Stop the Presses! Slow Food Comes to Shanghai!

Shanghai is a city on speed, and everything about it, including the food, is fast. People talk fast, drive fast, walk fast and live fast but I would argue that if ever there was a city ready for the Slow Food movement to take a gentle hold, Shanghai is it. 

Shanghai seems always poised on the brink of something exciting - new technology, economic advances, five million kilometres of new subway lines, fifty new KFC outlets - then it catapults forward and on to the next achievement. There's no time to stop, pause and reflect. And yet the Shanghainese love food, and more than that, they love really good food. They're excited by traditional and artisanal foods and they're interested in where their food comes from and how it is grown. More and more, they're appalled and alarmed by breaches in food safety and poor food standards in China.

Enter Slow Food, the global grassroots movement founded in Italy in 1986, promoting the principles of food that is good, clean and fair. It goes deeper than that - it's about bringing back the joy of food into our lives, supporting the farmers and food producers who bring us those foods, and protecting the heritage and importance of our food. In the words of Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, 'Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability, and harmony with nature.'

So for a city moving fast, more than three hundred of us enjoyed Slow Food Shanghai's inaugural event yesterday, held to coincide with Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Day, the International Slow Food day of celebration. 

It was a hugely successful and overwhelmingly optimistic event, as founders Mark Laabs, Kimberley Ashton and Rene van Camp arranged a wonderful group of organic farmers, artisanal producers (including a traditional soy sauce maker I'm visiting this week) and restaurants supporting the concepts of Slow Food. Here are just a very few of the farmers, restaurants and suppliers who attended:

Chongming Island, outside Shanghai, is home to an entire network of organic farms and farmers producing seasonal pesticide-free vegetables and fruits. Many of the farms, like Yi Mu Tian (left) offer farm visits to see how everything is grown, and will home-deliver their spanking-fresh produce.

A mouth-watering discovery - artisanal cheese producers Sololatte (right) make fresh mozarella daily, and even better, fresh stracciatella cheese - smooth, light and creamy, it goes perfectly with slow-roasted tomatoes and fresh basil.

A highlight - a dainty teacup of Jerusalem Artichoke soup (left) poured from a piping hot teapot, from chef Lex Hauser of The Purple Onion. Five years ago he began asking farmers if they'd be interested in growing the small tubers, and this year finally has a reliable supply of what the Chinese call 'ginger potatoes' because of their appearance. His perseverance has paid off with a creamy, earthy soup full of nutty flavour, topped with crispy Jerusalem artichoke slivers. 

Kush vegetarian restaurant brought along wraps and spring roll tasters (right).

I was really impressed that the organizers had done an extraordinary amount of legwork to bring together as many organic Chinese farmers and food-producers as possible, from organic hot-pot restaurants to egg suppliers, to grain and sprout growers. 

The most illuminating discussion of the day was given by Wang Jing of Greenpeace China. She opened my eyes to the enormous amount of work already underway in China to promote awareness of food safety and farming sustainability. I was surprised to learn that GM foods are already big news amongst Chinese consumers, with around 70% of consumers refusing to choose GM rice. She explained the principles of Greenpeace's food campaign as being "to test and investigate products and fresh foods, commission research, and hold big food companies accountable and responsible." She added "we will produce a non-GE food Guide and supermarket ranking to help consumers choose more healthy, safe food, and to encourage companies to take positive action." 

As co-founder of Slow Food Shanghai, RenĂ© van Camp said, "there are already lots of farms here with great practices. The challenge is to connect these people, create awareness, and get people in touch with one another." 

Within the next few years, co-founders van Camp and Mark Laabs hope that "no-one in Shanghai is unable to access good, clean, fair food because of a lack of information or awareness. There's more out there than people realise!" 

Interested in Slow Food? Join the Convivium!

Slow Food Shanghai
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