Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry that I cannot be with you in person to celebrate the launch of Slow Food UK, but I am with you in spirit, not least because you are celebrating the launch in such a very beautiful place and one which I know well! I cannot think of a more perfect setting in which to begin the journey of reconnecting the people of this country with the culture behind their food.
As you may know, I am an enormous admirer of the Slow Food Movement and of the remarkable work it has done to encourage sustainable agriculture, to increase appreciation of good food and to celebrate and share the knowledge – often developed over millennia – of the traditions involved with quality food production. This work has been led by someone I admire greatly, Dr Carlo Petrini, whose extraordinary vision and indomitable spirit has, I think, helped to begin a revolution which will benefit small farmers the world over. I saw something of this myself last October when I spoke at the Terra Madre Conference in Turin to 5,000 small farmers from around the world. It was a memorable and moving experience.
For what it is worth, I happen to think that the importance of a nation’s food culture cannot be overstated. It represents priceless social and environmental capital and it is crucial to our sense of identity and to our relationship to place – let alone to ultimate food security.
Nothing could therefore give me greater pleasure than to know that, with the launch of Slow Food UK, Carlo Petrini’s revolution is beginning to reach our shores too. And I think there can be no doubt that there is a shift in behaviour in this country and consumers are beginning – just beginning – to mind about the food they eat and from whence it comes. But this shift needs to be accelerated. Over the last two generations, we have managed to create a nation of fast food junkies to whom food, often produced by industrialized farming systems, is nothing but fuel. The result is a growing obesity and health problem, and a disconnection in the minds of too many people between the food on their plate and where and how it is produced.
Many people assume that it is only in developing countries where the agrarian cultures that are so vital in maintaining the environmental and cultural diversity of the landscape have become a threatened species. But it has happened here, too, and increasing numbers of farmers are leaving the land, and many of these are family farmers who are the very backbone of our rural communities in this country and who manage and care for some of our most precious landscapes, be that in the Yorkshire Dales, the Cumbrian Fells, or the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
The problem is a huge one, but there is no doubt that one of the best ways in which we can make a difference is to make agriculture viable and that means celebrating and enhancing the local food communities and cultures that exist in rural areas. It also means ensuring that our artisan food producers are not shackled by costly regulations and that an environment is created within which their produce is acclaimed and can be properly marketed. To see how this can be done, we need look no further than Carlo Petrini and the Slow Food Movement and I have every confidence that the birth of Slow Food UK will become a catalyst for an ongoing renaissance of British food culture.
If I may, I just want to leave you with one further thought. Slow Food, as you well know, is traditional, local food. Needless to say, it is also crucially important that this food is grown sustainably and, very often, this will mean that it is grown organically.
So, for what it is worth, I do hope that the growth of Slow Food UK can be linked in an appropriate way with the Soil Association, which leads the organic movement in this country and of which I am Patron. After all, so many of the goals and aspirations are complementary and it could not be more important that organizations of a kindred spirit should work together – as the old saying goes, “there is safety in numbers”!
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no doubt whatsoever that over the next couple of days there will be a wonderful spirit of conviviality as you celebrate the launch of Slow Food UK and as likely as not you will enjoy some very slow meals (!), which will incorporate the best of Highlands and Islands foods, hopefully with some of those who have actually produced them.
I very much hope that Slow Food gatherings become an ongoing feature of the future of British food culture. I can only say that I salute your work and wish you all every possible success with this vital life-enhancing work.
HRH The Prince of Wales