reflection paper


For this reflection (and for the others as well) I seek a 250 word short paper. Roughly 50% should be a summary of the reading by Laudan and the other 50% should be a summary of the reading by Tam. Reflections are to be turned in as attachments only and should be double-spaced Word files. Spelling and grammar ALWAYS count and you will be graded accordingly.Rubric:Laudan Summary 0.75 pts.Tam Summary 0.75 pts.Spelling & Grammer 0.5 pts.

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A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food
Author(s): Rachel Laudan
Source: Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter 2001), pp. 36-44
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: .
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Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.
i n v e s t i g a t i o n s | rachel laudan
A Plea for Culinary Modernism:
F E B R UARY 2001
Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food
Modern, fast, processed food is a disaster. That, at
least, is the message conveyed by newspapers and magazines, on television cooking programs, and in prizewinning
cookbooks. It is a mark of sophistication to bemoan the steel
roller mill and supermarket bread while yearning for stoneground flour and brick ovens; to seek out heirloom apples
and pumpkins while despising modern tomatoes and hybrid
corn; to be hostile to agronomists who develop high-yielding
modern crops and to home economists who invent new
recipes for General Mills. We hover between ridicule and
shame when we remember how our mothers and grandmothers enthusiastically embraced canned and frozen foods.
We nod in agreement when the waiter proclaims that the
restaurant showcases the freshest local produce. We shun
Wonder Bread and Coca-Cola. Above all, we loathe the
great culminating symbol of Culinary Modernism,
McDonald’s—modern, fast, homogenous, and international.
Like so many of my generation, my culinary style was
created by those who scorned industrialized food; Culinary
Luddites, we may call them, after the English hand workers
of the nineteenth century who abhorred the machines that
were destroying their traditional way of life. I learned to
cook from the books of Elizabeth David, who urged us to
sweep our store cupboards “clean for ever of the cluttering
debris of commercial sauce bottles and all synthetic flavorings.” I progressed to the Time-Life Good Cook series and
to Simple French Cooking, in which Richard Olney hoped
against hope that “the reins of stubborn habit are strong
enough to frustrate the famous industrial revolution for some
time to come.” 1 I turned to Paula Wolfert to learn more
about Mediterranean cooking and was assured that I wouldn’t
“find a dishonest dish in this book…The food here is real
food…the real food of real people.” Today I rush to the
newsstand to pick up Saveur with its promise to teach me
to “Savor a world of authentic cuisine.”
Culinary Luddism involves more than just taste. Since
the days of the counterculture, it has also presented itself
as a moral and political crusade. Now in Boston, the Oldways
Preservation and Exchange Trust works to provide “a
scientific basis for the preservation and revitalization of
traditional diets.” 2 Meanwhile, Slow Food, founded in 1989
to protest the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome, is a selfdescribed Green Peace for Food; its manifesto begins, “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…
Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.” 3 As
one of its spokesmen was reported as saying in the New York
Times, “Our real enemy is the obtuse consumer.” 4
At this point I begin to back off. I want to cry, “Enough!”
But why? Why would I, who learned to cook from Culinary
Luddites, who grew up in a family that, in Elizabeth David’s
words, produced their “own home-cured bacon, ham and
sausages…churned their own butter, fed their chickens and
geese, cherished their fruit trees, skinned and cleaned their
own hares” (well, to be honest, not the geese and sausages),
not rejoice at the growth of Culinary Luddism?5 Why would
I (or anyone else) want to be thought “an obtuse consumer”?
Or admit to preferring unreal food for unreal people? Or to
savoring inauthentic cuisine?
The answer is not far to seek: because I am an historian.
As an historian I cannot accept the account of the past
implied by Culinary Luddism, a past sharply divided between
good and bad, between the sunny rural days of yore and the
grey industrial present. My enthusiasm for Luddite kitchen
wisdom does not carry over to their history, any more than
my response to a stirring political speech inclines me
to accept the orator as scholar. The Luddites’ fable of disaster, of a fall from grace, smacks more of wishful thinking
than of digging through archives. It gains credence not from
scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow
versus fast; artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated and fatty. History shows,
I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.
That food should be fresh and natural has become an
article of faith. It comes as something of a shock to realize
that this is a latter-day creed. For our ancestors, natural was
something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad. Fresh meat
was rank and tough, fresh milk warm and unmistakably
a bodily excretion; fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare
exceptions outside the tropics) were inedibly sour, fresh
vegetables bitter. Even today, natural can be a shock when
we actually encounter it. When Jacques Pepin offered freerange chickens to friends, they found “the flesh tough and
the flavor too strong,” prompting him to wonder whether they
would really like things the way they naturally used to be.6
Natural was unreliable. Fresh fish began to stink, fresh
milk soured, eggs went rotten. Everywhere seasons of plenty
were followed by seasons of hunger when the days were
short, the weather turned cold, or the rain did not fall. Hens
stopped laying eggs, cows went dry, fruits and vegetables
Eating fresh, natural food was
regarded with suspicion verging
on horror, something to which
only the uncivilized, the poor,
and the starving resorted.
were not to be found, fish could not be caught in the stormy
seas. Natural was usually indigestible. Grains, which supplied from fifty to ninety per cent of the calories in most
societies, have to be threshed, ground, and cooked to make
them edible. Other plants, including the roots and tubers
that were the life support of the societies that did not eat
grains, are often downright poisonous. Without careful processing, green potatoes, stinging taro, and cassava bitter with
prussic acid are not just indigestible, but toxic.
Nor did our ancestors’ physiological theories dispose
them to the natural. Until about two hundred years ago,
from China to Europe, and in Mesoamerica, too, everyone
believed that the fires in the belly cooked foodstuffs and
turned them into nutrients.7 That was what digesting was.
Cooking foods in effect pre-digested them and made them
easier to assimilate. Given a choice, no one would burden
the stomach with raw, unprocessed foods.
Right: Fresh Biscuits.
courtesy of white lily flour
F E B R UARY 2001
So to make food tasty, safe, digestible and healthy, our
forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented,
and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until
they were literally beaten into submission. To lower toxin
levels, they cooked plants, treated them with clay (the
Kaopectate effect), leached them with water, acid fruits and
vinegars, and alkaline lye.8 They intensively bred maize to
the point that it could not reproduce without human help.
They created sweet oranges and juicy apples and non-bitter
legumes, happily abandoning their more natural but less
tasty ancestors. They built granaries for their grain, dried
their meat and their fruit, salted and smoked their fish, curdled and fermented their dairy products, and cheerfully
used whatever additives and preservatives they could—
sugar, salt, oil, vinegar, lye—to make edible foodstuffs. In
the twelfth century, the Chinese sage Wu Tzu-mu listed the
six foodstuffs essential to life: rice, salt, vinegar, soy sauce,
oil, and tea.9 Four had been unrecognizably transformed
from their naturally occurring state. Who could have imagined vinegar as rice that had been fermented to ale and
then soured? Or soy sauce as cooked and fermented beans?
Or oil as the extract of crushed cabbage seeds? Or bricks of
tea as leaves that had been killed by heat, powdered, and
compressed? Only salt and rice had any claim to fresh or
natural, and even then the latter had been stored for
months or years, threshed, and husked.
Processed and preserved foods kept well, were easier
to digest, and were delicious: raised white bread instead of
chewy wheat porridge; thick, nutritious, heady beer instead
of prickly grains of barley; unctuous olive oil instead of a
tiny, bitter fruit; soy milk, sauce, and tofu instead of dreary,
flatulent soy beans; flexible, fragrant tortillas instead of dry,
tough maize; not to mention red wine, blue cheese, sauerkraut, hundred-year-old eggs, Smithfield hams, smoked
salmon, yogurt, sugar, chocolate, and fish sauce.
Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion
verging on horror, something to which only the uncivilized,
the poor, and the starving resorted.10 When the compiler
of the Confucian classic, the Book of Rites (ca. 200 b.c.), distinguished the first humans—people who had no alternative
to wild, uncooked foods—from civilized peoples who took
“advantage of the benefits of fire…[who] toasted, grilled,
boiled, and roasted,” he was only repeating a commonplace.11
When the ancient Greeks took it as a sign of bad times if
people were driven to eat greens and root vegetables, they
too were rehearsing common wisdom.12 Happiness was not
a verdant Garden of Eden abounding in fresh fruits, but a
securely locked storehouse jammed with preserved,
processed foods.
Local food was greeted with about as much enthusiasm
as fresh and natural. Local foods were the lot of the poor
who could neither escape the tyranny of local climate
and biology nor the monotonous, often precarious, diet it
afforded. Meanwhile, the rich, in search of a more varied
diet, bought, stole, wheedled, robbed, taxed, and ran off
with appealing plants and animals, foodstuffs, and culinary
techniques from wherever they could find them.
By the fifth century b.c., Celtic princes in the region of
France now known as Burgundy were enjoying a glass or
two of Greek wine, drunk from silver copies of Greek drinking vessels.13 The Greeks themselves looked to the Persians,
acclimatizing their peaches and apricots and citrons and
emulating their rich sauces, while the Romans in turn hired
Greek cooks. From around the time of the birth of Christ,
the wealthy in China, India, and the Roman Empire paid
vast sums for spices brought from the distant and mysterious
Spice Islands. From the seventh century a.d., Islamic
caliphs and sultans transplanted sugar, rice, citrus, and a
host of other Indian and Southeast Asian plants to Persia
and the Mediterranean, transforming the diets of West Asia
and the shores of the Mediterranean. In the thirteenth century, the Japanese had naturalized the tea plant of China
and were importing sugar from Southeast Asia. In the seventeenth century, the European rich drank sweetened coffee,
tea, and cocoa in Chinese porcelain, imported or imitation,
proffered by servants in Turkish or other foreign dress. To
ensure their own supply, the French, Dutch, and English
embarked on imperial ventures and moved millions of
Africans and Asians around the globe. The Swedes, who
had no empire, had a hard time getting these exotic foodstuffs, so the eighteenth-century botanist Linnaeus set afoot
plans to naturalize the tea plant in Sweden.
We may laugh at the climatic hopelessness of his proposal. Yet it was no more ridiculous than other, more
successful, proposals to naturalize Southeast Asian sugarcane throughout the tropics, apples in Australia, grapes in
Chile, Hereford cattle in Colorado and Argentina, and
Caucasian wheat on the Canadian prairie.14 Without our
aggressively global ancestors, we would all still be subject
to the tyranny of the local.
As for slow food, it is easy to wax nostalgic about a time
when families and friends met to relax over delicious food,
and to forget that, far from being an invention of the late
twentieth century, fast food has been a mainstay of every
society. Hunters tracking their prey, fishermen at sea, shepherds tending their flocks, soldiers on campaign, and farmers
rushing to get in the harvest all needed food that could be
eaten quickly and away from home. The Greeks roasted
F E B R UARY 2001
North of the Alps, French peasants prayed that chestnuts
would be sufficient to sustain them from the time when
their grain ran out to the harvest still three months away.20
South of the Alps, Italian peasants suffered skin eruptions,
went mad, and in the worst cases died of pellagra brought
on by a diet of maize polenta and water. The dishes we call
ethnic and assume to be of peasant origin were invented for
the urban, or at least urbane, aristocrats who collected the
surplus. This is as true of the lasagne of northern Italy as it
is of the chicken korma of Mughal Delhi, the moo shu pork
of imperial China, the pilafs, stuffed vegetables, and baklava
of the great Ottoman palace in Istanbul, or the mee krob of
nineteenth-century Bangkok.21 Cities have always enjoyed
the best food and have invariably been the focal points of
culinary innovation.
Nor are most “traditional foods” very old. For every
prized dish that goes back two thousand years, a dozen have
been invented in the last two hundred.22 The French
baguette? A twentieth-century phenomenon, adopted nationwide only after World War ii. English fish and chips? Dates
from the late nineteenth century, when the working class
took up the fried fish of Sephardic Jewish immigrants in East
London. Fish and chips, though, will soon be a thing of the
past. It’s a Balti and lager now, Balti being a kind of stir-fried
curry dreamed up by Pakistanis living in Birmingham. Greek
moussaka? Created in the early twentieth century in an
attempt to Frenchify Greek food. The bubbling Russian
samovar? Late eighteenth century. The Indonesian rijsttafel?
Dutch colonial food. Indonesian padang food? Invented for
the tourist market in the past fifty years. Tequila? Promoted
as the national drink of Mexico during the 1930s by the
Mexican film industry. Indian tandoori chicken? The brainchild of Hindu Punjabis who survived by selling chicken
cooked in a Muslim-style tandoor oven when they fled
Pakistan for Delhi during the Partition of India. The soy sauce,
steamed white rice, sushi, and tempura of Japan? Commonly
eaten only after the middle of the nineteenth century. The
lomilomi salmon, salted salmon rubbed with chopped tomatoes and spring onions that is a fixture in every Hawaiian
luau? Not a salmon is to be found within two thousand miles
of the islands, and onions and tomatoes were unknown in
Hawaii until the nineteenth century. These are indisputable
facts of history, though if you point them out you will be
met with stares of disbelief.
Not only were many “traditional” foods created after
industrialization and urbanization, a lot of them were
dependent on it. The Swedish smorgasbord came into its
own at the beginning of the twentieth century when canned
out-of-season fish, roe, and liver paste made it possible to set
barley and ground it into a meal to eat straight or mixed
with water, milk, or butter (as the Tibetans still do), while
the Aztecs ground roasted maize and mixed it with water to
make an instant beverage (as the Mexicans still do).15
City dwellers, above all, relied on fast food. When fuel
cost as much as the food itself, when huddled dwellings
lacked cooking facilities, and when cooking fires might easily
conflagrate entire neighborhoods, it made sense to purchase
your bread or noodles, and a little meat or fish to liven them
up. Before the birth of Christ, Romans were picking up
honey cakes and sausages in the Forum.16 In twelfth-century
Hangchow, the Chinese downed noodles, stuffed buns, bowls
of soup, and deep-fried confections. In Baghdad of the same
period, the townspeople bought ready-cooked meats, salt fish,
bread, and a broth of dried chick peas. In the sixteenth century, when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, Mexicans had
been enjoying tacos from the market for generations. In the
eighteenth century, the French purchased cocoa, apple
turnovers, and wine in the boulevards of Paris, while the
Japanese savored tea, noodles, and stewed fish.
Deep-fried foods, expensive and dangerous to prepare at
home, have always had their place on the street: doughnuts
in Europe, churros in Mexico, andagi in Okinawa, and sev
in India. Bread, also expensive to bake at home, is one of
the oldest convenience foods. For many people in West Asia
and Europe, a loaf fresh from the baker was the only warm
food of the day. To these venerable traditions of fast food,
Americans have simply added the electric deep fryer, the
heavy iron griddle of the Low Countries, and the franchise.17
The McDonald’s in Rome was, in fact, just one more in
a long tradition of fast food joints reaching back to the days
of the Caesars.
What about the idea that the best food was country
food, handmade by artisans?18 That food came from the
country goes without saying. The presumed corollary—that
country people ate better than city dwellers—does not. Few
who worked the land were independent peasants baking
their own bread, brewing their own wine or beer, and salting down their own pig. Most were burdened with heavy
taxes and rents paid in kind (that is, food); or worse, they
were indentured, serfs, or slaves. Barely part of the cash
economy, they subsisted on what was left over. “The city
dwellers,” remarked the great Roman doctor Galen in the
second century a.d., “collected and stored enough grain for
all the coming year immediately after the harvest. They carried off all the wheat, the barley, the beans and the lentils
and left what remained to the countryfolk.”19
What remained was pitiful. All too often, those who
worked the land got by on thin gruels and gritty flatbreads.
F E B R UARY 2001
out a lavish table. Hungarian goulash was unknown before
the nineteenth century, and not widely accepted until after
the invention of a paprika-grinding mill in 1859.23
When lands were conquered, peoples migrated, populations converted to different religions or accepted new
dietary theories, and dishes—even whole cuisines—were
forgotten and new ones invented. Where now is the cuisine
of Renaissance Spain and Italy, or of the Indian Raj, or
of Tsarist Russia, or of medieval Japan? Instead we have
Nonya food in Singapore, Cape Malay food in South Africa,
Creole food in the Mississippi Delta, and Local Food in
Hawaii. How long does it take to create a cuisine? Not long:
less than fifty years, judging by past experience.
Were old foods more healthful than ours? Inherent in
this vague notion are several different claims, among them
that foods were less dangerous, that diets were better balanced. Yet while we fret about pesticides on apples, mercury
in tuna, and mad cow disease, we should remember that
ingesting food is, and always has been, inherently dangerous. Many plants contain both toxins and carcinogens,
often at levels much higher than any pesticide residues.24
Grilling and frying add more. Some historians argue that
bread made from moldy, verminous flour, or adulterated
with mash, leaves, or bark to make it go further, or contaminated with hemp or poppy seeds to drown out sorrows,
meant that for five hundred years Europe’s poor staggered
around in a drugged haze subject to hallucinations.25
Certainly, many of our forebears were drunk much of the
time, given that beer or wine were preferred to water, and
with good reason. In the cities, polluted water supplies
brought intestinal diseases in their wake. In France, for
example, no piped water was available until the 1860s.
Bread was likely to be stretched with chalk, pepper adulterated with the sweepings of warehouse floors, and sausage
stuffed with all the horrors famously exposed by Upton
Sinclair in The Jungle. Even the most reputable cookbooks
recommended using concentrated sulphuric acid to intensify the color of jams.26 Milk, suspected of spreading scarlet
fever, typhoid, and diphtheria as well as tuberculosis, was
sensibly avoided well into the twentieth century when the
United States and many parts of Europe introduced stringent regulations. My mother sifted weevils from the flour
bin; my aunt reckoned that if the maggots could eat her
home-cured ham and survive, so could the family.
As to dietary balance, once again we have to distinguish
between rich and poor. The rich, whose bountiful tables
and ample girths were visible evidence of their station in
life, suffered many of the diseases of excess. In the seventeenth century, the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, died of
overindulgence in food, opium, and alcohol.27 In Georgian
England, George Cheyne, the leading doctor, had to be
wedged in and out of his carriage by his servants when he
soared to four hundred pounds, while a little later Erasmus
Darwin, grandfather of Charles and another important
physician, had a semicircle cut out of his dining table to
accommodate his paunch. In the nineteenth century, the
fourteenth shogun of Japan died at age twenty-one, probably
of beriberi induced by eating the white rice available only
For all, Culinary Modernism
had provided what was wanted:
food that was processed,
preservable, industrial, novel,
and fast, the food of the elite at
a price everyone could afford.
to the privileged. In the Islamic countries, India, and Europe,
the well-to-do took sugar as a medicine; in India they used
butter; and in much of the world people avoided fresh vegetables, all on medical advice.
Whether the peasants really starved, and if so how often,
particularly outside of Europe, is the subject of ongoing
research.28 What is clear is that the food supply was always
precarious: if the weather was bad or war broke out, there
might not be enough to go around. The end of winter or
the dry season saw everyone suffering from the lack of fresh
fruits and vegetables, scurvy occurring on land as well as at
sea. By our standards, the diet was scanty for people who
were engaged in heavy physical toil. Estimates suggest that
in France on the eve of the Revolution one in three adult
men got by on no more than 1,800 calories a day, while a
century later in Japan daily intake was perhaps 1,850 calories. Historians believe that in times of scarcity peasants
essentially hibernated during the winter.29 It is not surprising, therefore, that in France the proudest of boasts was
“there is always bread in the house,” while the Japanese
adage advised that “all that matters is a full stomach.” 30
By the standard measures of health and nutrition—life
expectancy and height—our ancestors were far worse off
than we are.31 Much of the blame was due to the diet, exacerbated by living conditions and infections which affect the
body’s ability to use the food that is ingested.32 No amount
F E B R UARY 2001
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it
looked as if the distinction between gorgers and grovelers
would worsen. Between 1575 and 1825 world population had
doubled from 500 million to a billion, and it was to double
again by 1925. Malthus sounded his dire predictions. The
poor, driven by necessity or government mandate, resorted
to basic foods that produced bountifully even if they were
disliked: maize and sweet potatoes in China and Japan,
maize in Italy, Spain and Romania, potatoes in northern
Europe.37 They eked out an existence on porridges or polentas of oats or maize, on coarse breads of rye or barley bulked
out with chaff or even clay and ground bark, and on boiled
potatoes; they saw meat only on rare occasions.38 The privation continued. In Europe, 1840 was a year of hunger,
best remembered now as the time of the devastating potato
famine of Ireland. Meanwhile, the rich continued to
indulge, feasting on white bread, meats, rich fatty sauces,
sweet desserts, exotic hothouse-grown pineapples, wine, and
tea, coffee, and chocolate drunk from fine china. In 1845,
shortly after revolutions had rocked Europe, the British
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described “two nations,
between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy…
who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different
food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed
by the same laws…THE RICH AND THE POOR.” 39
In the nick of time, in the 1880s, the industrialization of
food got under way long after the production of other common items of consumption such as textiles and clothing had
been mechanized. Farmers brought new land into production, utilized reapers and later tractors and combines, spread
more fertilizer, and by the 1930s began growing hybrid maize.
Steamships and trains brought fresh and canned meats,
fruits, vegetables, and milk to the growing towns. Instead of
starving, the poor of the industrialized world survived and
thrived. In Britain the retail price of food in a typical workman’s budget fell by a third between 1877 and 1887 (though
he would still spend seventy-one percent of his income on
food and drink). In 1898 in the United States a dollar bought
forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a
third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much
flour as in 1872.40 By the beginning of the twentieth century,
the British working class were drinking sugary tea from china
teacups and eating white bread spread with jam and margarine, canned meats, canned pineapple, and an orange
from the Christmas stocking.
To us, the cheap jam, the margarine, and the starchy
diet look pathetic. Yet white bread did not cause the “weakness, indigestion, or nausea” that coarse whole wheat bread
did when it supplied most of the calories (not a problem for
of nostalgia for the pastoral foods of the distant past can
wish away the fact that our ancestors lived mean, short lives,
constantly afflicted with diseases, many of which can be
directly attributed to what they did and did not eat.
Historical myths, though, can mislead as much by what
they don’t say as by what they do. Culinary Luddites typically gloss over the moral problems intrinsic to the labor of
producing and preparing food. In 1800, ninety-five percent
of the Russian population and eighty percent of the French
lived in the country; in other words, they spent their days
getting food on the table for themselves and other people.
A century later, eighty-eight percent of Russians, eighty-five
percent of Greeks, and over fifty percent of the French were
still on the land.33 Traditional societies were aristocratic,
made up of the many who toiled to produce, process, preserve, and prepare food, and the few who, supported by the
limited surplus, could do other things.
In the great kitchens of the few—royalty, aristocracy,
and rich merchants—cooks created elaborate cuisines. The
cuisines drove home the power of the mighty few with a
symbol that everyone understood: ostentatious shows of
more food than the powerful could possibly consume. Feasts
were public occasions for the display of power, not private
occasions for celebration, for enjoying food for food’s sake.
The poor were invited to watch, groveling as the rich gorged
themselves.34 Louis xiv was exploiting a tradition going back
to the Roman Empire when he encouraged spectators at his
feasts. Sometimes, to hammer home the point while amusing the court, the spectators were let loose on the leftovers.
“The destruction of so handsome an arrangement served to
give another agreeable entertainment to the court,” observed
a commentator, “by the alacrity and disorder of those who
demolished these castles of marzipan, and these mountains
of preserved fruit.” 35
Meanwhile, most men were born to a life of labor in
the fields, most women to a life of grinding, chopping, and
cooking. “Servitude,” said my mother as she prepared homecooked breakfast, dinner, and tea for eight to ten people three
hundred and sixty five days a year. She was right. Churning
butter and skinning and cleaning hares, without the option
of picking up the phone for a pizza if something goes wrong,
is unremitting, unforgiving toil. Perhaps, though, my mother
did not realize how much worse her lot might have been.
She could at least buy our bread from the bakery. In Mexico,
at the same time, women without servants could expect to
spend five hours a day—one third of their waking hours—
kneeling at the grindstone preparing the dough for the
family’s tortillas. Not until the 1950s did the invention of the
tortilla machine release them from the drudgery.36
F E B R UARY 2001
us since we never consume it in such quantities).41 Besides,
it was easier to detect stretchers such as sawdust in white
bread. Margarine and jam made the bread more attractive
and easier to swallow. Sugar tasted good, and hot tea in an
unheated house in mid-winter provided good cheer. For
those for whom fruit had been available, if at all, only from
June to October, canned pineapple and a Christmas orange
were treats to be relished. For the diners, therefore, the
meals were a dream come true, a first step away from a
coarse, monotonous diet and the constant threat of hunger,
even starvation.
Nor should we think it was only the British, not famed
for their cuisine, who were delighted with industrialized
foods. Everyone was, whether American, Asian, African, or
European. In the first half of the twentieth century, Italians
embraced factory-made pasta and canned tomatoes.42 In
the second half of the century, Japanese women welcomed
factory-made bread because they could sleep in a little
longer instead of having to get up to make rice.43 Similarly,
Mexicans seized on bread as a good food to have on hand
when there was no time to prepare tortillas. Working women
in India are happy to serve commercially-made bread
during the week, saving the time-consuming business of
making chapatis for the weekend. As supermarkets appeared
in Eastern Europe and Russia, housewives rejoiced at the
choice and convenience of ready-made goods. For all,
Culinary Modernism had provided what was wanted: food
that was processed, preservable, industrial, novel, and fast,
the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford. Where
modern food became available, populations grew taller,
stronger, had fewer diseases, and lived longer. Men had
choices other than hard agricultural labor, women other
than kneeling at the metate five hours a day.
So the sunlit past of the Culinary Luddites never
existed. So their ethos is based not on history but on a fairy
tale. So what? Perhaps we now need this culinary philosophy. Certainly no one would deny that an industrialized
food supply has its own problems, problems we hear about
every day. Perhaps we should eat more fresh, natural, local,
artisanal, slow food. Why not create a historical myth to further that end? The past is over and gone. Does it matter if
the history is not quite right?
It matters quite a bit, I believe. If we do not understand
that most people had no choice but to devote their lives to
growing and cooking food, we are incapable of comprehending that the foods of Culinary Modernism—egalitarian,
available more or less equally to all, without demanding the
disproportionate amount of the resources of time or money
that traditional foodstuffs did—allow us unparalleled choices
not just of diet but of what to do with our lives. If we urge
the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his
olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove instead of going
to McDonald’s, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas,
traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we
are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old. We are
reducing the options of others as we attempt to impose our
elite culinary preferences on the rest of the population.
If we fail to understand how scant and monotonous
most traditional diets were, we can misunderstand the “ethnic
foods” we encounter in cookbooks, restaurants, or on our
travels. We let our eyes glide over the occasional references
to servants, to travel and education abroad in so-called ethnic
cookbooks, references that otherwise would clue us in to
the fact that the recipes are those of monied Italians, Indians,
or Chinese with maids to do the donkey work of preparing
elaborate dishes. We may mistake the meals of today’s
European, Asian, or Mexican middle class (many of them
benefitting from industrialization and contemporary
tourism) for peasant food or for the daily fare of our ancestors. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean,
Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of
multinational corporations bent on selling trashy modern
products—failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a
choice of goods in the market, foreign restaurants to eat at,
and new recipes to try. A Mexican friend, suffering from
one too many foreign visitors who chided her because she
offered Italian, not Mexican food, complained, “Why can’t
we eat spaghetti, too?”
If we unthinkingly assume that good food maps neatly
onto old or slow or homemade food (even though we’ve all
had lousy traditional cooking), we miss the fact that lots of
industrial foodstuffs are better. Certainly no one with a
grindstone will ever produce chocolate as suave as that produced by conching in a machine for seventy two hours. Nor
is the housewife likely to turn out fine soy sauce or miso.
And let us not forget that the current popularity of Italian
food owes much to the availability and long shelf life of two
convenience foods that even purists love, high-quality factory
pasta and canned tomatoes. Far from fleeing them, we
should be clamoring for more high-quality industrial foods.
If we romanticize the past, we may miss the fact that it is
the modern, global, industrial economy (not the local
resources of the wintry country around New York, Boston, or
Chicago) that allows us to savor traditional, peasant, fresh,
and natural foods. Virgin olive oil, Thai fish sauce, and udon
noodles come to us thanks to international marketing. Fresh
and natural loom so large because we can take for granted
the preserved and processed staples—salt, flour, sugar,
1. Elizabeth David, French Country Cooking (London: Penguin, 1951; reprint
1963), 24–25. Richard Olney, Simple French Food (London: Penguin, 1974; reprint
1983), 3; Paula Wolfert, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean: 215 Healthy,
Vibrant and Inspired Recipes (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 2. Even social historians join in the song: Georges Duby asserts that medieval food “responds to
our fierce, gnawing urge to flee the anemic, the bland, fast food, ketchup, and to
set sail for new shores.” Foreword to Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban, and Silvano
Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, trans. Edward
Schneider (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), ix.
2., 1999.
3., 1999.
4., 1999.
5. David, French Country Cooking, 10.
6. Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (New York:
Alfred A Knopf, 1999), 263.
7. Rachel Laudan, “Birth of the Modern Diet,” Scientific American, August 2000;
Laudan, “A Kind of Chemistry,” Petits Propos Culinaires 62 (1999), 8–22.
8. For these toxins and how humans learned to deal with them, see Timothy Johns,
With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It: Chemical Ecology and the Origins of Human
Diet and Medicine (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1992).
9. Michael Freeman, “Sung,” in K.C. Chang, Food in Chinese Culture:
Anthropological and Historical Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1977), 151.
11. E.N.Anderson, The Food of China (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1988), 41–42.
12. Andrew Dalby, Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece
(London and New York: Routledge), 24–25.
13. For Greek wines in Germany, see T.G.E. Powell, The Celts (London: Thames
and Hudson, 1958; reprint 1986), 108–114; for Greek emulation of Persian dining
habits and acclimatization of fruits, see Andrew Dalby, “Alexander’s Culinary
Legacy,” in Harlan Walker, ed. Cooks and Other People: Proceedings of the Oxford
Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1995 (Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 1996),
81–85 and 89; for the spice trade, J. Innes Miller, The Spice Trade of the Roman
Empire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); for the Islamic agricultural revolution,
Andrew M. Watson, Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); for stimulant drinks in Europe,
James Walvin, Fruits of Empire: Exotic Produce and British Taste, 1660–1800
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). For Linnaeus’s efforts to naturalize tea and other plants, see Lisbet Koerner, “Nature and Nation in Linnean
Travel,” unpublished dissertation, Department of History, Harvard University, 1994.
14. For the history of sugar, see Philip Curtin, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation
Complex (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Sidney Mintz,
Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin,
1986); for apples in Australia, Michael Symons, One Continuous Picnic: A History
of Eating in Australia (Adelaide: Duck Press, 1982), 96–97; for grapes in Chile
and the Mediterranean, Tim Unwin, Wine and the Vine: An Historical
Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade (London: Routledge, 1991; reprint
1996), ch. 9.
15. K.D. White, “Farming and Animal Husbandry,” in Michael Grant and Rachel
Kitzinger, eds. Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome, vol. i
(New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1988) 236; Rinjing Dorje, Food in Tibetan Life
(London: Prospect Books, 1985), 61–65; Inga Clendinnen, Aztecs: An
Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 119.
16. For fast food and take-out stands in ancient Rome, see Florence Dupont,
Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 181; for Hangchow, Chang,
Food in Chinese Culture, 158–163; for Baghdad, M.A. J. Beg, “A Study of the Cost
of Living and Economic Status of Artisans in Abbasid Iraq,” Islamic Quarterly
16 (1972), 164, and G. Le Strange, Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate from
Contemporary Arabic and Persian Sources (London: Oxford University Press,
1900; reprint 1924), 81–82; for Paris and Edo, Robert M. Isherwood, “The Festivity
of the Parisian Boulevards,” and James McClain, “Edobashi: Power, Space, and
Popular Culture in Edo,” in James L. McLain, John M. Merrieman, and Ugawa
Kaoru, eds. Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 114 and 293–95.
17. Richard Pillsbury, No Foreign Food: The American Diet in Time and Place
(Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1998), 175.
18. “Great cuisines have arisen from peasant societies.” Michael Symons, One
Continuous Picnic, 12. Symons is a restaurateur and historian of Australian food.
19. Quoted by Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity (London: Thames and
Hudson, 1971), 12.
20. Daphne Roe, A Plague of Corn: The Social History of Pellagra (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1973), ch. 5.
21. Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Spendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the
Heartland of Northern Italian Food (New York: Morrow, 1994), 165–69; K.T.
Achaya, Indian Food: A Historical Companion (Delhi: Oxford University Press,
1994), 158–59; Semahat Arsel, project director, Timeless Tastes: Turkish Culinary
Culture (Istanbul: Divan, 1996), 48–49.
22. For the baguette, see Philip and Mary Hyman, “France,” in Alan Davidson,
The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); for
moussaka, Aglaia Kremezi, “Nikolas Tselementes,” in Walker, ed. Cooks and
Other People, 167; for fish and chips, John K. Walton, Fish and Chips and the
British Working Class, 1870–1940 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1992); for
the samovar, Robert Smith, “Whence the Samovar?” Petits Propos Culinaires 4
(1980), 57–82; for rijsttafel, Sri Owen, Indonesian Regional Cooking (London: St.
Martin’s, 1994), 22; for padang restaurants, Lisa Klopfer, “Padang Restaurants:
Creating ‘Ethnic’ Food in Indonesia,” Food and Foodways 5 (1993); for tequila,
F E B R UARY 2001
10. For the survival of this view in eighteenth-century America, see Trudy Eden,
“The Art of Preserving: How Cooks in Colonial Virginia Imitated Nature to
Control It,” in Beatrice Fink, ed. The Cultural Topography of Food: A Special
Issue of Eighteenth-Century Life 23 (1999), 13–23.
chocolate, oils, coffee, tea—produced by agribusiness and
food corporations. Asparagus and strawberries in winter
come to us on trucks trundling up from Mexico and planes
flying in from Chile. Visits to charming little restaurants and
colorful markets in Morocco or Vietnam would be impossible without international tourism. The ethnic foods we seek
out when we travel are being preserved, indeed often created, by a hotel and restaurant industry determined to cater
to our dream of India or Indonesia, Turkey, Hawaii, or
Mexico.44 Culinary Luddism, far from escaping the modern
global food economy, is parasitic upon it.
Culinary Luddites are right, though, about two important things. We need to know how to prepare good food, and
we need a culinary ethos. As far as good food goes, they’ve
done us all a service by teaching us to how to use the bounty
delivered to us (ironically) by the global economy. Their
culinary ethos, though, is another matter. Were we able to
turn back the clock, as they urge, most of us would be toiling
all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be
starving. Nostalgia is not what we need. What we need is an
ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialized
food, not one that dismisses it, an ethos that opens choices
for everyone, not one that closes them for many so that a few
may enjoy their labor, and an ethos that does not prejudge,
but decides case by case when natural is preferable to
processed, fresh to preserved, old to new, slow to fast, artisanal
to industrial. Such an ethos, and not a timorous Luddism, is
what will impel us to create the matchless modern cuisines
appropriate to our time.g
José María Muría, “El Agave Histórico: Momentos del Tequila,” El Tequila: Arte
Tradicional de México, Artes de Mexico 27 (1995), 17–28; for tandoori chicken,
Madhur Jaffrey, An Invitation to Indian Cooking ((New York: Knopf, 1973),
129–130; for soy sauce, sushi, and soba noodles, Susan B. Hanley, Everyday Things
in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture (Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press), 161.
23. Dale Brown, The Cooking of Scandinavia (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968),
93; Louis Szathmary, “Goulash,” in Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food,
and George Lang, The Cuisine of Hungary (New York: Bonanza, 1971, reprint
1990), 134–35.
24. For the natural carcinogens in plants, see Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky
Gold, “Environmental Pollution and Cancer: Some Misconceptions,” in
Kenneth R. Foster, David E. Bernstein, and Peter W. Huber, eds. Phantom Risk:
Scientific Interference and the Law (Cambridge, Mass.: The mit Press, 1993),
157–60. For toxins, Johns, With Bitter Herbs, chs. 3 and 4.
25. Piero Camporesi, Bread of Dreams: Food and Fantasy in Early Modern
Europe, trans. David Gentilcore (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,
1991), esp. chs. 12–15; Lynn Martin, Alcohol, Sex and Gender in Later Medieval
and Early Modern Europe (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000); Jean-Pierre Goubert,
The Conquest of Water, trans. Andrew Wilson (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1989), 58; J. G. Drummond and Anne Wilbraham, The Englishman’s Food:
Five Centuries of English Diet (London: Pimlico, 1939, reprint 1991), ch. 17;
Richard Hooker, A History of Food and Drink in America (New York: BobbsMerrill, 1981), 298–301.
26. Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets’s A Gift to Young Housewives,
trans. and ed. Joyce Toomre (Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press,
1992), 107; Daniel Block, “Purity, Economy, and Social Welfare in the Progressive
Era Pure Milk Movement,” Journal for the Study of Food and Society 3 (1999), 22.
27. Roy Porter, “Consumption: Disease of the Consumer Society,” in John
Brewer and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (London and
New York: Routledge, 1993), 62; Anita Guerrini, Obesity and Depression in the
Enlightenment: The Life and Times of George Cheyne (Norman, Oklahoma:
University of Oklahoma Press, 2000); Hanley, Everyday Things, 159–60.
28. Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost, 2nd ed. (New York: Charles
Scribner’s, 1965).
F E B R UARY 2001
29. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Histoire de la France rurale, ii (Paris, 1975),
438–440; Hanley, Everyday Things, 91; Peter Stearns, European Society in
Upheaval: Social History since 1750 (New York: Macmillan, 1967; reprint 1975), 18.
30. Olwen Hufton, “Social Conflict and the Grain Supply in Eighteenth-Century
France,” in Robert I. Rotberg and Theodore K. Rabb, Hunger and History: The
Impact of Changing Food Production and Consumption Patterns on Society
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 105–33, 133; Hanley, Everyday
Things, 160.
31. John Komlos, Nutrition and Economic Development in the EighteenthCentury Hapsburg Monarchy: An Anthropometric History (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1989) and Roderick Floud, Kenneth Wachter, and Annabel
Gregory, Height, Health and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom,
1750–1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). For a critique of this
method see James C. Riley, “Height, Nutrition, and Mortality Risk
Reconsidered,” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 24 (1994), 465–71.
32. Thomas McKeown, in The Modern Rise of Population (New York: Academic
Press, 1976), argued forcefully that nutritional level (not improvements in medicine) was the chief determinant of population growth in Europe. The nutritional
thesis has been challenged by Massimo Livi-Bacci, Population and Nutrition: An
Essay on European Demographic History, trans. Tania Croft-Murray (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991).
33. Stearns, European History, 15.
34. For spectators at feasts, see Per Bjurstrom, Feast and Theatre in Queen
Christina’s Rome, Nationalmusei skriftseries, no. 14 (Stockholm, 1966), 52–58;
Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1992), 87; Barbara Wheaton, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table
from 1300–1789 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 134–35.
35. André Félibien, Les plaisirs de l’isle enchanté, cited in Wheaton, Savoring the
Past, p.135.
36. Jeffrey M. Pilcher, ¡Que vivan los tamales! (Albuquerque, nm: University of
New Mexico Press, 1998), 105.
37. Redcliffe Salaman, The History and Social Influence of the Potato
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949; reprint 1970), chs. 11–19; Arturo
Warman, La Historia de un Bastardo: Maíz y Capitalismo (Mexico: Fondo de
Cultura Económica, 1988), chs. 6, 7, 10 and 11; Sucheta Mazumdar, “The Impact
of New World Crops on the Diet and Economy of India and China, 1600–1900,”
unpublished paper for a conference on Food in Global History, University of
Michigan, 1996.
38. For England, see John Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of Diet in
England from 1815 to the Present Day, part 2 (London: Methuen, 1966, reprint
1983); for France, Theodore Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. ii (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1974), 725–730; for Germany, Hans Teuteberg und Gunter Wiegelmann,
Der Wandel der Nahrungsgewohnheiten unter dem Einfluss der Industrialisierung
(Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972).
39. Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, or The Two Nations, Book ii, Ch. 5 (London: H.
Colbourn, 1845).
40. John Burnett, Plenty and Want, 128 and 133; and Harvey Levenstein,
Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1988), 31–32.
41. Christian Petersen, Bread and the British Economy, ca. 1770–1870, ed. Andrew
Jenkins (Aldershot, Hampshire: Scolar Press, 1995), chs. 2 and 4; Edward Thompson,
“The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past
and Present 50 (1971), 76–136, esp. 81.
42. Artusi, Pellegrino, The Art of Eating Well, trans. Kyle M. Phillips ii (New
York: Random House, 1996), 76–77.
43. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 41; Camellia Panjabi, 50 Great
Curries of India (London: Kyle Cathie, 1994), 185.
44. Camellia Panjabi, “The Non-Emergence of the Regional Foods of India,”
in Harlan Walker, ed. Disappearing Foods: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium
on Food and Cookery, 1994 (Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 1995), 146–49;
Owen, Indonesian Regional Cooking, Introduction; Rachel Laudan, The Food of
Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage (Honolulu, Hawaii: University
of Hawaii Press, 1996), 7–8 and 209–210.
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Independent scholar
Slow Journeys






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Established in the late 1980s, the Slow Food movement stated its interest in defending
the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of fast food and fast lives. Because
of this it has often been disregarded as yet another food and wine club, or
misunderstood as a nostalgic desire for bourgeois living. By addressing this partial
understanding of the movement, I wish to illustrate, through a case study of Marks and
Spencer, the qualitative differences between fast and slow food cultures. I continue to
reflect on slow food and draw out some of the resources the movement offers for the
understanding of a wider practice of “slow” or slow living in general.Through a
Foucauldian reading of care this piece aims to illustrate how “slow” can be cultivated
and developed into a wider praxis that goes beyond the dinner table.
Keywords: fast, slow, nostalgia, care
Slow Journeys
When the new high-speed walkway opened in Montparnasse station in Paris
in 2001, its design sparked international interest; professionals from all around
the world flew in to witness this magic carpet in action. I was curious to find
out what it felt like traveling at 9 km/h, three times the normal walking speed,
through the 185-meter tunnel in the depths of the underground transportation
system. As I approached the travelator, I was slightly anxious to join the crowd
of other expectant passengers. Members of staff in high-visibility jackets were
waving people on while instructing passengers to align their feet onto the
rollers in the acceleration area so that they would then be transferred safely
onto the moving walkway. The state of anticipation was not unlike a wait for a
roller-coaster ride where anxiety is mixed with the heightened expectation of
an exhilarating but inevitably scary journey. Once on the moving walkway, the
only reference I had was the stream of billboards on the side of the tunnel and
I was amazed at the speed at which they were moving across my field of vision.
By the time I had adjusted to the pace at which we were being transported,
the journey was over. As I stepped off the walkway, I was both nervous and
relieved that I had not created chaos by falling over, but most of all I was
frustrated at the slowness of my own two feet.
My experience of the high-speed walkway in Paris is similar to, but perhaps
less noteworthy than, the experience of the first passengers on the steam
engine that replaced horse-drawn carriages in the early nineteenth century.
The technology marked the beginning of a new era for traveling, but its
significance lay in the way it revolutionized the way we encounter and
experience the nature of time and space. Victorian passengers who traveled
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on trains experienced such exhilaration that they announced it was the
“annihilation of space by time” (Thrift 1996). Harvey (1989) uses the term
“time-space compression” to signal the “processes that so revolutionize the
objective qualities of space and time that we are forced to alter, sometimes in
quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves” (Harvey 1989:
As fast food and fast life characterize living in the twenty-first century, we
are accustomed to an always ready-to-go world—instantaneous information,
prêt à porter fashion, ready-made meals. In fact, waiting in a queue is
considered to be such a waste of time that most people would try to occupy
that space with other activities, such as checking phone messages and mails,
to justify and fill that space of idling. Such behavior indicates an impatient
way of living; one where time is always running out. The Parisian travelator is
deemed a success in the context of being a great time-saver as it has been
calculated that the average passenger will save up to eleven and a half hours
over the course of a year.
Harvey argues that time-space compression, as a distinct condition of
postmodernity, gives an “overwhelming sense of compression of our spatial and
temporal worlds” (Harvey 1989: 240). The technologies that allow us to be in
more than one space at any given time—the internet, mobile phones just to
name two that bridge distance through a virtual world—make everything
available to hand immediately. Boulding (1978) uses the term “temporal
exhaustion” to express the experience of being mentally out of breath all the
time in dealing with the present. Jameson (1984) regards the condition of
postmodernity as a crisis because we fear that we cannot keep pace. It would
therefore seem bizarre that instead of inventing even newer and better ways
to keep up we should choose to slow down. But with the event of every new
technological innovation that takes place with time-space compression, a
parallel process of slowing is always taking place elsewhere. These processes
are reflected in various movements; for example, romantic art was hugely
popular in the nineteenth century with painters such as Constable offering
romantic scenes of quiet country landscapes, bringing a comforting nostalgia
to the population (Thrift and May 2001). The need to search for comfort in
a slower-moving past can be understood as a response to a certain anxiety
which accompanies periods of acceleration in the pace of living. Just as some
of the twenty-first century users of the travelator were reported to be elated,
others felt relieved to get off. As my slightly shaking legs suggest, the aftereffects of the experience are often overwhelming and unsettling. The
acceleration of time creates an angst that has to manifest in a space where
slower rhythms provide a sense of security. Not only are speeding up and
slowing down concepts that acquire meaning through their relation with each
other, but it is apparent that these concepts are manifested equally in tangible
movements such as art or living.
Slow Journeys
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It is in such context that I situate the Slow Food movement. Established in
1986, it came as a timely response to the unease created by the fast-paced
way of life and aims to protect the pleasures of the table from the
homogenization of modern fast food and life (Petrini and Padovani 2006).
Ideas of hospitality and sharing are key to members of the Slow Food
movement. Cooking and eating, along with other examples of “good” and slow
living, promote a way of living that emphasizes quality rather than quantity.
Slow food opens up certain questions of time and space. In this light, the
dining table becomes a physical and mental refuge from a fast-paced life of
work characterized by rhythms of efficiency and productivity. This paper
explores the qualities of the movement in order to understand what it means
to go slow—a form of traveling where destinations are perhaps secondary to
how we make the journey. How can one imagine occupying a space slowly?
What does it mean to do so? What qualities does the “slow” of “slow food”
offer that one cannot have in a fast life?
The Slow Food movement’s insistence on quality has made it an easy target
for charges of elitism but I will argue that this is a result of a partial
understanding of the movement. This limited knowledge allows for the rise of
slow fast food and counterfeit slow food in the food market. This will be
discussed with a case study in the section on slow fast food.
The subsequent section then seeks to examine the idea of slowness
through the notion of pleasure and care. It offers a theoretical model through
which to better understand the qualities that are imbued in a slow culture, as
a partial basis for developing a practice that is ethical and sustainable and
which extends beyond the dinner table.
Slow Fast Food
It is apparent that the difference between slow food and fast food is not a
question of temporal duration. Fast food is bad not because it is fast and by the
same token the qualities of slow food do not lie in the duration of a meal. I will
start by looking at a case study, which will illustrate the changing faces of fast
food. “Slow fast food” is a term I use to describe food with modes of production,
distribution and consumption similar to those of fast food chains, but which
uses a variety of methods to disguise these modes in order to associate itself
with slow food. To illustrate this, I chose the “Christmas Lunch” advert from
the Marks and Spencer (M&S) Simply Food advertising campaign as a case
study. My analysis will consider first the visual representation used in its
advertisements, then the techniques by which it associates its products with
wealth, and finally its ways of evoking and exploiting nostalgia.
The images of the “Christmas Lunch” advertisement are narrated by a rich,
velvety, female voice backed by the slow guitar music of Santana and feature
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vivid close-ups of translucent pieces of smoked salmon swept into a mustard
sauce and roasting parsnips sizzling and spitting in the oven tray. The
exaggerated visual representation can only be described as a form of a gastroporn (Smart 1994: 170–1) where fine photographic images heighten
expectations, but as with porn, the gratification is never met. The food
advertised becomes secondary; satisfaction no longer lies in tasting and eating
as the ornamentalization of food is so complete that the consumption, as
Barthes (1973: 79) observes, can now be perfectly accomplished simply by
looking. The clever juxtaposition of the camera shots glamorize what are in
reality just ready-made TV dinners. M&S food can therefore be described as
slow fast food. The slow, pornographic images of well-prepared food provide
a safe smokescreen behind which its aluminum-wrapped processed food can
be sold—at a higher price than its counterparts at any general supermarket.
This type of slow marketing not only corrupts our time and space of leisure,
it also distorts the image of slow food.
In our post-industrialist society, rising levels of per capita income have
produced a new demographic group of nouveau bourgeoisie. They belong
neither to Veblen’s leisure class nor the factory owners of Marxist times.
Characterized by its abundance of disposable income, this new, affluent group
of the twenty-first century is rich in financial and cultural capital. The nouveau
bourgeoisie work long hours but earn a good living to compensate for the lack
of leisure time. This opens up a very profitable niche in the consumer market.
Thousands of ready-made, instant, pre-worked commodities are churned out
every day, targeted specifically at this money-rich, time-poor community.
These modern elites with their long working hours have precious little time
for leisure. Leisure starts when work ends, it is the time “left over” from work.
As Appadurai (1993) points out, it becomes recognized logically as a reward
for production time well used. Characterized by various forms of
entertainment such as going to the cinema or the restaurant, leisure time is
often associated with the time of consumption: one spends to entertain or to
relax. Appadurai writes:
there is little escape from the rhythms of industrial production, for
when leisure is reliably available and socially acceptable, what is
required is not only “free time,” but disposable income. (Appadurai
How you spend and where you spend then becomes an index for ranking and
distinguishing work, class and occupation. Slow time therefore becomes a
class marker and a commodity—to mark and sell a lifestyle of refinement,
sophistication and taste. It is in this context that Slow Food is criticized for
being elitist.
The M&S Simply Food Campaign has been hugely successful by
associating the company’s ready-made meals with the idea of slowness. The
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adverts highlight the time consumed in the making of these products, selling
the image of a leisurely lifestyle that appeals to the over-worked yet affluent
population in search of sophistication. This is indeed more than just food:
M&S food sells the complete lifestyle that can be now be obtained vicariously
through the polystyrene-sealed, glossy cardboard packaged, ready-made
meals. This packaged lifestyle offers the illusion or appearance of wealth, as
Marx points out in the first volume of Capital—“The wealth of societies in
which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense
collection of commodities’” (Marx 1990: 125, my emphasis). Wealth in such
a context is only the pursuit of a mirage; it can never be achieved as a market
economy instigates scarcity. The market produces and flaunts a vast array of
products always within man’s reach but never all within his grasp. As “cost” is
defined as an alternative forgone in economics, consumerism is therefore a
double tragedy—what begins in inadequacy will end in deprivation.
M&S not only sells us images of illusory wealth, it even provides us with a
collective memory. The technique of associating M&S products with an
imaginary past has brought the company good financial rewards. The “good
old days,” as it were, offer up romantic notions of a way of life that was
healthier and better. M&S presents its products as uniquely produced by
individual farmers where animals are reared using “traditional farming
methods.” A further inspection of food labels reveals that names of farmers
are included to encourage the impression that the food sold at their store
could be sourced to a farmer, thereby ensuring quality and freshness. Yet the
images and information used in such labeling are often misleading: the
Lochmuir salmon, for example, is a creation of M&S marketing. As revealed
by The Scotsman, Lochmuir is in fact a fictional place, the name having been
coined by marketing experts as part of a branding exercise for their salmon
because “it sounded Scottish” (Jamison 2006). The combination of
individuality, of sourcing and of information creates an image of tradition and
authenticity that feeds a current need in the social life of commodities. They
evoke and anchor nostalgia for an imaginary past—a syndrome that Proust
immortalized with his madeleine. It is in fact fantasy, as the above example
clearly illustrates, a creation of modern merchandising to lure in consumers.
Appadurai (1993: 25) calls this “armchair nostalgia,” where forms of mass
advertising such as the ones used by M&S create experiences of duration,
passage and loss for consumers. Appadurai notes:
rather than expecting the consumer to supply memories while the
merchandiser supplies the lubricant of nostalgia, now the viewer need
only bring the faculty of nostalgia to an image that will supply the
memory of a loss he or she has never suffered. (Appadurai 1993: 25)
The perceived loss is not a personal loss of something we have ever
experienced. The past where crops were grown in farms rather than in
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laboratories belonged to a past that was not ours. “Armchair nostalgia” is
therefore “nostalgia without lived experience or collective historical memory”
(Appadurai 1993: 25).
vol. 11 :: no. 2
june 08
In Search of Slow
The idea of taking time highlighted in the “slow” of slow food or slow living
does not merely refer to speed or duration. To explore the idea of fastness and
slowness in linear time is as limiting as it is futile. The real essence of slow
does not lie in a Newtonian or chronological understanding of time, where
time serves as a unit of measure—as quantity or duration, length of
periodicity, age or rate of acceleration (Smith 2002: 47). Rather, the
understanding of slow should lie in a qualitative character that the concept of
chronos does not embody. The counterpart of chronos is the Greek term
kairos, which is most commonly defined as the opportunistic or propitious
moment. I am therefore arguing that a slow meal should be one that offers
moments of kairos: slow is a moment of timelessness, where opportunities to
share, reflect and be convivial give time its quality.
There is, however, a need for a more careful laying out of the
understanding of kairos. Kairos is often represented by a young nude man in
fleeting movement, with wings both at the shoulder and at the heels and
carrying a pair of scales balanced on the edge of a shaving knife. Moreover,
his head often shows the proverbial forelock by which bald-headed
Opportunity can be seized. After the eleventh century, this figure merged
with the figure of Fortune, this fusion being favored by the fact that the
Latin word for “kairos,” viz., occasio, is of the same gender as fortuna
(Panovsky 1972: 71–2). Fortune carries the meaning of chance, hap, luck or
fate but these are qualities that should not be associated with kairos, as the
opportunistic moment cannot rely on chance. Opportunus originates from
the denotation of having a favorable wind blowing towards the harbor (from
ob- “in the direction of” and portus “harbor”) and from this it extends to mean
advantageous (OED eleventh edition). Kairos requires a certain skill and
knowledge for it to be able to grasp the right moment to the do right thing.
The sailor who has a favorable wind that blows towards the harbor has still
to use his skill and knowledge of maneuvering the sails in order to sail back
to port. Perhaps the Chinese word for opportunity offers a better
interpretation of the idea, as it includes two characters, the first of which is
time (si) and the second is opportunity or opening of a possibility (gay); the
word for fortune or luck (wun) is not normally used interchangeably. The
fact that two characters are needed to express opportunity also suggests that
knowledge or skill understood through timeliness is as important as the
opening or possibility.
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The ninety-second burger of McDonald’s offers not only value for money
but also value for time: the standardized design of menus and outlets ensures
that the customer does not have to think too much about the food or the
environment in which they are eating. In fact, their thoughts might very well
be on what they could do in the time “saved” by having a quick bite. The focus
of their thoughts is not on the moment of eating but on the moments to
come. If we were to understand the experience of fast and slow food in terms
of qualitative rather than quantitative time, then the consumption of fast food
can be seen as a missed opportunity to reflect and repose. By the same token,
a meal that is slow is one that offers the opportunity to reflect. To take time,
is to take time out of a regular routine dominated by work and characterized
by productivity. One reflects how to spend that moment so that the table
becomes a focal point for affiliation and association, and ultimately becomes
an experience that enhances the social wellbeing of the group.
Moreover, to read fast and slow in linear terms is to equate fast with bad, and
slow with good. Fast food is bad not because it is fast but because it is careless—
or as Parkins (2004) puts it, “mindless.” In the case of fast-food industries, for
example, McDonald’s is careless with regard to the effects of homogenization
which privilege profit over environment, animals, consumers and employees.
Fast food companies are only concerned about the merits of fastness, high
turnovers and their own gross profit. However, in the wider social context, the
lack of sustainability in the way food is produced results in an irretrievable
destruction of the agricultural, social, cultural and economic landscapes. By the
same principle, slow food is good not because it is slow, but because it
embodies a careful way of living. As a movement, it aims to protect, sustain and
repair the damage done to the environment, animals, culture and people.
The Slow Food movement’s philosophy gave rise to the new concept of ecogastronomy, which is based on the belief that every person has a fundamental
right to pleasure and that the plate and the planet are interconnected. The idea
of connection forms a bridge between the individual and the cosmic world,
and this belief brings an ethical dimension to food through temporality. Slow
is a particular way of viewing the world: by paying attention to how and what
we eat, we are reflectively positioning ourselves in a world which we are part
of, adopting a worldview which a capitalist worldview eschews. This care, from
the notion of being careful, starts with oneself but then extends to a wider
community. This care is a Foucauldian care of the self. It is interesting to note
that Foucault’s third volume of the History of Sexuality is originally published
under the title of “Le Souci de Soi”; souci in contemporary French is used to
convey the idea of “concern” or “worry,” but rather than simply the idea of
being upset or concerned because of something, souci is more an idea of
worrying about, or concerned for someone or something. The self is therefore
understood in the identification with the other, or the other as present in each
of us. This is the reason I believe that the English translation uses “care” rather
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vol. 11 :: no. 2
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than “concern.” It is also the reason I choose to explain Slow Food as a careful
way of living as opposed to Parkin’s “mindful” (Parkins and Craig 2006).
Montanari (1996) also identifies in the editorial Slow that care lies at the core
of a slow culture, that care gives a capacity to understand and assess our
experiences. It is a mode of attention directed towards everyday practices.
It would appear that at the core of “slow” lie two conflicting qualities, those
of pleasure and care—pleasure being a selfish concern for oneself, and care,
a concern for another. I would argue that this is not the case. In Care of the
Self, Foucault characterizes the “cultivation of the self” as an “art of existence”
and that the principle “one must take care of oneself” must preside over the
development and organization of the practice (Foucault 1990: 44). This idea
is derived from an ancient Greek notion (heautou epimeleisthai), a drive to
care for the soul. Foucault quotes from Plato’s Apology of Socrates to make the
point that one cannot hope to govern a city or manage its affairs without first
attending to oneself—to the cultivation of the self. What lies behind such a
claim is not a mere selfish internalization of attention that privileges the self
over another, rather, it is being aware of oneself as part of a whole. As a
practice, it requires one to start with oneself but always with an eye for the
other, and this should be where a development of a form of praxis should be
based. Slow Food, or the cultivation of a slow culture, therefore transcends
the private domain of the kitchen and extends to a wider form of politics, a
self-generated, perhaps more organic and sustainable way of development
that rests upon care. Slow Food therefore does not merely mark the
difference of what we eat or the way we eat. It seeks to situate the individual
within a network of local relationships, family ties, economic dependences
and relations of patronage and friendship. For example, rather than
understanding the consumers as separate from the producers, Slow Food
offers the possibility of reading consumers as co-producers. I would like to
believe that this is more than just a mere choice of words, as identifying us as
co-producers places us in a position where we are responsible for the other.
The choice of what to buy and where to buy it is directly linked to the
livelihoods of those working in agriculture. It is a philosophy that reconnects
the alienated individual to a wider community. Hadot (1995) rightly points
out that Foucault’s Care of the Self is based on a mode of being in the world,
which stems from a feeling of belonging, belonging to the whole, constituted
by the human community, which in turn is constituted by the cosmic whole.
The Slow Food movement defines its food as good, clean and fair, meaning
that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean
way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and
that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. For
example, their project, the Ark of Taste, aims to preserve biodiversity by
identifying species of animal breeds, fruit and vegetable varieties and local
recipes that have been marginalized or sometimes driven to extinction
Slow Journeys
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because of mass production. They aid the producers in cultivating and
promoting these lesser known varieties and reintroduce them to our plates.
The Filder Pointed Cabbage of Germany for example, or the Poire Sarteau of
France or the aritsanal Somerset Cheddar of the UK are only few of the five
thousand varieties the movement has helped to preserve.
This, in my understanding, is what differentiates slow food from fast food.
Where fast food is read as an embodiment of negative traits of alienation,
homogenization and globalization, slow food returns our attention to
integration, diversification and localization. Were the Slow Food movement
simply nostalgic for a lifestyle of luxury and leisure then it could be criticized
for trying to bring back a form of bourgeois living that Veblen, Bourdieu and
many others have criticized. But it goes beyond that: the value of slow food
lies in a reflective way of positioning the self. The practice of slow living is an
exercise, a model of life, a way of being in the world. This mode of praxis
brings an ethical dimension to pleasure. Through a practice of selfexamination, reflection and monitoring, one seeks to form a subjectivity that
is thought through ethics and which can apply to everyone regardless of their
social status. It also highlights the interconnectedness of the community in
which a society is formed of connected rather than alienated individuals. By
recognizing the other in us, one starts caring for the community by being
aware that the effects of one’s actions have bearings on the lives of others.
The process of cultivating oneself would therefore result in “an intensification
of social relations” (Foucault 1990).
The metaphor used in the cultivation of the self obviously lends itself to the
idea of the cultivation of the land. But more importantly, cultivation implies
work, the care of the self cannot be a rest cure, but it should be a constant
practice. The philosophy as such should not rest in a rhetorical discourse and
the reason I believe Foucault’s work is applicable to understanding something
as everyday as eating is because it returns philosophy to antiquity. Hadot
(1995) makes an interesting point that modern philosophy has become
almost entirely a theoretical discourse and has forgotten the tradition of
ancient philosophy—that philosophy is also an art, a style and most
importantly a way of life.
Critics of Slow Food have challenged on various levels and to different
extents, the movement’s ability to change the food system on a local as well
as national or global level. As Donati (2005) observes, the position of these
critics ranges from cautious optimism to deep skepticism when it comes to
the question of how committed the movement is to bringing about change
and if indeed these changes can be sustained. On a local level, Gaytán (2004)
draws on her own experience of attending a Slow Food convivium and
criticizes the meeting’s lack of political agenda. Chrzan (2004) recounts her
encounter with Slow Food as she tried to launch her project to develop and
create a food education curriculum for middle and high school students on a
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national scale. Chrzan states that she received minimal aid from the
movement and associates the failures of Slow Food in general with its selfpositioning as a movement—an organizational form which she regards as too
abstract to induce any real changes in society.
While I do share the frustration of these writers and understand their
criticisms, I would hesitate to declassify Slow Food as a movement. I would
argue that the level of abstraction a “movement” embodies is precisely what
is positive about it. Slow Food is not a program; therefore there is not a
prescriptive way of doing. This is not to say that a local convivium should be
reduced to a recipe-sharing quail egg nibbling middle-class dinner party—but
nor should we understand Slow Food as attempting to offer recipes for social
transformation. Rather by treating consumers as co-producers, it renders
responsibility back to the individual. If the members are complacent and stop
caring, it is not because Slow Food is a “movement” but because members
themselves have forgotten to politicize the everyday. Such examples only go
to show that a difference has to be made between lifestyle changes and a way
of life.
On the other hand, Chrzan’s article does mention that although Slow Food
showed a complete lack of commitment to her project, it did finally take off
with the help of the University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Nutrition Initiative
(Chrzan 2004). Examples such as this are encouraging: Chrzan’s project
achieved positive and potentially sustainable changes through working with
schools and local communities. Despite not being related to Slow Food, this
project can be understood as being in the spirit of the movement, and indeed
Slow Food can learn from the success of such projects.
The resurgence of farmers’ markets, the popularity of organic food and the
abundance of cookery shows on television does not necessarily point to the
success of Slow Food. The first section of this article has hopefully made it
clear that “slow” is not an image or a patina that one can buy or acquire
vicariously through commodities. Through a Foucauldian reading of slowness,
I hope to have illustrated that “slow” is an attitude that stems from a way of
caring for the other and that it can be translated into practice or a mode of
living. The aim of this piece has not been to hail the Slow Food movement as
the ultimate answer to the problems of fast-paced modernity. Rather, by
reflecting on the movement, I have drawn out some of the resources it could
offer for the development of a wider praxis of “slow” or slow living in general.
This praxis should not be confined to the Slow Food movement; its practice
could extend beyond food culture and be applied to every aspect of our mode
of living. By exploring the nuances that are overlooked in the daily usage of fast
Slow Journeys
06FCS11.2 Tam:04FCS10.3/Karaou
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and slow, I wish to highlight the fact that there are possibilities to occupy a
space or travel through time qualitatively and that these attributes should not
be brushed off as being exclusive to a certain class or merely à la mode.
I would like to thank: Professor John Hutnyk, who has continually and
patiently guided my work in the past three years; Professor John Eade, who
gave me this opportunity to learn; my fellow colleagues at Goldsmiths College
for their kindness and support and in particular, James Burton, whose advice
was invaluable in the last stages of this piece.
A personal note of gratitude to my mother who gave me all. I would like to
dedicate my first publication to her.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1993. Consumption, Duration and History. Stanford Literature Review
10(1–2): 11–33.
Barthes, Roland. 1973. Mythologies. St Albans: Paladin.
Boulding, Elise. 1978. The Dynamics of Imaging Futures. World Future Society Bulletin
12(5): 1–8.
Chrzan, Janet. 2004. Slow Food: What, Why, and to Where? Food Culture and Society 7(1):
Donati, Kelly. 2005. The Pleasure of Diversity in Slow Food’s Ethics of Taste. Food Culture
and Society 8(2): 227–42.
Foucault, Michel. 1990. The Care of the Self. Oxford: Penguin.
Gaytán, Marie Sarita. 2004. Globalizing Resistance: Slow Food and New Local
Imaginaries. Food Culture and Society 7(1): 97–116.
Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of
Cultural Change. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Jameson, Fredric. 1984. The Politics of Theory: Ideological Positions in the Postmodernism
Debate. New German Critique 33 (Fall): 53–6.
Jamieson, Alastair. 2006. M&S Lochmuir Salmon … Only Lochmuir Doesn’t Exist. The
Scotsman, August 19. Available from: (accessed February 8, 2008).
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Montanari, Massimo. 1996. Beware! Slow 1(2): 56–9.
Panovsky, Erwin. 1972. Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the
Renaissance. New York: Icon Editions.
Parkins, Wendy. 2004. Out of Time: Fast Subjects and Slow Living. Time Society 13(23):
Parkins, Wendy and Craig, Geoffrey. 2006. Slow Living. Oxford: Berg.
Petrini, Carlo and Padovani, Gigi. 2006. Slow Food Revolution. New York: Rizzoli
International Publications.
Smart, Barry. 1994. Digesting the Modern Diet. In Keith Tester (ed.) The Flaneur. New
York: Routledge, pp. 158–80.
Smith, John E. 2002. Time and Qualitative Time. In Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin
(eds) Rhetoric and Kairos—Essays in History, Theory and Praxis. New York: State University
of New York, pp. 46–57.
Thrift, Nigel. 1996. Spatial Formations. London: Sage Publications.
Thrift, Nigel and May, Jon (eds). 2001. Timespace Geographies of Temporality. New York:
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