Archivio Slow Food

Carlo Petrini, the eco-gastronome

Posted on 30 September 2014.

In a world where everything is moving faster and faster, Carlo Petrini has spent 25 years leading a slow social and cultural revolution. A revolution for a "circular" gastronomy that is respectful of small producers and the environment.

To his detractors, Carlin writes: "our food choices affect the world"

Slowly but surely, like the snail symbol adopted by the international Slow Food movement he founded in 1989. A committed journalist, wine critic and writer, Carlo Petrini has founded several slow food publications. In 2004, he created Terra Madre, a global network of producers that meets every two years in Turin, and opened the very first university of gastronomical science. A friend of Oscar Farinetti, he helped him launch Eataly, a chain of slow supermarkets. In 2004 he was named hero of the year by the European edition of Time magazine, in 2008 one of the "50 people who could save the planet" by The Guardian and in 2013 a United Nations "Champion of the Earth". Nowadays Carlo Petrini is welcome at the tables of not only small farmers but also of people in powerful positions. We take a look at the career of this eco-gastronomy pioneer.

"We don’t want fast food... we want slow food!"

Bra, in the south of Piedmont in Italy. The area is known for its cuisine, which expertly combines sophisticated dishes and rustic cuisine. There, after a day of hay making or grape harvesting, people enjoy a good bagna cauda - a typical peasant dish made with garlic, anchovies and olive oil in which everyone dunks various vegetables. "Carlin", as his family and acolytes call him, was born in this mountainous landscape. In the 1980s, he co-founded Arcigola, a sort of club for Italian gourmets. In 1986, McDonald's opened a restaurant on the Piazza di Spagna. A symbol of the industrialization of food, which standardizes taste downwards, had invaded the very heart of Rome! For Carlin it was no longer just about celebrating Italy’s food and culture, they now had to be defended - defend the trattorias and osterias, small restaurants in the capital, crowded with Roman office workers at lunch time. Audaciously and mischievously he armed protesters with bowls of penne, all chanting: "we don’t want fast food... we want slow food!" The Slow Food movement was born.

The act of eating

His manifesto, signed at the Opera-Comique in Paris in 1989, embodies the ideas that Carlin had been developing for several years. It is a strong critique of the "Fast Life" and a eulogy to slowness and the pleasures of life, with the environmental issue underlying it. It is a call to rediscover forgotten regional flavors. It falls within the Epicurean tradition and the aphorisms of the French gastronome Brillat-Savarin that Carlin likes to quote in interviews. But it would be wrong to think that the Slow Food philosophy is elitist, reserved just for a handful of bourgeois aesthetes. Carlin has always claimed the right for everyone to enjoy quality products at affordable prices.

"Good, clean and fair"

For him, gastronomy is not just about pleasure, it is a holistic science. To his detractors, he writes: "Our food choices affect the world". By the 1990s, it had become incontrovertible - gastronomy and ecology are one and the same. Protecting culinary traditions means protecting food biodiversity. In 1996, Carlo Petrini founded the Ark of Taste, a catalog of endangered foods which now includes nearly 1,400 quality products from more than 80 countries. They are identified by the Presidia, the branches of the Ark, made up of communities of small producers that are scattered all over the world and are all fighting to protect local artisanal products and traditional manufacturing methods. The Slow Food movement is changing - a product must not only be good, it must also be clean and fair, meaning it must be environmentally friendly and give farmers and livestock raisers a fair reward. These people are central to the revolution that Carlo Petrini has been leading over the last 25 years. They work hand in hand with "co-producers" - Carlin refuses to talk about "consumers" - within "convivia" to promote their food culture.

McDonald's in the Piazza di Spagna still exists, but Carlin's ideas have spread across the world. The Slow Food movement now has more than 100,000 members in 150 countries and has launched numerous initiatives focusing on education, defending taste or protecting biodiversity.

Trailer for the Slow Food Story

For more informations:

- The official Slow Food (International) website
- Two articles about Carlo Petrini in The Independent 2006 2009
- Carlo Petrini named “Champion of the Earth” by the United Nations in 2013