Book Reviews

The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure, Geoff Andrews, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008, 196 pagesWest: The Cookbook, Warren Geraghty, Douglas and McIntyre, 2008, 240 pages[Record]

  • Emily Jansons

To the many of us who occasionally feel overwhelmed by the demanding pace of the modern world, the notion of “slowing down” may seem romantic and abstract. Geoff Andrews and Warren Geraghty, however, illustrate that there is a growing number of people around the world who in recent years have started to make conscious choices to slow down their lives, using food as a vehicle. Andrews’ The Slow Food Story explores Slow Food as a political movement, while Geraghty’s West: The Cookbook provides an example of a restaurant that has embraced the Slow Food philosophy. Although these works prompt many questions about the nature and future of Slow Food, they also call attention to the fact that in a time of political disengagement in western countries, many people are asserting themselves through food. Fascinated by the way Slow Food moved from the periphery of leftist Italian politics in the 1970s to gain global appeal across nations of different histories and cultures, Andrews explores the figure of the modern gastronome and the idea of virtuous globalization, as well as outlining the structure and function of the Slow Food movement as a response to a contemporary obsession with speed, global inequalities, and environmentally unsustainable practices. Slow Food’s principles, laid out in 2005 by its leader Carlo Petrini, are “good, clean and fair” food (56), with support for traditional food knowledge and special emphasis on eating with pleasure. Andrews argues that Slow Food is unique in going beyond consumerism by reaching out to producers and engaging consumers in all aspects of food. To Andrews, Slow Food is synonymous with slow lifestyle. For anyone interested in the socio-cultural implications of our modern, global food system, The Slow Food Story is a pleasant read. It is full of anecdotal information and optimistic about the direction and growth of Slow Food. Andrews is very much present throughout his book, and his admiration and support for the people and philosophy of Slow Food is evident. For those too busy to read a whole book on slowing down, Andrews’ final chapter, “Slow Food, Gastronomy and Cultural Politics,” is his strongest, nicely summarizing Slow Food politics. It is always difficult to write transnational stories, and The Slow Food Story is somewhat weak in addressing the concept of globalization. Andrews first proposes that globalization—which he associates with neo-liberal free market policies (148)—is a destructive force that standardizes, threatens biodiversity, and degrades small producers; thus Slow Food is portrayed as critical of globalization (152). Later, however, the author actually credits globalization with the movement’s success, thereby suggesting that globalization is a positive force. Although Andrews dedicates a chapter to “Virtuous Globalization,” he uses the term loosely to refer to a wide and seemingly conflicting set of notions. Considering Andrews’ emphasis on Slow Food as a global movement, moreover, there is a distinct geographic imbalance in the nations explored. The only “developing country” from which substantial illustrations are drawn is Romania. Largely a study of western Slow Food, the book misses a truly interesting and unexplored story—the form that Slow Food has taken in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Andrews fails to explore the degree to which Slow Food’s western cultural origins dictate its parameters, leaving the question of how Slow Food can be a global organization while maintaining local culture and terroir unanswered. While Andrews has chosen to focus on Slow Food’s growth from its Italian counter-cultural origins, a greater exploration of anti-urban and anti-industrial movements dating back a century or more would have provided interesting context, shown threads of public sentiment, and strengthened his argument that Slow Food is a …