Go Slow

By Bill Hoversten

During high school, I worked a couple summers at a burger joint. There I could throw meat and buns on the grill and whip out sandwiches in record time. During meal breaks, I wolfed down cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. And after work, a trip to the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop kept my sugar high going. Back then, the food was fast – and life was good.

So I was shocked years later to meet John Robbins himself, heir to the Baskin-Robbins fortune. Though he had been groomed to take over the company, his misgivings about fast food had led him to a crisis of conscience. So he had resigned and walked away from it all, becoming a vegan and writing his seminal 1987 bestseller Diet for a New America.

This was eye-opening for me. I’d always thought eating the traditional “three squares” a day was healthy. Now I was hearing John tell a whole different story – and I began to change.

Over the years other critical voices have joined his, including Eric Schlosser with his New York Times bestseller Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. The book was the basis for the 2006 Fox Searchlight feature film Fast Food Nation.

Then at the Natural Products Expo West this year I attended The Organic Center’s benefit dinner featuring Alice Waters as a keynote speaker.

A pioneering force in the field of restaurants and food, she started the now world-renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley in 1971 with a commitment to use fresh seasonal ingredients grown locally.

Her Berkeley-based middle school project The Edible Schoolyard has become a national model for public school education, promoting the integration of gardening, cooking, and sharing of school lunches.

A recipient of national and international honors, she is also the Vice President of Slow Food International, a nonprofit organization with over 100,000 members in 130 countries.

At the dinner, Waters laid out the difference between “fast food values” and “slow food values.”

As she broke it down, fast food values are: uniformity, conformity, prejudice, speed, availability, cheapness (not just low cost), deception, dishonesty, work as drudgery, and more is better.

Another fast food value is the use and misuse of terminology. She cited some companies ‘ ads and packaging deceptively claiming to be “fair trade,” “organic,” “natural,” sustainable,” “free range,” “pesticide free,” or “FDA-approved.” With the phrase “grass fed,” for example, maybe the grass is only a tiny fraction of what the cows are fed!

In contrast, she continued, slow food values include such attributes as ripeness, aliveness, beauty, honesty, and respect. So adopting a set of values – either fast food or slow food – will affect our culture, systems, relationships, clothing, health, self-image, world outlook and more.

Her insights certainly made sense to me by now – a former know-it-all who actually had plenty to learn over the years! For example, my diet today is vastly different from what it was in high school. And I’m happy to work at an agency whose healthy food clients aspire to operate with better values.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not a vegan. On rare occasions, I still get a juicy “double-double” from In-N-Out Burger. But I partake of such guilty pleasures in moderation. I often choose a slower – but more scenic – route to work. And l savor the Italians’ relaxed dolce far niente approach to leisure time. A slower pace allows more opportunities to observe and appreciate.

At the benefit dinner, as I reflected on how my own life had changed, Waters concluded her talk. She left us with this great takeaway:

“Some things just take time – like growing food and growing relationships.”

Real food for thought!

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