He is 68, bald and bearded yet treated like a rock star in his native Italy where thousands will attend an event just to hear him speak. He is Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement.
It started off as Arcigola in 1986 when it sprang into being to prevent the opening of yet another McDonalds’ franchise in Rome. It failed, incidentally, but we will return to McDonalds in due course.
Three years later his movement morphed into ‘Slow Food’ which now boasts branches right across the western world, including here in Scotland. There is even a Slow Wine Magazine.
Slow Food has been written off a middle class revolution because the majority of people are simply too busy scratching a living to afford the requisite time required for “Slow Cooking” and there may be a sliver of truth in that . However so much good has been ignited by Petrini, a former communist and journalist, that it is impossible not to warm to his theme.
The Movement was an infant of its age. From the advent of the TV dinner in 1950’s America onwards we had become increasingly in thrall to quick fixes in the kitchen and, as my late father never tired of reminding me: “When God made time, he made plenty of it.”
Slow Food has three guiding principles, its creed if you will:
1/ Food should be tasty.
2/ It should be environmentally clean
3/ It should be fair, meaning that producers earn a reasonable return.
You can probably guess where we are going with this because here at Bruichladdich we like to think we tick all these boxes and perhaps a few more besides.
1/ We make very tasty whisky.
2/ We make a real effort to be environmentally sound.
3/ We endeavour to be fair to our people, to our suppliers and to you.
We are as open and transparent as possible about the WHAT, the WHERE and the HOW we create our single malts. Many others, sadly, are not.
If it stands for anything the whole Slow Food movement kicks back against the industrialisation of food just as Bruichladdich stands against the ongoing industrialisation of Scotch whisky production.
But let’s not be too snooty about this. There is surely a place for outlets like McDonalds in this world. They produce a lot of inexpensive food. Fast. They offer free wifi in case you are ever stuck, and their ‘Sausage & Egg McMuffin’ is the best cure for a hangover yet invented.
In similar fashion there is perhaps a place for distillofactories that pump out as much ‘product’ in one year as Bruichladdich produces in a decade or more. Fully automated, their stills are run by software, not people. What they make bears little relationship to what we make. Difficult though it may be for us to comprehend, we have to accept that some folk don’t wish to spend their hard-earned cash on hand-crafted whiskies – and some folk simply don’t care.
But Signor Petrini is an inspiration. He understands the difference between a Big Mac and a slow cooked lamb tagine all right. So do we. And we’d like to think that most of you reading this also understand how little the output of distillofactories has in common with the spirit that Bruichladdich produces or, indeed, the spirit in which we produce it.
Photo Credit: Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche