18 May 2005 - 11:03 AM
Hurry Up Already
I have a problem with the Slow Food Movement.
It's not a logical problem. If you go look at the slow food website, you'll see that they're trying to promote things like regional cuisines, biodiversity, responsible agriculture ... stuff I am usually all about.
So what the heck is my problem?
My problem is, at least partially, that Slow Food, as it's presented, is a bad fit with life as I lead it. The movement doesn't seem to take into account women like me, who hold down 40-hour-a-week jobs outside the home as well as being primary cooks and bottle washers in the home. I leave the house at 7 every morning, and I don't usually get home until about 6 in the evening. Once I get home, I have about a 3.5 hour window in which to handle household chores, cook meals, and (with luck) get in a little fun before I have to go to bed and start the process over again. I do not need or want to spend 2.5 hours of that window preparing agnello alla murgiana and all the trimmings, as splendid and consoling as such a meal would be.
A couple of years ago, I read an article in a foodie magazine (I think it was Saveur) which detailed the production of one of the Slow Food Movement's fundraising/awareness-raising functions. It was held at some magnificient Italian estate, had a celebrity guest list a mile long, and was catered by Alice Waters with the assistance of her crack squad of Chez Panisse stunt chefs.
The author of the article clearly bought into the Slow Food message, and was also clearly starstruck by the presence of Alice Waters. Ms Waters, for her part, came across as both a dedicated cook and adherent of the Slow Food campaign. The article described in loving detail the grilled quail, the roasted potatoes, and the other dishes. It considered the difficulties of choosing wines, the limitations of the cooking facilities, the considerable pressure on the star chef to pull out a virtuoso performance, despite the difficulties, and the importance of the success of this particular occasion to the Slow Food Movement in general.
At the end of the article, I was not inspired. I did not feel empowered.
Instead, I felt disenfranchised. I felt like the seigneur's scullions had just chased all us peasants away from the kitchen door. The meal described in the article, with its expensive ingredients, complex preparation, and extended cooking time was beyond the reach of a working wife in the American suburbs. If this was Slow Food, then it was not for the likes of me.
This baffles me as much as it offends me. I would like to be able to avoid fast food as much as I can. I would like to cook for myself and my husband -- and really cook, not just pick up a rotisserie chicken and a package of salad greens from the local Safeway. I would like to do this without having to quit my job (we need the income and the health insurance) and dedicate my life to my stove. I would like to do this without feeling like I have to renovate my kitchen to accomodate a professional range and more gadgets than I already have. I would like to do this without having to spend a fortune on hard-to-find ingredients.
I am a little embarrassed, too. I know how to cook. I learned to make tortillas from a Mexican-American babysitter when I was 3. I can joint a chicken, carmelise an onion, sear a steak. I have roasted a duck breast to perfect, just-pink glory. I have a store of recipes from my foremothers, any of which would probably meet with Slow Food approval. What I lack is time and energy, and what I need are good straightforward practical recipes and techniques that put wholesome homecooked foods on my plate, quickly. Because really, if it takes me more than half an hour to prep and more than an hour to cook, it's not going to happen on a weeknight in my house.
So how about it, Slow Foodists and celebrity chefs? How about helping put Slow Food within the reach of the little people, the working women and the soccer moms, who would like to eat something better than greasy fries from the drive-through or pizza out of the freezer, but don't have the time to spend on boning a chicken, or the cash to spend on duck breast and shrimp every night? What do you have for someone who believes cream of mushroom soup is a cop-out, but doesn't have the energy to make a sauce Béchamel from scratch?