Here’s one woman’s tale of embracing the slow food movement, which focuses on the entire experience of enjoying healthy foods.
Even before I accidentally dumped a jar of salt into my arugula salad and before my wooden spoon got mangled in the blender, I knew embracing something called the "Slow Food movement" would be a challenge. This movement is an antidote for all of us who cram meals into hectic schedules and put little thought into eating beyond counting fat grams and servings of fruits and vegetables.
A group of lovers of healthy foods started Slow Food International in Italy during the mid-'80s, a reaction to the building of a McDonald's in historic Rome. The guiding principle: to protect food and culinary traditions and to treat food as an enjoyable, social experience. Today, the group is gaining momentum worldwide, particularly in the United States, where fast-food habits abound.
The goal isn't chewing slowly (although that's not a bad idea), but rather putting thought into what you eat, how you prepare it and who eats with you. Your healthy food shopping list should not include things like frozen dinners and canned goods, but should include homegrown, regional healthy foods like peaches or even a good cut of steak from the local butcher.
There's no specific diet, and even the most culinary-challenged of us can participate in the slow food movement weekly by shopping at farmers markets or having a home-cooked meal with friends that includes fresh ingredients. "People are spending more on vacation, clothes and computers than eating well," says Patrick Martins, president of Slow Food USA. "In the end, that money should be for buying high-quality foods that make them feel good."
Health experts agree. "People wolf down everything in front of them because they're traveling or working and don't know when they'll eat again," says Ann M. Ferris, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut.
[header = Healthy food shopping list: add healthy foods back into your life and enjoy!]
A slow food diet starts with conquering the healthy food shopping list and adding both healthy foods and a relaxing ambiance into daily life.
Moreover, she adds, people have stopped looking at food as a tool for staying in shape and good health. "They come in from work at 8 or 9 o'clock, starving, and then eat. There's no time to digest the food or exercise excess calories off. Our population doesn't understand what really good food can be anymore."
Admittedly, I was a victim. With long workweeks and dubious cooking talent, eating fast was my MO. Yet my high-octane dining took a toll: My energy level and sleep patterns fluctuated wildly from day to day. With guidance from Martins and www.slowfood.com, I was willing to give the movement a chance for a few days. But first I had to go shopping.
Slow food movement day 1, Thursday
Given that I primarily use my oven for reheating pizza, I decide to start my Slow Food diet with something simple: a dinner salad. Bagged lettuce from the grocery store seems like a cop-out, so at lunch time, I wander to the farmers market near my Manhattan office, where I find a $2 bag of fresh spinach from a New Jersey farm and tomatoes for $2.80 a pound. (Not a bad deal. What respectable Manhattan restaurant would sell me a spinach salad for less than $5?)
The salad is easy and, when paired with fresh bread from the local bakery, remarkably filling. That evening, I read the Slow Food Manifesto, which describes how Fast Life "disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat fast food." The Manifesto doesn't say anything about dessert, but somehow I suspect Oreos aren't on the healthy food shopping list. Then I recall something Martins said: "Homemade food brings people together." Cookies, I think. I'll make cookies. Everyone at work will be impressed.
[header = From fast food to slow food: the healthy eating guide of the slow food movement.]
Discover more about one woman’s journey into incorporating slow healthy foods into her overall lifestyle.
Slow food movement day 2, Friday
"You made these?" My colleague Michelle is holding my cookie like it might be toxic. People gather around my cubicle staring at the Tupperware container. Finally, one brave 20-something tries one. He chews. I hold my breath. He grins and reaches for another. If I didn't know better, I might feel domestic.
I continue eating small meals throughout the day: a piece of grilled fish for lunch, fresh fruit from a vendor. I find that by midafternoon, the time when I'm usually grabbing a latte to stay awake, my energy level is still high. That night, after making it to the gym for the first time in a week, I buy a $15 bottle of red wine made locally in Long Island, N.Y. (Slow Food encourages supporting regional vineyards.) And with advice from my local butcher as my healthy eating guide, I manage to cook a respectable rib-eye steak with olive oil and rosemary. Overall, the food tastes cleaner than takeout, and there are even leftovers. The best part is, I'm done eating by 9 p.m. and in bed by 11 p.m., much earlier than if I'd trekked to a restaurant. I sleep soundly through the night.
Emboldened, I plan a dinner party with delicious slow healthy foods for the next evening.
Slow food movement day 3, Saturday
"You're having a what?" My mother is on the phone.
"A dinner party," I reply. "What's wrong with that?"
She chuckles. "Just please call and tell me what happens.”
By 5 p.m., I've gathered ingredients from the local market to make healthy foods: risotto and shrimp in a cucumber juice, with arugula salad. My girlfriend Kathryn, who actually knows the difference between baking powder and soda, has agreed to supervise. My task is to peel cucumbers and pulverize them in the blender. This is tedious, so to speed things along I poke the cucumbers with a wooden spoon as the blender churns. It seems to be working, then... Crack! I jump back, and cucumber chunks splatter across the kitchen. Kathryn rushes over and shuts off the blender. She pulls a chunk of the spoon out of the pulpy juice and looks at me. "Why don't you go take a shower," she suggests.
[header = Slow food movement: enjoy healthy foods, great friends and relaxing times.]
Satisfying slow food: see what happens with a mix of healthy foods, good friends and a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere.
After my guests arrive, I fix the salad. Everything seems OK until the salt won't come out of the shaker. Impatiently, I give it a thump. The top pops off and salt crystals pour into the arugula. I pick them out, hoping no one will notice.
Despite my hurried mishaps, the evening is more relaxing than dining out. In restaurants, we rush to order, gulp down our food and pay the bill. Tonight, with no interruptions from waiters or background noise (save the occasional crunch of salt), we linger talking until 12:30 a.m. And instead of the overstuffed feeling that typically comes after cramming in a large meal, I feel satisfied with the moderate portions. Why don't I do this more often? I wonder.
Slow food movement day 4, Sunday
The dishes, that's why. That's the one part Slow Food execs didn't warn me about. We didn't have that much food--how is there such a big mess?
I leave it all and go biking. After several laps around Central Park, I'm feeling stronger than usual. I'm hungry, but the thought of finding fresh produce or attempting another meal is too much. I slink over to a street vendor and get a hot dog. Surprisingly, when I confess this to Martins, he's delighted. While not the most nutritious of healthy foods, a New York hot dog is local, fresh and supporting a regional tradition. "There's a history there. It's a neighborhood fixture," Martins says.
Well, maybe this Slow Food Movement stuff isn't so hard after all.