Wisdom from Carlo Petrini- founder of SLOW FOOD

Carlo Petrini and Dr. Lilian Cheung Slow Food Movement

On a rainy fall night my spirit was lifted by meeting Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, when he came from Italy to lecture at Harvard University. Slow Food’s mission is to “counter the rise of fast food and fast life.” Though Carlo was inspired to start Slow Food by the prospect of a McDonald’s opening up in Rome near the Spanish Steps, his talk covered the many aspects of our “fast” food system that need fixing.  Among them: the way our consumer culture devalues food; the negative health and environmental effects of our over consumption; and the urgent need to return to eating locally and seasonally, just as our ancestors did.

Slow food now has 100,000 members in 1,300 local chapters (what they call convivia) in 150 countries worldwide, as well as a network of 2,000 food communities.

Corby Kummer, Senior Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, served as Carlo’s translator. As I listened to Carlo’s words, he sounded just like Thich Nhat Hanh! I am sharing the following excerpts of wisdom from his talk with you, as they are great reminders for us to live more mindfully:

“We live in a culture of fast food and fast life.  Sometimes we forget where we came from.”

“Land is our life.”

“Food production equals liberty.  Farmers are the intellectuals of our earth.”

“Our current food system is responsible for the disaster in the environment.   Larger yield and crops destroys the fertility of the earth.  We are eliminating biodiversity.  It is like a bomb, we are creating ecological bombs.  Changing our food system is the most important agenda today.”

We are losing farmers.  In the early 1950s, 50% of the labor force [worked as] farmers.  Now only 4% in Italy are farmers.  In the U.S, it’s only 1%.”

“Food itself has lost its value.  The concern now is focused on price.  Food has become only merchandise.  Let’s not forget that in every culture over the centuries, food is sacred.”

“We have become primarily consumers.  We now think that the more we consume, the more powerful we are.  This way of life has stolen the time from us.  Free time is a luxury.  Let’s take back our own time.”

“Let’s get out of consuming and go back to a more normal rhythm.  Let’s think of ourselves as co-producers of food.  Let’s learn about the origins of foods and meet farmers.”

“We need a new model of consuming:  we are not consumers; we are co-producers.”

“We need to re-value local economy, not just global economy.”

“We need to rebuild the link between science and traditional wisdom from indigenous people, elders, women and farmers.  The better cooks are millions of women who cook at home!”

“We need to embrace local agriculture more and return to seasonality.  Let’s not waste food.  Eat it all.  Save leftovers for the next meal.  Eat together as a group together.  It is about quality, not quantity.”

“President Obama wants to give everyone health insurance coverage.  But, if we keep eating the way we do, it will not work.  Eat less but higher quality.”

“The change has already begun.  Make utopia!”

During the dinner reception, I gave Carlo a copy of SAVOR.  He took one look at the cover and pointed to Thich Nhat Hanh’s name.  His face lit up. “Marvelous!” he said (in Italian, via an interpreter, as he does not speak English).  Then he gave me a big hug.  It’s clear to me that he knows of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and is very fond of him!

Carlo has a new book out, Terra Madre:  Forging a new global network of sustainable food communities, with a forward by Alice Waters.  We traded books and took a picture, with him holding Savor and me holding his new book. (Sorry that the photo is a bit blurry!) I am looking forward to reading his book.

Leaving the event, I felt very happy and nourished. Carlo Petrini’s wisdom had watered many positive seeds in my consciousness!