Hildegard of Bingen could not have anticipated that progress would render the cultivation, preparation, and consumption of food to something of an annoyance, a chore to be avoided in favor of saving time. She could not have expected that her medieval diet would eventually be referred to as something novel, like the slow food movement.
The Slow Food Movement is More Relevant than Ever
Here we are, a nation of convenience and optimization, of instant and flavor-packed processed foods, drive-through doughnut shops, and constellations of quickie-marts lighting up every intersection in vast food deserts.
Yet we are also seemingly consumed with health and wellness, with the latest trends in death-avoidance, age-defiance, and sound-bite systems to “hack” nature into letting us eat anything we want and still feel great. So how do these contradictory characteristics coexist?
The Inversion of Values
The conspiratorial minded can easily concoct a not-so-outlandish sounding explanation: it’s big agriculture, meets big pharma, meets government intervention controlled by industry lobbyists all with designs on keeping the population plump, distracted, and medicated. See, that was easy.
But while it is true that an industrial food conglomerate that employs heavy-handed marketing, economic efficiency, and political clout has systematically altered our perceptions of food, the conspiratorial aspects are less clear.
We own our own value system
What is clear, however, is that for most of us personal choice still rules the day. We still live in a time and place that affords us unprecedented access to healthy foods with relative ease. What really matters is how we choose to access that food and what we do with it.
Conspiracy or not, the reality is that progress has brought with it certain trade-offs, shifts in priorities and cultural changes that have separated us from our food in ways that in very short order have become the new normal. The values behind food preparation and mealtime have been dethroned as essential, intimate nurturing of those we care about and reduced to a series of inconveniences that need to be outsourced or minimized.
Improved efficiency through slow food
How we source, prepare, and consume our food has been substantially altered such that the very proposition of food has been rewritten into either a meaningless exercise in wasting time (buy processed foods!) or a chance to indulge a fun-filled epicurean adventure (treat the family to dinner out!)
The messaging has worked. The essential process of taking in nutrients and energy and sharing that time with family has been subordinated to the many trappings of modern living. Preparing meals is just one more thing to be optimized, expedited, or avoided altogether. Mealtime has been recast into a thousand different ways to consume calories without taking the actual time to make and eat the meal. In fact, its even better if you don’t have to even think about your next meal (“You deserve a break today…at McDonald’s.”)
What Would Hildegard Think?
Hildegard of Bingen believed that cultivating and consuming healthy, natural food was the best way to maintain health and wellness. This belief was also entwined with her views on moderation and balance. For her, food was not just a source of energy but also a way to connect with the divine energy of nature, to experience the power of Viriditas.
Avoiding this essential process of honoring our connectivity with nature and the divine meant denying our bodies their natural ability to heal themselves through healing foods. Disrupting any of this process would have run counter to the fundamental tenets of her beliefs.
Making our food a priority
We here at Healthy Hildegard are far from perfect in our relationship with food, but we agree with Hildegard: food is where it all starts and ends. With this in mind, we would like to help you reconnect with your food for better health, happiness, and to build deeper more meaningful relationships with those you love.
So what can you do to improve your relationship with your food? You can start by reconsidering how you value food and mealtimes. You choose your priorities. So the first step is to elevate food and cooking back to where it should be in your life.
Fast Life, Fast Food
We are a nation obsessed with speed. Our relationship with food is no exception. Food is grown quickly and efficiently. It is transported just-in-time to supermarkets that are designed specifically to maintain the illusion of expediency, while maintaining constant exposure to the high-margin processed foods in a kind of grocery warfare psychological-operations.
Before you can even get to the vegetables you have to pass stacks of baked goodies (ever wonder if they really need an actual bakery inside each store?) or the floral department. Tantalizing your senses is no accident. Nor is the confusion and imbedded dissatisfaction that accompanies the sheer number of options you have to sort through (is 13 types of Cheerios enough?)
Holding the tiger by its tail
It is all designed to break down your rational thought process to keep you in a state in which reactions rooted in emotions and primal impulses rule your choices. In this environment, whole, natural foods lose out to the marketing, placement, and appeal of the processed versions. That’s how you find that flat of cinnamon twists in your grocery bag when you get home, with only a vague recollection of how they got there.
Plus, you are in a hurry and that saccharine-sweet music (is that a Van Morrison cover?) is making you punchy. You are not sure why, but you are inclined to dawdle and buy more. You are not even sure how long you have been in the place since there are no windows, skylights, or clocks.
Speaking of time, this all assumes you even have time to shop. Luckily, on the way to the store you will pass countless outlets of quick-service restaurants (QSR is the industry term for “fast food”) offering “family deals” which often means it includes a liter of soda and a dessert. Two things you may not even consider buying at the grocery store but in that moment it just makes sense.
Slowing down is a conscious choice
If you don’t have time to park the car, most fast-food restaurants have drive-through windows. In the wait time of an average stoplight your dinner is ready. Better yet, just phone it in or use their new smart-phone app and have it delivered. Time is short, but convenience is abundant.
So what can you do when you feel like you just never have time to procure and prepare healthy foods? You can start by considering what is actually behind your feelings of being rushed and what is actually impairing your ability to make time for your meals. Then make a conscious decision to slow down and make mealtime a priority.
The False Premise of Expediency
The speed of modern life seems to leave little room for the selection and preparation of our food. We just don’t have time. All of the messaging makes sure we know this on a regular basis. But the solution of expediency and convenience attempts to solve a problem that is not really the problem.
The problem is not time, but priorities. Sure, in some cases there is an actual crunch, the need to outsource our food. And sometimes it is a nice treat to have someone else prepare our meals (and clean them up.) But the rest of the time there is a decision process that takes all of those needs and obligations and sorts them out.
Do we prefer form over substance in food?
Just like processed food is designed to tickle our sensitivities to sugar, fat, and salt, the same mechanisms are at work to tickle our emotions with rationalizations for indulgences, convenience, and avoidance of what has been deemed to be a chore. In both cases, there are many hidden costs and a growing number of very visible public health costs that are mounting because of the decision process and subsequent prioritization of our food choices.
The systematic elimination of the family dinner, home-cooked meals, and carefully selected whole foods from our culture has created a wake of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and social erosion that are costing us great deal more than we are saving in time.
A deeper dive into the problem
So what can you do about it? You can examine the actual problem. Is it really a lack of time or are you just not inclined to do the work? Is there really a problem or are you hiding behind your actual preferences for other things? You must determine what is most important and continually reinforce that preference through your choices.
Being honest about what is important and then making choices accordingly is the only way to create lasting change. If health and wellness is truly important, you will find the time and you will elevate food sourcing, preparation, and meal times to the position that reflects those values.
The Genesis of The Slow Food Movement
The Slow Food movement was borne in 1986 from a spontaneous grassroots protest over the proposed McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna. The idea of a fast food franchise encroaching a historic site in the middle of Rome really cheesed the Italians. A protest quickly formed.
During the protest a large bowl of penne pasta was brought in and shared with the crowd. This gesture of sharing home-cooked food in opposition of fast food became the symbol of a movement. People began chanting “we don’t want fast food, we want slow food” and the Slow Food movement took hold.
Official formation of the slow food movement
The slow food movement was officially founded in Italy in 1989. Originally focused on combating the spread of the fast food driven culture, which was replacing local food and traditions and diminishing the connectivity of people and their food.
The slow food movement has since expanded to include programs in preservation, education, and policy that promote “good, clean, and fair food.” There are approximately 100,000 Slow Food members in 150 countries. Closer to home, Slow Food, USA, founded in 2000, has over 200 local chapters with 12,000 members.
Some of the notable programs administered by Slow Food include: the “Ark of Taste”; seed banks for heirloom plant varieties; preservation of local and traditional foods; preservation of family farms; education for consumers about fast food, commercial agribusiness, and factory farms; lobbying for agricultural policies in organic and non-GMO farming.
What Exactly is the Slow Food Movement?
“We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods… A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life… May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.”
– Excerpt from the Slow Food Movement Manifesto “Slow Food: A Case for Taste”, as published in 2001.
Improving health and relationships with slow food
The slow food movement is the opposite of the movement toward fast food. Hospitality and community are central the idea of the slow food movement. The cultivation, selection, preparation, and ultimately the consumption of food should be a healthy, fair, and pleasurable process.
Sharing meals with others is the culmination of many important and interrelated steps that bring people together, preserve culture, promote healthy bodies and relationships, and promote the relationship between people and the natural environment.
Continuity of this relationship between our natural resources and how we fuel our lives requires us to be connected to our food and to each other. The slowness is not just about the end product but the idea that the entire process is worthy of our attention and care. A meal that is prepared together and consumed together takes time, but this time is valuable.
The slow food movement promotes ways to preserve the value of food in our lives. It means taking the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of an unhurried life. Reflecting the value of our time through the thoughtful procurement and preparation of food is how we can regain the many benefits that accompany a home cooked meal.
Why the Slow Food Movement Matters
The benefits of slowing down and preparing meals at home include improved nutrition, reduced caloric intake, and weight management. What most people don’t realize is that cooking and sharing meals at home can also lead to positive outcomes in relationships and the overall well-being of children.
An ongoing survey of families who prepare and eat dinner at home found that the more often children had dinner with their parents, the less likely they were to smoke, drink or use marijuana, and more likely to report a positive relationship with their parents.
Effects of good meals on children
Teens that had dinner with their families five or more nights a week were 32% less likely to have tried cigarettes, 45% less likely to have tried alcohol, and 24% less likely to have smoked marijuana as compared to teens that had family dinners twice a week or less.
Teens that had dinner with their families five or more times a week were also more academically successful than those who had dinner two or fewer times per week. The five or more per week cohort were almost twice as likely to receive A’s in school.
The way we eat informs social queues
In a Belgian study of students, researchers found that the frequency of shared meals was linked to higher levels of pro-social behavior, specifically altruistic tendencies, that is believed to be a result of the ideas of fairness and respect that originate from sharing food.
People who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to a 2014 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research study.
The findings of the study indicated that the more frequently people cooked at home, the less they relied on frozen and prepared foods and the less likely they were to eat fast food when dining out. People who cook most of their meals at home consume fewer calories (2,164 vs 2,301), less sugar, and less fat than those who cook less or not at all. This was true whether or not they were trying to lose weight.
Eating slow and deliberate reduces the amount we eat
The findings also suggest that those who frequently cooked at home – six-to-seven nights a week – also consumed fewer calories on the occasions when they ate out. So the habituation of portion control established through home cooking seems to carry over when eating elsewhere.
The slow food movement represents a means for people to vote with their dollars and their choices. Choosing to slow down and prepare meals at home with your family helps send an economic and social message that you value what you eat and that you desire to preserve and protect this intimate experience from further encroachment from the food industry.
A Simple Solution is the Best Answer
If you want to improve your health, reduce stress, engage more deeply with friends and family, preserve cultural culinary heritage, and slow the industrialization of our food supply, incorporating the slow food movement into your life is a great way to do any – or all of these things.
Slow down and give it a try.
For tips on how to make the transition to Slow Food check out our post on Ten Tips to Slow Food Success.