It all starts with taste, slow food needs slow wine; Carlo Petrini’s gourmet life in Slow Food Story

This week I read in a local newspaper a word I didn’t know: the happiness command. A new word that assumes that one can enforce happiness or can exercise direct authority over one’s happiness, but we are not very good at knowing what makes us happy, most of the time. The matter of happiness is at least as old as the Greek language. Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.I disagree with that, it is not the only pleasure, but a little culinary hedonism sure makes life enjoyable.


The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BC) teaches us that happiness should be fun; he favoured good company, food, sex, laughter and beauty, but all in moderation. His philosophy points out that we shouldn’t feel guilty to have a pleasurable end enjoyable life, although it also led to a misunderstanding. Even today people who love luxurious gastronomic dining and wining are described as Epicurean, however that wasn’t Epicurus’ idea, good food is about pleasure and sharing, not about a fat wallet. Epicurus point was an advocacy of a simple life; as we don’t understand what we really need, we often substitute our desires with material items, but what we really do need are friends, the freedom to be self sufficient and the time to analyse what’s bothering us.

I wonder how well Carlo Petrini, the Italian founder, guiding light and president of the Slow Food movement, knows Epicurus. He does, I found out, “Pleasure is a human right because it is physiological; we cannot fail to feel pleasure when we eat and drink. What motivates our eating is pleasure, under the condition that our hunger has been satisfied.”

Carlo Petrini, born in Bra, Italy on June 22, 1949, began writing about wine and food in 1977. In 1986 he founded Slow Food. The slow food movement was born out of two separate events. One was a failed attempt to prevent the opening of the first branch of McDonald’s in Piazza di Spagna in the heart of Rome. The other was the death of 19 people from methanol poisoning -caused by drinking cheap Italian wine mixed with methanol- and the hospitalization of many more. One thing lead to another and two organisations were created devoted to food and wine “that tastes great”, the Slow Food movement (the name slow food was chosen in opposition to fast food) and the Gambero Rosso (its name taken from the “Osteria del Gambero Rosso (red prawn)” from The Adventures of Pinocchio; the Italian equivalent of Wine Spectator and Decanter).


The Gambero Rosso first appeared in 1986 as a slim, weekly 8-page insert about food and wine in Italy’s Communist paper Il Manifesto. The aim was to taste each wine and focus on identifying quality producers in a region (not just exceptional wines) to resist the industrialization and homogenization of wine, and to revolutionarise the Italian wine industry after the methanol scandal. When the paper sold well, Il Manifesto started expanding the insert until the wine section became a separate publication. It has since eventually evolved into an annual 1,000-page guide to Italian wines, Vini d’Italia. The top wines, the ones considered “extraordinary”, are rated as Three Glasses or in Italian: “Tre Bicchieri”.

Slow Food and Gambero Rosso (in 2011 replaced by Slow Wine) express the good things in life. “Traditionally food was an act of love, a way to share”. In many parts of Mediterranean Europe this conviviality, the ritual of preparing and sharing food, still exists. The Slow Food movement cultivates this pleasure of sharing and that is also Carlo Petrini’s goal at the Film en Food festival 2013 in Amsterdam. Carlo Petrini -Carlin for intimates- was in the Netherlands to accompany director Stefano Sardo to the Dutch premiere of his documentary film Slow Food Story. A big part of Slow Food Story evolves around sharing: sharing food, sharing music, sharing laughter, sharing a struggle and sharing ideas. Carlo joked in a short Q&A after the film: “I’m happy with the result. Normally a film like this is made after you’re dead. I’m lucky enough to see it while I’am still alive.”

Petrini continues:”In the past 50 years, food has gone out of our daily life. Everyone wants to consume and work and work to consume and consume in order to work. Eating is about consuming fuel. We forsake our happiness if we keep on consuming in the way we do today. We are not put into this world to only consume. We are in this world to find happiness in our relationships, our friendships. We are here to bring children into the world and to make them understand where food comes from, that food should taste good, that local produced food grown with respect for the environment is better for us and our planet”. Slow Food’s central mantra “Good, Clean, Fair” also means that food should not be thrown away too easily. Waste is a fundamental characteristic of the consumer society. “Instead be environmentally aware, but also a gourmet,“ Petrini says with a big smile, “An ecologist who is not a gourmet is just boring.”


Can you command happiness? Is there such a thing as a happiness command? “Happiness cannot be achieved at the command of emotional whims. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy —a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction”, this is what Ayn Rand would say. Petrini talks about taste. “Happiness starts with taste, with the flavour of the origin; it all starts with taste and sharing.” That is exactly what makes me happy too. I love slow food, good company and the liquid happiness of wine. Is there anything else I should know?

“Life is there to be lived, experienced; you can’t find slow food and good company in books or TV programs”. And that touches upon another hurdle Petrini wants to avoid: the fetishisation of food and wine. “We’re all full of gastronomy, recipes, and wine programs on TV, in magazines, everywhere. We must normalise food rather than put it on a pedestal or far out of reach to all. Quality food should not be a status symbol. I am convinced that change will take place in spite of everything”. He now focuses on the public at the Food and Film festival:”Always do what you want, don’t command, but instead search for happiness, happiness can be found in society. Gradually you’ll become protagonists; it is now up to you! Someone shouts: “one bite at a time.” Petrini nods. “Let’s go and eat, I am hungry”.

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