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Assault on Slow Food: Too elite?


Devotay
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Well, at the risk of, of what I'll have to wait and see, let me put in my two cents' worth. Like everyone else I was enthused when Slow Food first came along. What I know of what many convivia are up to sounds pretty good.

But, and that's what this is leading up to, I was asked to write a lengthy review of Petrini's boook, Slow Food. As I tried to sort out what Petrini was arguing for in that book, I found I liked it less and less. Because Slow Food has attracted so much attention, I felt it important to work out why I was unhappy with the distance between the rhetoric and reality.

This, of course, says nothing about all the thousands of people associated with Slow Food, just about the argument of the book itself.

So if anyone is the faintest bit interested in plowing through fifteen or twenty pages in which I try to sort out my ideas, here's the link.

A warning though. It was for an academic journal, Food, Culture and Society (which has some pretty interesting articles though truth in advertising means that I have to fess up to being on the editorial board). In the early stages, this was designed by an eager beaver young designer so that the first page looks black and all the pages are long and thin and impossible to scan well.

No references to Bourdieu in my review though. I'm not one for academic language.

http://www.rachellaudan.com/wp-content/upl...food-review.pdf

All the best,

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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I did, honestly, I did try to keep my mouth shut on this but finally, need wins:

Has anyone noticed that the Slow Food Movement is taking on a cult status....

Among the symptoms: Agreement with the leader, even when his statements sometimes are little more than cliches; an attack on those who disagree with the principles of the movement; and devotion to the movement even when/if it goes beyond logic.

And do let us please keep in mind Dr. Johnson's axiom to the effect that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".

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Has anyone noticed that the Slow Food Movement is taking on a cult status....

Among the symptoms: Agreement with the leader, even when his statements sometimes are little more than cliches; an attack on those who disagree with the principles of the movement; and devotion to the movement even when/if it goes beyond logic.

And do let us please keep in mind Dr. Johnson's axiom to the effect that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".

Daniel,

Where Mr. Sterling's argument is wrongheaded, yours is simply insulting. You have no right or reason to accuse me of being incapable of free thought or the ability to reason, as your statement clearly contends.

Your assertion that "his statements sometimes are little more than cliches" has the sound of those who say they don't like the movie Casablanca because "it's just one cliche after another," blissfully unaware that it is original source of the ideas that became so well known as to be regarded as cliched.

My rebuttal, which you term an "attack," was not against one who disagreed with the principles of the movement, I don't think Mr. Sterling does disagree with the principles. He does however deride what he perceives as snobbery and/or elitism, and therefore I set out to show him (and you) the larger picture. I also set out to remedy those aspects of the movement that cause said misperception, such as local chapters whose only events are $100/plate dinners.

While I do hope that more people join Slow Food (and after Slow Food Nation many more undoubtedly will), I couldn't possibly care less if you or anyone else were to actually sign on, as long as the goals are achieved. The principles are far more important than the organization. We are not recruiting zombies to a cult, we are trying to reform the food system. We are trying to make sure that the wine you are so fond of can continue to be made and enjoyed without becoming McWine.

And where, exactly, do you feel that the "movement... goes beyond logic."?

No doubt you will say, if you bother to take the time, that my argument here is further proof of some knee-jerk reactionary defense of "our dear leader." To the contrary, as I have repeatedly stated in this post and others, my intent is to make sure people understand the mission of the organization, and that of the many related organizations, as one that seeks to make sure that industrial agriculture and cookie-cutter restaurants know that their right to swing their arms ends at the tip of the organic farmer's nose. They can do what they like, produce and consume as they wish, but not at the expense of the earth and of good, clean, fair food.

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, by the way, is in the midst of his last term as president of the organization. There is no blind worship of some benevolent dictator to be found here.

And if others seek to find snobbery or elitism among foodies, they need look no further than your blog, as witnessed here:

I always travel first class, have no choice but to taste the world's best wines, dine in the world's best restaurants and stay in the world's best hotels. To add insult to injury, I am even paid for my efforts.

And let us also not forget that "Dr. Johnson's axiom" does not mean that one should not intend to do good.

________________________________

Meanwhile Caroline,

I read your review and found it far more well-reasoned and insightful than most. I'd enjoy extending the dialog with you off this thread (via PM or eMail?). As I have said many times, my goal is not to simply eliminate the the perception of elitism, but also the causes of that perception as well. To that end I would find your input extremely valuable.

Peace,

kmf

www.KurtFriese.com

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Fine Devotay. Just pm me whenever you want. I'm happy to chat in private or in public. But since Slow Food has such visibility, I'd prefer public since in my book any institution--culinary or not--with wide visibility should be subject to criticism and scrutiny.

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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I don't know a great deal about the slow food movement, and have more than a little trepidation over trying to enter into this thread without sounding like an idiot. But here goes anyway.

I think it's interesting, ironic maybe, that food like McDonald's is now being seen by anyone as "food for the masses." While it is definitely affordable, it's expensive in a lot of ways.

If we all did more cooking at home and less dining out, food would be much more affordable, in a personal sense as well in an ecological sense. But the "McDonaldization" of our food is killing our planet, and if this continues, only the wealthy will eat. The poor will starve. We are beginning to see that in Haiti and other places on the planet. If I understand the situation accurately, some of the countries that contain some of the most desperately poor and starving people are actually exporting their food to other countries. I understand that the economics involved are quite complex, but on the other hand, it simply makes no sense.

When I was a child, I loved to hear tales from friends who traveled, about the things they saw and did and ate in foreign countries. It was all quite exotic to me, and I understood, somehow, that while I may be able to find a recipe for something they described, and I may be able to find the ingredients, our ingredients wouldn't be quite the same as the actual ingredients that were used in the dishes our friends ate. I understood that I would have to actually travel to those places, to experience what they'd experienced. And I hoped that I would, one day.

But the reality, now that I'm an adult, is that if I travel to those places, some of those special dishes, made with local ingredients, will be available only if I'm lucky enough to find them. What I will much more readily find, however, is McDonalds, and "tourist" food - local food that has been prepared with the American palate in mind. Indeed, when I was in Europe as a high school student, we shied away from the unfamiliar. In Paris, when we ordered pizza (yes, pizza in Paris...<sigh>), the pie that was brought to our table had a lot of unrecognizable ingredients on it; the one recognizable element was a raw egg, smack in the middle. The cook and his friends had been very flattered that we chose their restaurant, and they bought us what they considered to be their very best. Idiots that we were, we sent it back, hoping to finally receive something that was much more like what we'd eaten at Pizza Hut. They were extremely disappointed and did not understand. I don't remember anything about what we finally received. But I could kick myself for not tasting the cook's pride and joy, and for not being more open minded and willing to try new things.

An example of the world we have created with our ignorance happened several years later. A co-worker came bursting into my office, just back from a vacation in France, to show me the coffee mug he'd purchased there. It was sleek, black, and octagonal, and he was clearly delighted with it. I admired it and pretended to be envious. In reality, I was covering my disappointment for him. I'd seen the same mug, by the same maker, in Dillards the week before. Although he loved that coffee mug, especially because it reminded him of France, it was hardly anything unique or truly representative of his trip.

My understanding of the slow food movement is that they're trying to bring back regional flavors and regional uniqueness. If they succeed, perhaps only those who can afford to be world travelers will be able to appreciate such things, as was the case in my childhood. But ultimately, it will benefit us all, whether we're able to partake of it or not. If we continue to homogenize everything the way we have, it'll be a toss-up as to whether we'll all starve to death, or simply drown in mediocrity.

Jenny

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Devotay, Hello…

A debate such as we have entered into would be more appropriate for a serious week-long symposium than an exchange of posts on a discussion forum. I will, thus, not enter fully into the debate at this time but will simply respond to several of the points in your own post (above) that was addressed to me.

1. My comments were not directed at you personally but at the movement in general.

2. Those comments were not meant to be "insulting". Nor were they meant as an attack. Their onlygoal was to raise a set of important issues with regard to the movement.

3. As to those who are, as you say, "incapable of free thought or the ability to reason" – I would lay that charge against anyone who follows any set of beliefs blindly and cannot, at least in a discussion, perceive a point of view contrary to their own.

4. One wonders if your rather emotional and indeed strong reaction to my comments might demonstrate precisely what I suggested about a potential intellectual blindness. After all, as I suggested, moves or comments perceived as opposed to the movement is returned with an attack

5. Your comparison of the words and goals of the Slow Food Movement to those of Casablanca poses a small leap in logic. Casablanca, as great and lasting a film as it is, is a film and, although open to analysis and criticism, was and is meant primarily as entertainment. The Slow Food Movement is intended to impact on and change lives.

6 The questions that remain relate to whether Slow Food will impact on and change lives. Is it possible, for example, that this is nothing more than a form of imperialism under the guise of political correctness. One might suggest that the very idea what "we will free you" is a rather outmode notion. Freedom is not something that is given. "We" do not own "their" freedom and thus do not have it to give.

7. As to your reference to my comments about myself – you may have missed the point – that having been to introduce a bit of humor to the description of the life-style of the food and wine critic. As to elitism – I'm all for it and firmly believe that any person who does whatever it is that he/she does to the very best of their ability is part of my elite – and that regardless of whether they are bricklayers, critics, poets, authors, professors, or street cleaners.

Pax Vobiscum

P.S. I have used the word "intellectual" several times in the above. That is not a dirty word, for when I define the intellectual it is as a person who thinks, who enjoys thinking, who considers thinking importnt and who thrives on having his/her views challenged.

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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As with any human organization, Slow Food is not perfect. However, as a human organization, it is only as strong as its members and it is up to its members to not forget the underlying tenets and to continue to work for them. People come and go, the organization may be attacked, but what it stands for remains important and worthy of promotion - "Good, Clean & Fair."

BTW, Daniel, just because somebody responds to criticism, it doesn't mean that that person is intellectually "blind." He may respond to a particular criticism because that criticism is either unfounded, in error or worse.

Criticism is good. It should make an individual or an organization take a look at itself and work to improve. It is not always the case though that a particular criticism is valid. Slow Food certainly can be criticized and should be to help it continue to improve, but it also has more than its share of positive points that should be maintained in focus. It is convenient when unable to adequately criticize or attack the underlying elements that many critics, especially those with a negative agenda, attack the vehicle with ad hominem attacks.

There is much on which I personally disagree with Carlo Petrini, however, the over-riding elements underlying the philosophy of this organization are some that I find entirely persuasive, so much so that I have become a convivium founder and president with an eye on emphasizing what makes Slow Food a great organization with an important message. Good, clean and fair is important. It is important for today, but more important for tomorrow. Can anyone really and honestly state otherwise?

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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As someone who has publicly tangled with Slow Food and has a lot of criticisms of the way they handle things, I think cult is far too strong a word. And a little offensive to people who are actually dealing with cults.

My experience has been that Slow members are more like "cafeteria Catholics" outside of the Vatican, who pick and choose different aspects yet remain faithful to the core idea. A lot of the members are not interested in digging too deep. It's an aesthetic that touches them in exactly the right place. If it means better food, I don't think it's so bad. But they have to be careful if they want to actually influence people outside of the believers. Arrogance and elitist behavior, perceived or actual, are a turn off, despite what the heads of Slow Food may think.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

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"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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As someone who has publicly tangled with Slow Food and has a lot of criticisms of the way they handle things, I think cult is far too strong a word. And a little offensive to people who are actually dealing with cults.

My experience has been that Slow members are more like "cafeteria Catholics" outside of the Vatican, who pick and choose different aspects yet remain faithful to the core idea. A lot of the members are not interested in digging too deep. It's an aesthetic that touches them in exactly the right place. If it means better food, I don't think it's so bad. But they have to be careful if they want to actually influence people outside of the believers. Arrogance and elitist behavior, perceived or actual, are a turn off, despite what the heads of Slow Food may think.

Without bringing them all back to the fore, your criticisms are ones that I think had and may still have validity and should be used constructively by the organization. Clearly, the organization is not perfect, but it has done much good , especially by bringing many worthwhile issues to greater prominence. Those who do not dissect it cafeteria style may be accused of being blind adherants. One doesn't have to agree with everything about the organization to understand that despite its imperfections it remains the best alternative for what it does. What those who agree with its basic premises should do, is strive to improve it and/or make the best of it. This should be applicable to just about any human run organization.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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As someone who has publicly tangled with Slow Food and has a lot of criticisms of the way they handle things, I think cult is far too strong a word. And a little offensive to people who are actually dealing with cults.

My experience has been that Slow members are more like "cafeteria Catholics" outside of the Vatican, who pick and choose different aspects yet remain faithful to the core idea. A lot of the members are not interested in digging too deep. It's an aesthetic that touches them in exactly the right place. If it means better food, I don't think it's so bad. But they have to be careful if they want to actually influence people outside of the believers. Arrogance and elitist behavior, perceived or actual, are a turn off, despite what the heads of Slow Food may think.

Without bringing them all back to the fore, your criticisms are ones that I think had and may still have validity and should be used constructively by the organization. Clearly, the organization is not perfect, but it has done much good , especially by bringing many worthwhile issues to greater prominence. Those who do not dissect it cafeteria style may be accused of being blind adherants. One doesn't have to agree with everything about the organization to understand that despite its imperfections it remains the best alternative for what it does. What those who agree with its basic premises should do, is strive to improve it and/or make the best of it. This should be applicable to just about any human run organization.

I agree with you, but there is a problem when the heads of this organization do not understand the grace that can be found in humility or the offense that can be taken from arrogance. The only person I really agree with 100% is me. That's cool! I think the magic of Slow Food has been the individual chapters, not the leaders of the organization, here or in Italy.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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As someone who has publicly tangled with Slow Food and has a lot of criticisms of the way they handle things, I think cult is far too strong a word. And a little offensive to people who are actually dealing with cults.

My experience has been that Slow members are more like "cafeteria Catholics" outside of the Vatican, who pick and choose different aspects yet remain faithful to the core idea. A lot of the members are not interested in digging too deep. It's an aesthetic that touches them in exactly the right place. If it means better food, I don't think it's so bad. But they have to be careful if they want to actually influence people outside of the believers. Arrogance and elitist behavior, perceived or actual, are a turn off, despite what the heads of Slow Food may think.

Without bringing them all back to the fore, your criticisms are ones that I think had and may still have validity and should be used constructively by the organization. Clearly, the organization is not perfect, but it has done much good , especially by bringing many worthwhile issues to greater prominence. Those who do not dissect it cafeteria style may be accused of being blind adherants. One doesn't have to agree with everything about the organization to understand that despite its imperfections it remains the best alternative for what it does. What those who agree with its basic premises should do, is strive to improve it and/or make the best of it. This should be applicable to just about any human run organization.

I agree with you, but there is a problem when the heads of this organization do not understand the grace that can be found in humility or the offense that can be taken from arrogance. The only person I really agree with 100% is me. That's cool! I think the magic of Slow Food has been the individual chapters, not the leaders of the organization, here or in Italy.

Its the grass roots that really matters the most, anyway, though I do not have the issues with the leadership that you do..

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Bear in mind that most of the great social movements throughout history were begun by the so-called “elite,” (witness abolition and suffrage - not to mention that Ghandi was a well-to-do attorney).

Just as a point of history, Devotay, you omitted many other significant movements. For example Communism (Marx, Lenin, and many others were well-to-do professionals), plantation slavery in the American colonies, sundry exploitative quasi-religious 20th-century cults, revolutionary terrorism in the 1960s and 70s (bombs in US and Europe planted by college students with trust funds). That passing rhetorical point has its flip side.

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No one even moderately left of Genghis Khan would disagree with the concept of "good, clean and fair". One of the questions is whether such positive thoughts needs a movement and another of whether the movement is truly effective or merely a self-reinforcing, self-supporting group convincing themselves of their fine behavior.

As to grass roots - heck, I'm all for that but even here questions remain - those relting to whether small, artisanal producers can feed the world; whether transporting people from various settings, some tribal and some even feudal, to Italy periodically in order for them to show how well they are "doing and faring" is truly representative of anything at all.

It may not be politically correct to say it and, truth be told, the thought actually repels me, but one has to face the at least potential reality that without the huge multi-national corporations, many parts of the world might be a good deal closer to starvation than is currently the case. I am all for cultural diversity in the world of food but I am more concerned about whether those culturally diverse peoples (including us, whomever we may be) have enough nutrients on their table to satisfy the needs of physical and cognitive development and well being.

I fear now that I and perhaps we have stated our points of view rather clearly. With a nod to all, I therefore back out of this discussion. Should anyone wish to continue in private, my email is drogov@cheerful.com

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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No one even moderately left of Genghis Khan would disagree with the concept of "good, clean and fair".  One of the questions is whether such positive thoughts needs a movement and another of whether the movement is truly effective or merely a self-reinforcing, self-supporting group convincing themselves of their fine behavior.

As to grass roots - heck, I'm all for that but even here questions remain - those relting to whether small, artisanal producers can feed the world; whether transporting people from various settings, some tribal and some even feudal, to Italy periodically in order for them to show how well they are "doing and faring" is truly representative of anything at all.

It may not be politically correct to say it and, truth be told, the thought actually repels me,  but one has to face the at least potential reality that without the huge multi-national corporations, many parts of the world might be a good deal closer to starvation than is currently the case. I am all for cultural diversity in the world of food but I am more concerned about whether those culturally diverse peoples (including us, whomever we may be) have enough nutrients on their table to satisfy the needs of physical and cognitive development and well being. 

I fear now that I and perhaps we have stated our points of view rather clearly. With a nod to all, I therefore back out of this discussion.  Should anyone wish to continue in private, my email is drogov@cheerful.com

very well said. I wish we had a thumb's up icon.

At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. ‐ Salvador Dali

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Even though I think Daniel is right that the basic positions in this debate have been pretty much fully and fairly aired, there are some comments made since I last checked in that I would like to expand on further, and will do so later, when I have a litttle more leisure time than I do right now. But for the moment, a comment of Daniel's:

As to elitism – I'm all for it and firmly believe that any person who does whatever it is that he/she does to the very best of their ability is part of my elite – and that regardless of whether they are bricklayers, critics, poets, authors, professors, or street cleaners.

reminds me of one of my favorite witticisms:

"Any society that tolerates shoddy philosophy because philosophy is a noble calling, but ignores excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a mere trade, will not long endure, for neither its theories nor its pipes will hold water."

P.S. I have used the word "intellectual" several times in the above.  That is not a dirty word, for when I define the intellectual it is as a person who thinks, who enjoys thinking, who considers thinking importnt and who thrives on having his/her views challenged.

Nor is it one to me. I'll drink to that -- but as I have a bunch of major expenses coming up, I'm afraid it'll have to be Two-Buck Chuck. The only problem is, I can't get it in Pennsylvania, thanks to this state's archaic liquor laws and distribution system.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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