With the ever-quickening pace of life in America since the post-World War II years, we saw our relationship with food sink to unforeseen depths.
We shifted from an agricultural continent to an industrial one. We forgot about the little farms and turned to big industry to feed us — from processed food to mass-farmed animals. Along the way, we gained weight, became unhealthier, and have paid a big price for it.
Today, we’re re-learning to love food in a healthier, more pure way. We’re reconnecting with farmer’s markets, celebrating urban farming and home food gardens, and really listening to what our ingredients are and where they’re from.
As a “Slow Food” enthusiast, I find this new trend very exciting.
What is slow food?
I’ll gamble that a lot of you aren’t familiar with “Slow Food,” so what is it? It’s the celebration of local ingredients, eating food made without processing, and taking the time to really enjoy both making and eating your food. It’s a much bigger concept than that, but if you’re talking about Slow Food in the average home, that’s what it comes down to — skipping the processed shortcuts, cooking from scratch, eating real food, preferring local ingredients, and supporting smaller agricultural producers rather than the big ones.
Slow Food is as much about how you cook and prepare your food, and how long it takes to eat it, as it is about where it comes from. The “Slow Lifestyle” Movement is all about saying “no” to the endless obligations and distractions that take over our lives. It’s about taking back the little moments and celebrating simplicity, from cooking through to enjoying food.
For example, something you’re not about to find in many kitchens owned by Slow Food enthusiasts is a microwave. Nothing caramelizes or crisps in a microwave. It all muddles and loses flavor. It cooks, but only in the most minimal terms. It’s like surviving on canned oxygen versus taking a deep breath of forest, country, or sea air — it just doesn’t compare.
But what do you find in a Slow Food kitchen?
Technology is okay
There’s nothing wrong with technology. Blenders, food processors, toaster ovens, coffee grinders — these things are all fantastic. They help with cooking. It’s not about taking as long as possible to do things, it’s just about not compromising.
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A microwave is different because it does nothing to elevate the food, in fact it tends to lower the quality dramatically. Where technology needs to be put aside is when it compromises the quality of the food in favor of convenience. This is what we’re trying to avoid in Slow Food. Which brings us to…
In addition to great appliances like grinders and mixers, you’ll also find lots of old-world equipment retooled for today. A heavy mortar-and-pestle will make smashing your fresh-toasted spices a breeze for your Thai curries.
Mine is the one pictured in this article on how to pick a great mortar and pestle and a big heavy one like that is a great investment. Beyond spice-grinding, it also makes incredible aioli and other dressings, too, and it’ll taste much richer and more rustic than running it through a blender (but blenders are allowed too!).
Other slow food essential tools
A food mill creates the best pureed texture for your tomatoes, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and way more. If you’re an avid canner, buying a food mill might make a great addition to your artisan kitchen.
A pizza stone is exactly what it sounds like — you cook pizza on it. But you can also cook your breads and pastries on it, and many chefs leave the stone in 24/7 to help regulate the heat of their oven. You can even make your own pizza stone using unglazed quarry tiles for just a few bucks.
How can we forget the mighty, mighty mandoline? It’s a scary finger-eating tool, that’s how! No, not really. The secret to the mandoline is one you may already be trying to learn about life: Go slowly. A well-designed mandoline plus a safety glove is how to get perfect cucumbers, make your own potato chips, and slice anything else you need in perfect little slices.
Try the Moroccan salad plate of thinly-sliced cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, olives, and olive oil on a warm afternoon with friends — a mandoline does it perfectly and quickly without fuss, once you’ve got the hang of it.
“Makers” are wonderful. From ice cream makers and pasta makers, these all belong in Slow Food kitchens. You can do it the “traditional way” by hand but there’s nothing wrong with the “makers.” The important thing in the Slow Food mindset is that you’re at least making it yourself and you know where your ingredients are coming from.
It doesn’t matter what you’re sitting on or where, but if it’s a proper Slow Food meal, there shouldn’t be a television involved. Whether you’re in the garden picnicking on the ground, sitting around the kitchen counter bar, snacking on a veranda, or in a fancy dining room, it’s about taking the time to sit and enjoy not only your food but the moment and those around you.
The more comfortable the seating arrangements, the better it is for a long, lingering meal spent talking, chewing slowly, and savoring the moment in every way.
Big or small, your kitchen will do it all
It doesn’t matter how grand or tiny your kitchen is, how fancy the eating area is. Italian peasants make Slow happen in their little cottages, and you can too. Slow Food doesn’t distinguish between classes or incomes, it doesn’t need to be a special region’s food, it doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated.
Slow Food is about you reconnecting with the simple pleasures of cooking, of feeding your soul. As long as your kitchen is clean, well-organized, and stocked with even just basic equipment, if you’re in there making it from scratch, you’re part of the Slow Food movement too.
Make 2014 the year you really reconnect with your food. Plant a garden, shun agribusiness, explore new ingredients, eat local, and slow yourself down enough to enjoy your food as it travels from the farm to your plate. Your life, you body, and your soul will all feel fuller for it.