FAST FOOD WORLD
Alice Waters looks at the United States and sees one overwhelmingly dominant culture: fast food culture.
“It’s everywhere,” Waters says. “Fast food culture has invaded our lives. And it’s changing the world.”
Waters, a world-renowned chef, author and food activist, teaches the importance of slow food values in a fast food world. Waters sparked a national movement to serve sustainable food, founded the restaurant Chez Panisse, and created the Edible Schoolyard project in 1995 to teach schoolchildren to grow and cook food. While in Bloomington on April 6 and 7, Waters inaugurated the IU Food Project and delivered a speech about the slow food movement, which seeks to transform the food culture in the United States from fast to slow.
FAST FOOD VALUES
Every culture has a set of values, Waters explains, and fast food culture is no different. One of these values is uniformity. Waters says fast food looks, feels, and tastes the same — every time.
“You know, the hamburger that you get in New York should be exactly like the one that you get in Paris. The soft drink that you get in Chicago should be exactly like the one you get in Dubai, and the beer that you like so much should be exactly the same wherever you go, or there’s something wrong with it,” Waters explains.
Uniformity in our food masks deeper cultural issues, Waters says, and results in a loss of individuality.
Fast food culture not only celebrates uniformity but also instant gratification. Most foods are now available year-round, almost everywhere. Fewer people eat indigenous, seasonal food.
“Local culture, and the specialness of what’s happening here and now, becomes less important than the homogenized fast food get-it-whenever-you-want global reality,” Waters says.
Fast food must be available, and it must arrive hot on our plates almost instantly. However, it’s not just our food we want quickly, Waters says. We like everything to move quickly. “These days, if there’s not instant gratification, we get frustrated,” Waters says. “How many cows can you slaughter in a slaughterhouse in a day? How many patients can a doctor see in an hour? How fast can you down your lunch?”
SLOW FOOD VALUES
It doesn’t have to be this way, Waters says. Fast food culture has an antidote: Slow food culture. Slow food culture can be found at the farmer’s market, in the community garden, and around the kitchen table. In slow food culture, we are encouraged to admire the speckles on an egg and the change of seasons. Slow food culture, like fast food culture, has its own set of values.
“They’re earthbound, agrarian values that grow out of intimate, sensually engaged activities, like organic gardening, and talking, and cooking, and making things with your own hands,” Waters says.
Ripeness is one of these slow food values that ties what we eat to the earth, Waters explains. Ripe food is at its peak flavor and value.
“Like cherries and peas are most vibrant in the early spring. Peaches and corn in the late summer,” Waters says.
Ripeness means there is a right time for everything, Waters says, and this value shows up in aspects of our lives beyond the dinner plate. There was a right time for the Beatles, a right time for Gandhi’s movement, and a right time for the discovery of gravity, Waters says.
“You know, gravity has always been around us, but it took the ripe apple falling on Newton’s head for mankind to finally discover it.”
Ripe food and ripe moments also come in different shapes, sizes, and flavors, Waters says. She explains how slow food culture appreciates the diversity of nature, and why variety makes our food richer, and our world stronger.
“With diversity, you start listening to music that you may never have considered before. You search out other people’s point of view, and your world becomes richer,” Waters says.
Once we appreciate ripeness and difference in our everyday lives, Waters says, our senses awaken, and it becomes easier to recognize the importance of beauty. Beauty is Waters’ favorite slow food value, because it is a language of care, Waters says. Beautiful food and flowers can show someone love and respect, Waters says.
SLOW FOOD FOR ALL
Waters says that slow food values can change the world. But how do you start the movement when healthy, organic food is too expensive for so many people? Waters says the key is to start the change in public schools, which she promotes in her project, the Edible Schoolyard. By teaching gardening and serving students breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, students have access to healthy, delicious food. Places such as Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard in Bloomington and community gardens across the country also help make good food accessible to more people, Waters says. The slow food movement has to be rooted in the community. At the Bloomington farmer’s market, Waters explains the importance of community-building to change the way we eat and live.
“I know that I’m giving the money to the farmer, who is a friend of mine, and it feels really good to do this. That’s how you build community. It’s everyday interactions with somebody, where you build a friendship, and you depend on each other. It’s a beautiful thing,” Waters says.
A DELICIOUS REVOLUTION
A shift toward strong communities and slow food values is only natural, Waters says, because these values are intrinsic to human nature.
“They just have been covered up and deadened by the assault of the fast food culture around us, and they are just waiting to be awakened, and stimulated, and it just takes a spark,” Waters says.
Waters calls her slow food movement a “delicious revolution.” This revolution is necessary for the well-being of people and the earth, Waters says. Of course, it’s going to require immense efforts to address the economic barriers to a slow food lifestyle, because fresh, organic food is not accessible for everyone right now. Still, the hidden costs of fast food to the health of people and the planet make it more important than ever to change our culture, Waters says, and to introduce slow food values to future generations.