When Virginia Woolf famously wrote, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” she could not have imagined how far removed from the concerns of thinking, loving and sleeping 21st-century eaters would be when making choices — conscious or not — about their food. Driven more by convenience rather than the concerns of pleasure, sustenance and sustainability, “dining well” — as both an experience and practice — has become oddly divorced from daily life. From where we get our food and how it was treated to the choice of thinking generationally by purchasing lasagna ovenware that is durable enough to stand the test of time, a good life and its ties to whole, good food are well-researched and still in reach. The slow food movement is one place where the efforts and interconnectedness of both are most easily understood.
What Is Slow Food?
Founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, slow food is an international movement that strives to be an alternative to fast food and fast food ideology through the preservation of traditional and regional cuisine, as well as farming efforts that work to grow and sustain plants, seeds and animals native to local ecosystems. With branches in more than 150 countries, slow food’s goals are to grow and support sustainable, local foods and economies that resist globalized, industrial food sources both because the tenets and practices of such food sources negatively impact the planet and its inhabitants, and because — with a little effort and intention — they are not needed. The principles of food growth, production and consumption with slow food are: good, clean and fair.
“Good” food is food that is fresh and flavorful. For food to have both of those qualities, it must be picked at peak ripeness, which means it hasn’t been shipped in from far away (peak ripeness doesn’t travel well in most foods), and is, therefore, grown locally. As such, fresh food must also be seasonal. When it’s time to make rhubarb pie (see below) in Kentucky (April – June), it is most certainly not the season to make pumpkin soup (October – December). By devoting bellies, palates and money to what is fresh and local — whether because they were grown in someone’s garden or purchased at a local farmer’s market — food has the opportunity to connect its eater more fully with the actual, physical world and the economy in which one lives.
Slow food is also committed to “clean” food production and consumption. An ethical component in the movement, the concern is on growing, making and eating food according to standards and practices that ensure no harm is done in the following areas:
- The planet’s environment. Whether air, water or land, slow food requires practices that keep the entire environment safe and sustainable.
- Animals. Regardless of whether animals are being raised for meat, milk and cheese production, eggs, fibers or a combination, they must be cared for in a way that takes their health and well-being seriously.
- Human health. “Clean” food cannot be contaminated with pesticides, antibiotics, hormones or chemicals since these things run at odds to good health.
Fairness is where the local economy and its conditions are taken into account. Emphasizing the interlocking parts of a healthy local economy, slow food demands and aims at creating environments where consumers can pay fair prices for good, local food at the same time that fair conditions and adequate pay are available to the small-scale producers from whom consumers purchase their animal products, vegetables, grains and fruit.
Much like that sentiment expressed by Virginia Woolf so long ago, the slow food movement places ethical and sustainable food at the front of what it means to live a good and productive human life. It may mean more work in the short term, but the real and tangible prospects of thinking, loving and sleeping well — now and in the future — are more than worth the effort.
Slow Rhubarb Pie
For the crust:
- 2 ½ c. local, whole-wheat flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1 c. local, organic butter, super-cold cut into ½” cubes
- 1 T. organic sea salt
- 1 T. turbinado sugar
- 6-8 T. ice water
Combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and cut into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water a tablespoon at a time, mixing in between until the mixture just starts to stick together.
Pinch the dough, and if it holds together, it’s ready. If not, add water until it does. Gently shape the dough into two separate, equal-sized discs. Don’t over-knead.
Sprinkle each disc with flour, warp in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to two days.
- 3 c. chopped, raw, local rhubarb — stalk only. (The leaves are toxic.)
- ½ c. turbinado sugar (add more for a less tart pie)
- ¾ T. organic sea salt
- ½ c. local, whole-wheat flour
- 3 T. local organic butter, cut into ½” cubes
Toss rhubarb with the flour, sugar and salt. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out one disc of dough until it’s large enough to hang beyond the sides of your buttered and flour-dusted pie dish when it’s placed in it.
Press it lightly into the dish, and fork the bottom a couple of times. Trim the pie edge to where it hangs 1” over the edge.
Fill with the rhubarb mix. Put cubes of butter on top of the filling. Roll out the second disc of dough. Place it across the filling. Cut a few decorative stems into the top. Trim any overhang beyond what will allow you to tuck the top crust beneath the lip of the bottom.
Pinch the two doughs together. Brush a little milk over the top to help it brown. Sprinkle a bit of sugar across the top. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove and reduce heat to 350 degrees.
Place pie back in oven for another 20 – 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown, and the filling is bubbling up at the vents.
About the Author: Martina Porubcova is from Slovakia and studies International Trade at the University of Economics in Prague. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and blogs her favorite recipes for Cilantro The Cooks Shop.