hills, Western Australia; Muse Restaurant, Hungerford Hill Winery, Hunter Valley, NSW; Majors Lane Restaurant, Lovedale, Hunter Valley, NSW; Manfredi at Bell’s, Killcare, NSW.
Alimentary thanks Tourism WA, Tourism NSW and Tourism Australia for the opportunity to enjoy these stellar dining experiences. 

And speaking of slow…: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOkzPb5eHrQ&list=PLBC93449CD9BB747D