Let's Wait Awhile: Slow Food & Slow City Movements

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/02/2008 01:33:00 AM
I recently took some time off to visit the scenic English town of Ludlow, the obvious home of the historic Ludlow Castle. One of the things that struck me was the apparent lack of chain stores in the city centre. "Well, that's just how it should be!" I thought to myself. If the purpose of going away on vacation is to escape from the humdrum of everyday existence, it certainly helps if there aren't Burger Kings, Waterstones, and HMVs on every other street. Coming into Ludlow, there is a ginormous Tesco, but when you get into the town proper, there are very few of the chain stores that dot Britannia in the 21st century.

It is only while I was heading elsewhere that I read some promotional materials for Ludlow that explained this lack of fast food outlets and what else have you. According to my brochure, Ludlow was the first Cittaslow, or "Slow Town" in the UK. The blurb goes on to note that the town is part of a growing international network of towns where the quality of life is important. What's more, Ludlow is also part of the "Slow Food" movement [!] In a nod to Karl Marx, they even have a "Slow Food Manifesto":

Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.

To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction. A firm defence of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life. May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.

Our defence should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavours and savours of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer. This is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it. And what better way to set about this than an international exchange of experiences, knowledge, projects?

Slow Food guarantees a better future. Slow Food is an idea that needs plenty of qualified supporters who can help turn this (slow) motion into an international movement, with the little snail as its symbol.

I am of two minds about these movements. Certainly, it works a treat for a tourist town like Ludlow to claim that it is both a Slow Food and Slow City member. Indeed, the town is renowned for the quality of its food products--cheeses, cakes, and chocolates. However, is this same claim of being a break from 21st century life also a saleable proposition in large towns like, say, Birmingham? I think not. Different strokes for different folks; at some times, the same folks may even yearn for a change of pace. For instance, I do appreciate a change of scenery now and then, although it doesn't necessarily mean that I am 100% sold on the slow movement. Yes, the McDonalds of this world do have their place. I once joked that having a McDonalds is the mark of civilization, and there is some truth in that statement. Poke fun at Mickey Ds all you want, but the chain's consistency says a lot about the relative development of a community that plays host to it in terms of being integrated with the global supply chain. The Economist's famous unit of international price comparison is the Big Mac for good reason.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that Fast Food and Slow Food can coexist. (I suspect that the denizens of Ludlow shop at the big Tesco on the outskirts of town more than they care to admit.) After all, variety is the spice of life. Like many other things, these things are marketing-driven, and there's nothing wrong with that, really. It's called "customer segmentation" ;-)