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DATE: March 9, 2005

'Slow Food' movement helps develop social and cultural capital, according to UM-Dearborn economist

DEARBORN---Cooking from scratch with local ingredients might not only be a way to eat better. It could also be a way to build a social and political movement that is capable of resisting the dehumanizing effects of large-scale, commercial food production and the fast-food industry, according to Bruce Pietrykowski, associate professor of economics at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Pietrykowski is the author of "You Are What You Eat: the Social Economy of the 'Slow Food' Movement," published in the September 2004 issue of the Review of Social Economy.

The Slow Food movement was started in Italy in 1986 and now boasts 83,000 members worldwide with offices in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. According to the group's Web site, it opposes the standardization of taste, and protects cultural identities tied to food and gastronomic traditions.

Pietrykowski's article examines the role of the movement from the perspective of a "social economist," looking at how the pleasures of eating among friends and family can help develop "social and cultural capital."

"The Slow Food movement presents us with a way of thinking about how consumption choices made by an individual form part of an interdependent network within a social economy," Pietrykowski said in the article. "Individuals gain identity through their consumption of food."

For slow food proponents, modern industrialization contains a dark side, he notes. Technological advances now allow commodities to circulate at a much greater speed over much greater distances. In grocery stores, this means the virtual elimination of "seasonal" produce, and as a result, food buying and consuming are no longer connected to natural cycles of growth and harvest.

"In opposition to this trend, slow food philosophy focuses on the pleasures of the table," Pietrykowski said. "The table represents material culture-the culture of kitchens and food-and serves as a metaphor for shared community."

The American chapter of the Slow Food movement describes itself as "an educational organization dedicated to promoting stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production; reviving the kitchen and the table as the centers of pleasure, culture, and community; and invigorating and proliferating regional, seasonal culinary traditions."

In short, the group's work is aimed at "living a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life."

"The goal is to disrupt the practices upon which fast-food culture is constructed," according to Pietrykowski. "By embedding taste education in a social movement aimed at creating local and regional networks of mutually sustaining producers and consumers, the pleasures of the table become a form of resistance to corporate, standardized mass-produced foods."

Food consumption patterns and cuisines are ways to establish class and group identities, Pietrykowski said. "The desire to resist the dominant culture of fast food, the quest for obscure local and regional foods and cuisines that evoke a cultural heritage, these are all part of a way of defining our place in the social environment."
Such activities can also "form the basis for social and political movements that can promote diverse, human-scale and environmentally sustainable forms of economic life," Pietrykowski said.

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