Flash in the Pan 

Getting in the slow food state of mind

My car idles behind the fast food restaurant, sweetening the atmosphere with its oxidized hydrocarbons. Waiting for my turn at the pickup window, I check my e-mail on the cell phone. Soon, I am handed a package containing several forms of highly processed industrial food product in folds of paper, plastic, and Styrofoam. Back on the open road, high-fructose beverage in the cup holder, I steer with one hand and eat with the other. I eat this way because I do not have time, because the priorities of my lifestyle dictate that this meal be squeezed between other more important activities.

And then I wake up screaming.

For many, Chef Boy Ari’s worst nightmare is a daily event. And this, if I may be so bold, is a problem. Fast food reminds me of the sheet with a little hole cut in it, required by some religions for the consummation of marriage without any “unnecessary” physical contact—just the biological necessity please, no passion, no pleasure, no intimacy. Fast food. You feel a grumble in your belly and you want to make it go away as quickly, cheaply, and conveniently as possible. You don’t really know what you are eating, where or when or by whom it was grown. You just hope they give you enough packages of ketchup.

Obviously, fast food is not my idea of a good time. Luckily, I’m not alone, or else I would probably be out of a job. So perhaps some of you shared my amusement these last few weeks at an advertisement in the Missoulian, in which a freshly scrubbed teen hands you a McDonalds takeout sack, while her other hand holds out a Missoulian. The caption reads “Fast food for the mind.” Apparently, you can buy your Missoulian at the drive-thru now, along with a Happy Meal.

Well...OK. If the McSoulian wants to compare itself to McDonalds, who am I to stop them? I’m a First Amendment kind of guy. And if anyone chooses to mentally substitute “junk food” for “fast food” in the caption, more power to ’em. Chef Boy Ari is no advertising expert, but if I were to design an ad for the Independent along similar lines, I would photograph a chef in the kitchen with a splattered apron stirring a big pot of something on low-to-medium heat, with the caption reading, “Slow food for the mind.” Our content simmers for a whole week between issues, and is jam-packed with healthy content that takes time to digest…and won’t give you gas.

The term “Slow Food” has taken on a life of its own in the last decade, as the name of an organization dedicated to the pleasures and awareness of participating in the food cycle, from the cultivation of the crops to the grinding of spices in the mortar and pestle, to the wiping clean of the wine-soaked table. The Slow Food movement began in Rome in 1989 as a response to the opening of a McDonalds at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Slow Food values are rooted in “preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food.” Food must be prepared in the company of family and friends, and chairs around the dining table should not be left empty. No eating in the car.

According to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, “The Slow Food movement stands in direct opposition to everything that a fast-food meal represents: blandness, uniformity, conformity, the blind worship of science and technology.”

Those of you who want to read more should look for the forthcoming The Pleasures of Slow Food, by Corby Kummer. Other Slow Food publications include the periodicals Slow and Snail.

Currently, Slow Food claims some 70,000 members in more than 45 countries, including 6,000 members in the United States spread over 72 chapters, called convivium, literally, “living together.” Given the endearing Montanan propensity for food security, I would be surprised if a Slow Food chapter in Missoula wouldn’t fly. In fact, Chef Boy Ari would surely enlist! Who is going to step up to the plate and start the Missoula Slow Food Convivium? I’ll tell you one thing: Some day, Chef Boy Ari is going to make it to Bra, Italy for the Salone del Gusto (Hall of Taste), the five-day Slow Food fair. Oh yes. Prego prego prayyyygo!

The irony is, when Chef Boy Ari hits the kitchen and starts waving his arms like Beethoven conducting his Ninth Symphony, and the whole kitchen responds “dun dun dun dooooooooon,” the whole house knows it within minutes because of the smell. My point is, slow food can be fast as well. Sure, there are some meals that do indeed take time, but there are also meals that you can whip up in no time that will beat the pants off the fast food fix in all categories except “high-fructose-lard.” Next week I’ll tell you about stir fry, and how to coax the most from each of your high-quality lineup of ingredients. Ciao.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: flash@missoulanews.com

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