Spreading The Word

09 May 2002

I have often written about gastronomic traditions that risk being forgotten about, and I can never stress enough the need to put farming back in tune with the rhythms of nature and discredit the myth of intensive ‘productivism’. I am full of admiration for the value of certain artisan products with respect to the mass-produced output of the agroindustrial sector. The problem is that if I repeat myself over and over again, I’m going to risk appearing obsessively attached to old-fashioned rhetoric and sounding like some sort of neo-Luddite, randomly opposed to progress and modernity and keen to return to a peasant past which, far from being idyllic, was actually characterized by poverty and hard labor. The fact is that the future relationship between food and consumer – not to mention the importance of food quality – is going to depend precisely upon these issues. The movement that I’m president of is growing fast in many countries in the world, especially in the two – the United States and Japan that are a sort of cradle of modernity, industrialization and urbanization.

Signals are coming in from Japan, in particular, to suggest that these problems are attracting more and more attention. The Japanese seem to acknowledge too that a positive relationship with food, sensory education and defense of food traditions are a sin qua no for improving the quality of life and protecting the environment. No later than a week ago, the Japanese daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun invited Giacomo Mojoli, one of Slow Food’s vice-presidents, to hold a conference on these topics. 900 attended and another 1,500 had to be turned away for lack of space. The conference was followed by an public debate from which it emerged that, in Japan, no one’s certain about the quality of food any more (foot and mouth disease has recently arrived there, and the country has been plagued recently by a string of meat and milk labeling scandals). On top of that, the westernization of eating habits is upsetting environmental equilibria, public health and juvenile culture. The industrialization of agriculture has now surpassed the limit, while the disintegration of families (partly the result of hectic working hours) has meant that youngsters eat almost exclusively out side the home at fast food joints, and thus totally mislay their identity and their incredible food traditions. Hence the strong Japanese interest towards Slow Food is largely a positive response to our taste education programs (the Japanese want to translate our books, while NHK, the national broadcasting company, TV will be coming to film our school lessons) and our various projects in defense of biodiversity. The fact that these needs are so heartfelt on the other side of the globe seems to me to be highly significant and one which I’d like all readers to ponder upon.

First published in La Stampa on 4/5/2002


As Carlo Petrini says, Giacomo Mojoli is just back from a conference tour in Japan. Here he records his impressions in an exclusive interview wiith Giancarlo Gariglio of ‘Sloweb’.

Your tour of Japan sounds as if it was a huge success?
Yes, I’m really pleased about it, though, to tell the truth, I was expecting it to go well. Through our press office, our association has been working in close contact with Japan for some years now. The results were fantastic. Just think that as many as 2,400 people wanted to attend my press conference, even though there were only 900 seats. As you can see, interest was high.

So why is Slow Food in so attractive in Japan?
The reasons are many and various. In the first place, the Japanese are very sensitive to the quality of animal and vegetable produce. The mad cow disease scandal exploded like a bombshell there recently, and was accompanied by meat labeling scandals. They’re also keen on the concept of recovering traditions and food education. Last but not least, what really impresses them is that the slow life that we are proposing would enable them to reactivate the consumer chain. At present, in fact, Japan is suffering a serious economic crisis due, most of all, to the stagnation of purchases and to its frantic pace of life, which leaves no room for shopping and conviviality.

These are all important points. As if by magic, Slow Food seems to have the comeup with the answers.
That’s the impression I get. They’re interested in us because we offer tangible responses to problems that are strongly felt in Japan. For example, when they heard about the Slow Cities movement, they were excited by our ideas. They’re particularly sensitive to problems of urban planning and road systems. They’d also like to adapt domestic design to slower rhythms.

Today there’s an article about Slow Food, on the front page of the national daily Asahi Shimbun , about how an idea born in Bra, in the province of Cuneo in Italy, has managed to take root in such a different world.
We’ve achieved our biggest success abroad in Japan and the USA, two countries completely different from our own, but in which the problems we are trying to address have exploded most evidently. I’ve reinterpreted and turned upside down an old environmentalist slogan: we’ve got to assimilate practical experiences and then act globally. In the light of recent events, this approach seems to me to be working.

Giacomo Mojoli was interviewed on 9/5/2002

Carlo Petrini

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