Perspectives Online

Slow Food founder Petrini is inaugural lecturer at CEFS event

Carlo Petrini spoke about the need to support local food systems and local farmers.
Photo by Eric Forehand

Building and supporting a local food system in North Carolina was the theme in May as the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) hosted Carlo Petrini at its inaugural lecture on sustainable agriculture. CEFS is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University.

Petrini is founder of Slow Food International, a movement that promotes local food systems and encourages relationships between growers, chefs and consumers. Petrini, who lives in Italy, visited N.C. State and the Triangle area as part of a six-stop tour of the United States.

Petrini started Slow Food in the 1980s to protest efforts to bring a McDonald's restaurant to Rome. Today Slow Food International has 80,000 members around the world, including 14,000 in the United States, dedicated to supporting local foods and local farmers. The organization defends food biodiversity, educates people about food and builds food communities.

Slow Food U.S.A. director Erika Lesser translated for the Italian-speaking Petrini. He brought the N.C. State audience of about 850 a message from his new book Slow Food Nation - that food should be good, clean and fair, raised in ways that are sustainable for the environment, local economies and communities.

Slow Food International has developed two universities dedicated to the science of gastronomy. Petrini explained his definition of "gastronomy" as more than just recipes.

At a reception before the lecture, Petrini autographed copies of his book (top). Dr Nancy Creamer (bottom, left), director of CEFS, hosted the event.
Photos by Becky Kirkland
"We must have a different concept of gastronomy," Petrini said. He quoted 19th century author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, whose book The Physiology of Taste asked the question, "What is gastronomy?"

"It's everything that regards man and his nourishment," Petrini said. "And so the list begins: agriculture, zoology, physics, chemistry, economics, history, anthropology, and . even . 'political economy.'

"So as you can see, we are confronted by a complex and multidisciplinary science," Petrini said. Students in Slow Food's gastronomy programs study biology, anthropology, genetics, animal and plant production and "the noble science of nutrition. They also learn how to cook," Petrini said.

Today, gastronomists must also study ecology - a science that didn't exist in Brillat-Savarin's time, he said.

Petrini described a report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization that found intensive agricultural production to be one of the greatest threats to the world's environment. "So this shows us that gastronomy must also be ecology," he said. "The choices that we make in what we eat will ultimately determine the ecosystem in which we live."

Petrini urged consumers to become "co-producers" with farmers, becoming aware of where and how their food is raised. Petrini also urged the audience to support small-scale farmers by buying local.

-Natalie Hampton