We’re sure you’re familiar with fast food, but did you know that it has a friendly nemesis? A community of committed foodies, hoping to bring good, honest and proper fare back to our plates? Slow Food, a movement that first started in Piedmont, Italy in 1986, now has over 100,000 members, in 1,500 countries across the globe from Paraguay to Iran. This year, Slow Food Dubai has begun finding its feet, with the first Slow Food Convivium to reach the Arabian Peninsula.
Check out your home town, be it London, Mumbai or Cape Town and you’ll probably find Slow Food chapters promoting the local food scene there. The principles of Slow Food, the group declares, are ‘good, clean and fair’ food, promoting dishes that are good for our health, the environment and also local economies. This has involved a committed effort to promote concerns as diverse as supporting artisanal cheese makers in Brazil, to encouraging consumers to make sustainable, local and organic choices in their everyday lives.
While Italy’s food is world- renowned, it is also greatly revered by native Italians. The catalyst that caused the birth of Slow Food first came about following a move to open a branch of McDonald’s at The Spanish Steps in Rome in the 1980s. Appalled by this idea, an ordinary Italian citizen, Carlo Petrini from the town of Bra in the Piedmont region, began a campaign to stop this development. ‘He felt it was an insult to Italy’s great food culture, and to be honest so do I,’ Laura Allais-Maré says.
An Italian-South African, Laura is currently leading the project to launch the concept in Dubai. ‘There is a famous dish from the Piedmont region, called peperonata. Carlo Petrini went to eat this dish at a restaurant in Piedmont, where he had eaten it for years. This time, it tasted different, not quite right, and he asked the restaurant why. They had made it with peppers from Holland. He was shocked and said: “But we grow such wonderful peppers here in Italy.”’
The restaurant explained, Laura continues, that the local crop had become too expensive for them to buy. These incidents provoked Carlo to find a way of offering more support to Italy’s local farming community, and in turn to protect and promote the nation’s own food culture.
As the Slow Food outfit started in Italy, other nations gradually followed its example, with outfits launching in Germany in 1992, Switzerland in 1993 and US in 2000, before expanding across the globe.
Laura’s own passion for food, she tells us, came from her mother, who was herself involved in Slow Food in South Africa and even started her own edible snail farm. Back in South Africa, Laura worked closely with the local farming communities, working with an organisation that empowered farmers to sustain their business by providing them with heirloom varieties of seeds. By doing this, Laura explains, farmers are able to dry out the seeds from one harvest and re-use them the next year, according to old-fashioned farming principles, rather than buying the seeds each year (necessary for genetically modified varieties), which can be a bankrupting expense for small-scale farmers.
While registered as a recognised chapter with Slow Food International since April 2013, Slow Food Dubai, Laura explains, is still yet to launch completely in Dubai. For now, Slow Food Dubai has been working on meeting like-minded foodies in the city for social dinners in an effort to meet new friends who share a passion for food.
Slow Food Dubai has also partnered with members who have been eager to host their own events, such as cooking classes. Once officially launched, Slow Food Dubai will be arranging a plethora of its own events and food festivals, including a planned collaboration with the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
‘We’re keen to get more Emirati members,’ Laura says, although she adds that she is proud to already have some high-profile nationals on the books. The aim for Slow Food Dubai she explains is not only to promote ethical and environmental food choices, but also to support and promote longevity to the local culture.
‘At the Terra Madre festival, each nation brings their food to showcase. There hasn’t been a representative from the Arab Peninsula yet, because its food is not yet known, but why shouldn’t we have dates and luqaimat represented at the next festival?’ To become a member of Slow Food Dubai, contact email@example.com or www.slowfood.com.
Fast ways to a Slow Food lifestyle
Eat out wisely Slow Food is not about eschewing your local dining scene, but making more considered choices when you do so. Laura Allais-Maré recommends Baker & Spice for its food philosophy. Traiteur is an excellent option for slow food fine dining, since the restaurant is committed to serving sustainable fish plus local and/or organic ingredients where possible. For example, Traiteur’s burrata cheese is made in the UAE. Baker & Spice, Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 425 2240). Other locations: Dubai Marina, behind Marina Promenade Building (04 362 4686). Traiteur, Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
Choose local Wherever you do the your weekly grocery shop in Dubai, it is possible to make local choices when buying fresh produce. For example, choose tomatoes grown in the UAE, Oman or even the wider Arab region, rather than those flown in from the US or Holland. Head to one of the many regular farmers’ markets relaunching this month, for a wide choice of produce, in some cases sold directly by the farmers who grow it in the UAE. Greenheart Organic hosts its first market this week. Greenheart Organic farmers’ market, Saturday October 5, 11.30am-3.30pm, Balance Café, Oasis Mall, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 384 7010).
Go organic To incorporate organic food into your diet at home may seem like a great expense, and realistically organic options do often cost more. As a result, try to include different ingredients in your weekly shop in stages. Opt to have a selection of organic vegetables and fruit delivered to you on a weekly basis by companies such as Ripe or Greenheart Organic. Or, go organic when buying wheat-based items such as bread or pasta, since it has been claimed that the larger surface area of grains leads to a greater quantity of chemicals be absorbed.
Plan your meals Another slow food philosophy deals with reducing food waste. If you avoid throwing food away, it will be good for the environment as well as for your budget. You can achieve this by planning the meals you will cook for the week ahead, buying only ingredients that you can realistically use up across these recipes, and also reducing the quantities of fresh produce you buy if necessary.
Learn to cook If some of these steps defeat you because your cooking skills are not up to scratch, head to a cooking class. On Wednesday evenings, SCAFA hosts classes, teaching people to make a meal, with dishes themed around styles such as Thai and sushi. SCAFA, Wed 6.45pm-9.15pm, Cluster I, JLT (04 379 4044).