The “slow food” movement – founded by Carlo Petrini in 1989 – is a revolt against the fast pace forced on us by industrial civilization, specifically fast-food culture. The movement’s manifesto rejects “the machine” as a life model, and blames this mechanized way of life for a frenzied existence in which productivity outweighs all else. The frenetic pace at which we’re forced to live disrupts our natural habits, destroys our environment and is ultimately inimical to life. To counteract the ill effects of frenzied living, the movement proposes replacing industrial agriculture with organic agriculture, nurturing more discriminating palates and promoting just compensation for conscientious food producers.
The slow food movement rejects the theory behind machine culture: mainstream neoclassical economics. Neoclassical theory was created to provide behavioral science with an equivalent to classical mechanics in physics. The concepts of space and time in classical mechanics do not correspond exactly with actual location and chronology. Instead they correspond to what Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen calls the “indifferent distance and indifferent time interval” of classical mechanics. Mechanical phenomena, therefore, are essentially independent of place and time. The forces of push and pull, although operating in opposition, eventually settle into a unique position of balance called mechanical equilibrium.
Economic models work in the same way as models of mechanical equilibrium – they are marked by supply and demand curves, which eventually settle to determine market prices. These models represent the economic process as an isolated cycle of production and consumption – neither inducing qualitative change in the environment (natural or social) nor being affected by qualitative change. But surely it is precisely these qualitative changes and distinctions that differentiate the living from the nonliving condition ... if only because each moment – in spite of the indifference of classical mechanics to time – brings the living organism closer to its eventual demise.
These economic models have created a machine culture wholly indifferent to the complexity and mortality of the living condition, in which consumption is totally divorced from its social and environmental ramifications. If mainstream economics and the machine culture it created are to account for the qualitative nuances of the living condition, they will have to be restructured. These models will have to be pulled from their present state of isolation and integrated into the surrounding environment. Social institutions would then begin to reflect biological reality, acknowledging that life subsists within a very narrow range of physical and chemical parameters. These institutions would come to recognize that the whole, the entire system – of which they are only fragments – is greater than the sum of its parts.
Horacio Velasco is an environmental policy researcher and advocate. He currently resides in the Philippines but would love to emigrate to the UK, Germany or Canada in search of more nurturing cultural soil.