Slow Food Dubai

Meet the friendly nemesis of fast food cuisine Discuss this article

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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 leader@slowfooddubai.org or www.slowfood.com.

By Penelope Walsh
Time Out Dubai,

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