What began as a grassroots movement in Italy in 1986 is now a worldwide organization and movement, with a presence in more than 160 countries. Slow Food emerged in reaction to the increasing loss of interest in food and has since been an appeal to eat slowly and cleanly, paying much more attention to what goes into our stomachs. It is not just about health for Slow Food, however, being aware of food and the traditions and processes that surround it have a direct impact on other aspects of life: political, agricultural, cultural and otherwise. It is about safeguarding indigenous food production across the globe.
Slow Food can be abbreviated in its own words as working for food that is: good, in the way it fits into our diets and culture, clean, in the way it is ethically and healthily produced, and fair, in the way that it is accessible to everyone and does not differentiate between different social classes.
Slow Food have local convivia, or chapters, in the different countries where it’s located. Each chapter then organizes its own events and activities, raises awareness and brings people together to further Slow Food’s mission and vision. Members include everyone from producers to farmers to chefs and ordinary and/or inactive members. In Egypt there are chapters in Cairo, Alexandria, Fayyoum, Siwa and Sinai. We talked to the Cairo chapter’s President and Slow Food International Board Member, Sara El-Sayed, for more on their activities and aims.
Slow Food was first introduced to Egypt when a Slow Food board member gave a talk about the biodiversity of food in 2010 in celebration of World Environment Day. Currently, the Cairo chapter is focused on raising awareness about food products that are indigenous to Egyptian culture and documenting them on the Ark of Taste database. They do that through different tasting events, food festivals and markets as well as by connecting with local small-scale producers. This includes a monthly event called Slow Downtown at Eish & Malh restaurant, a member of the Cairo chapter. The event features a market of producers and a special menu for the day sourced from small-scale producers. They also hold an annual date festival at Fagnoon in October and regular smaller events for members, lectures, workshops or just eat-ins. This September, Slow Food Cairo will be sending a delegation from Egypt to participate in the largest food event in Torino, called “Terra Madre”. They will be making Egyptian food, holding tastings, displaying products and organizing lectures about the Egyptian food system among other things.
Though Slow Food is still relatively young in Egypt, the need for it is huge. El-Sayed recounts how we’re losing both our food and agricultural heritages. She gives us a couple of examples, many of which we didn’t know either, including the fact that it’s becoming increasingly hard to find local (balady) seeds in Egypt and that many Egyptians are becoming less aware of Egyptian foods and products and the processes involved in making them. We do not know the long process used to make Kishk S3eedy, that Egypt has over 60 types of breads and 40 types of date varieties, or that Upper Egypt villages make different mixes of dokka. El-Sayed further explains that our local cheeses have great health value and that our food culture involves many of what we call “super foods”, such as Jews Mallow (molokheya), chard (selk) and tiger nuts (Habb el Aziz). We need to be made more aware of facts like these, like that we have started importing our balady fava beans, in order to become more in touch with our identity, in which food culture plays a major role and reinforces considerably.
Slow Food is attractive not only in its goals that speak to all of us, but also in the diversity of its network and the easiness of making a change. Slow Food is a network for everyone involved in the value chain of food, including farmers, artisanal producers, chefs, foodies, adults and children. In El-Sayed’s words, “everyone who cares for where their food comes from, for understanding its origins and for producing it in a way that is fair to both its producers and growers can be a Slow Foodie”.
In her closing words, El-Sayed encourages everyone to eat both local and seasonal, to rediscover and protect what is local as it is disappearing, and to be aware of this process of disappearance. From her long list of favorite local Egyptian foods are molokheya with rabbit, balady Egyptian goose, freekeh and besara and fruits.
To become a “Slow Foodie”, you pay a yearly membership, fill out an application and decide on just how active you want to be. For more information, check out Slow Food Cairo’s Facebook page, Slow Food International’s website or videos of past events through Ma7sool Productions’ YouTube channel.