Study Abroad Siena: Italy’s Slow Food movement

For spring break, my travel plans took me to the Roma Termini, by catching a train from Rome to Brindisi (a little town in the heel of the Italian boot). The station itself was nothing special – there are countless others just like it across Italy. But inside the station, I found, for the first time in seven weeks, a McDonald’s.Living on Guilford’s campus, there are several fast-food joints within a 10-minute drive, some of them within walking distance. But in Siena, and in a lot of cities in Italy, there are very few.

The McDonald’s that used to be in the Siena city center went out of business last October. The sign on the door says they moved to Florence, where they are located right next to the bus station. Travelers and tourists looking for a quick meal supply their revenue.

Siena proper only has one McDonald’s on the outskirts of town, and it requires a 30-minute bus ride to find. While Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King are practically staples in the United States, they are impossible to find here. Their absence is mostly due to the Slow Food Movement.

The Slow Food Movement was born in 1986 in Bra, Italy, a city just north of Siena. Its goal is to combat the spread of fast food, “fast” culture, and to protect locally produced traditional foods. The movement, more or less, has spread across Europe, with major offices in North Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom; tourists in Europe will often find themselves eating in a slow-food restaurant rather than a fast-food one.

Since the Movement, cooking and eating in Siena has been amazing. Their local specialties include the Cinta Sienese Pig, a locally-farmed, organic pork that would tempt even the strongest vegetarian, and Pecorino cheese (made from sheep’s milk and very strong). The food here is intense and flavorful, even though the Italians use less cheese and butter than I’m used to.

But I miss french fries. When I say that I miss them, I understand that I’m the typical American tourist. I can’t help myself. At home, I’m a fast-food junkie; even as a vegetarian at Guilford, I eat out more often that I care to admit. And when I saw that McDonald’s in Rome, I bought a box of large fries. To be honest, I bought two, and I ate them all.

I won’t say it wasn’t great while I was eating. But after seven weeks of Slow Food, a movement that’s barely caught on in the United States, the last bite of fries and the walk to the train were hard. Moving was hard. I came to appreciate some of the immediate effects that my eating habits had on me.

One of the key goals of the Slow Food Movement is “taste education.” The movement often targets primary and secondary school students to teach about farming, local food, and to instill a distaste for fast food.

As a fast food junkie, I find that the Slow Food Movement is slowly, but surely, educating me, too.