Carlo Petrini with Folco Portinari during the signing of the Slow Food Manifesto
by Richard McCarthy
Executive Director, Slow Food USA
We have received sad news from Bra, Italy that author, intellectual, and lecturer, Falco Portinari, one of the founding father of Slow Food, has died. Read the Slow Food International obituary here.
Born in Cumiana, a small rural town neighboring Turin, on January 25, 1926, Portinari became a lecturer in the history of Italian literature at the University of Turin. He wrote for many of Italy’s leading newspapers and magazines and authored numerous books on subjects ranging from Manzoni to 19th-century Italian literature, food culture, and sport. He joined Italian state broadcaster RAI in the 1950s, along with other cultural figures and intellectuals like Umberto Eco, Enrico Vaime, Piero Angela, and Angelo Guglielmi.
The Slow Food Manifesto, written in poetic prose by Folco in 1987, is a revolutionary document, now known throughout the world. It has made generations of gastronomes, farmers and artisans aware of the dignity of their work. Each year, Slow Food locals in 160 countries commemorate the signing of the Manifesto — our movement’s founding document — on Terra Madre Day with eat-ins, cookouts and tabletop readings of the document (often whilst donning a beret and holding a glass of wine or beer).
If you’ve not read the Slow Food Manifesto recently, give it a fresh look. It was written prior to the end of the Cold War, and long before the advent of smartphones, social media and other “fast” innovations that undermine the human dignity of privacy, serenity and community. Consider:
“In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes.”
What really stands out here is Portinari’s recognition that Fast Food is a belief system that extends far beyond the scope of food when he references so-called “Fast Life.” This prescient inclusion was received by those who operate in other sectors of life as a call-to-action to resist speed. Just think: we now accept Slow Money, Slow Fashion, Slow Travel, Slow Media, etc. as important and ongoing discussions.
I think back to when I first stumbled upon the Manifesto. A child of the Cold War, manifestos conjured up the smell of Soviet bureaucracy. And yet, the very idea of crafting a manifesto seems evocative, foreign, and a dangerous vestige of long-lost movements: Dada (1918), Surrealism (1924), and even the Maintenance Art Manifesto (1969) about garbage collection. Fast forward to today and consider how much has changed. The Communist Manifesto is receiving unexpected interest from right-of-center publications, like the Financial Times with “What would Karl Marx Write today?” But it is more than that. Once upon a time, every nonprofit organization would treasure its mission statement. And then, philanthropic thought leaders proclaimed that this was not enough: it must also possess a vision statement, and values statement, etc.
Now, we have entered the age of the manifesto. Falco Portinari was simply ahead of his time. How many corporate manifestos have you encountered? (This is a good sign!) Disenthrall’s 2018 article, “17 Inspiring Brand Manifestos,” the article states: “Mission statements are dead.” No longer is the world split between social change on one hand and “the business of business” thinking on the other. With the rise of social enterprise, B-corps, social investment and more, many food businesses promote their manifesto. One of my favorites is Brooklyn new-gen kosher start-up, Gefilteria’s The Gefilte Manifesto. Devoted to reimagining Old World Jewish foods, the company’s Manifesto reads: “We need not accept the extinction of this tradition, or of the robust, colorful, fresh flavors of Ashkenazi cuisine….”
And so, with Falco Portinari’s death, we mourn his passing and celebrate how we have come full circle: from Old World to New; from social change to commerce; and most importantly, from the drudgery of living life on a Fordist conveyor belt of mundane food protein and into the bright new world of artisanal eating for all. As our movement’s impact grows beyond food and as our movement recommits itself to include everyone (with the introduction of the Equity, Inclusion and Justice Manifesto), let us raise a glass of Barolo, Kvass, craft beer, or municipal water to salute Falco and recommit ourselves to “a firm defense of quiet material pleasure… [as] the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.”
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Also, explore the proliferation of food manifestos designed to capture our imagination: The Dutch Food and Design Manifesto; the British National Farmers’ Union’s keeping business-as-usual Food Supply and Brexit Manifesto; and the Chefs’ Manifesto intended to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.