Cultural Vision: What is the Slow Movement?

Cultural Vision: What is the Slow Movement?

Wendi Pickerel

 “Is it possible in today’s superfast world to live slow? Would I be able to keep my job? Provide a good living for my family? Does being ‘slow’ mean low efficiency, low effectiveness?”
G. Berthelsen

“…perhaps, the most powerful reason — why we find it hard to slow down is the cultural taboo that we’ve erected against slowing down. ‘Slow’ is a dirty word in our culture. It’s a byword for ‘lazy,’ ‘slacker,’ for being somebody who gives up. You know, ‘he’s a bit slow.’ It’s actually synonymous with being stupid.”
– C. Honore

The Slow Movement advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace. A cultural movement in favor of slowing down in a world obsessed with speed is a useful prequel to any debate about prosperity and macroeconomic policy. By considering the Slow Movement, we can contemplate one of the fundamental societal values that inform our current economic policy: how is time best used or spent.

Out There

Fast and slow are physical attributes. But they are also adjectives that convey societal values. In our economic culture, someone who is fast is generally judged to accomplish more in less time. The faster you can produce, the further ahead you are of the person or company alongside you. Whereas, often, slow is judged as accomplishing less. More and faster are highly valued characteristics in our growth based economy and in the majority, viewed as positive and desirable attributes.

All of us are challenged to consider, “How can I possibly slow down if I ever want to get anywhere? How can I go slow if I want my career, company, product, or idea to triumph in the market place? What race is ever won by slowing down?”But are more and fast universally positive?

Proponents of the slow movement would answer that in each case, taking more time to accomplish tasks can improve your ability to reach your goal, problem solve, and engage.

Background and growth

The Slow Movement’s roots are traced back to the original slow movement, Slow Food. During the late 1980’s in a restaurant in Bra, Northern Italy, a group of passionate food lovers and social activists would meet and share ideas. When they heard that a US food franchise outlet was opening in one of Rome’s historic squares, they asked, almost as a joke, “If there exists a philosophy of fast food, why not promote the idea of slow food?”

From there, in 1989, the manifesto for the international Slow Food Movement was written. In it, Slow Food opposed globalization and voiced the fears of communities around the world who were feeling the impact on their farming and food traditions. Slow Food’s initial goal was to defend regional traditions, gastronomic pleasure, and a slow pace of life.

From its origin as a joke, Slow Food has grown to be recognized and respected worldwide. Every two years in Turin, Italy, food producers congregate to showcase the rich diversity of food from around the world. In 2002, Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food and one of the original activists at the Bra dinner table, explained that, “Gastronomic richness must be maintained, biodiversity must be defended and the concept of time must be respectful of our individual rhythms.”[1] It is Slow Food’s mission to protect and support people dedicated to preserving this diversity.

Since Petrini and his fellow activists began the Slow Food Movement in the 1980s, the idea to slow down has caught on in other areas: Cittaslow (Slow Cities), Slow Money, and Slow Design.

New vocal proponents of Slow have emerged. Geir Berthelsen created a think tank called The World Institute of Slowness and in 1999, articulated a vision for a whole Slow Planet. Carl Honoré‘s 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness, explored how the Slow philosophy could be impressed upon every field of human endeavor and in doing so, coined the phrase Slow Movement. In his book, Honore traces the history of our increasingly accelerated relationship with time and then tackles the consequences of living in this fast-tracked culture. Honre considers how a decelerated pace can improve results across a variety of experiences: for individuals, medical professionals, and even city planners who are designing communities that are conducive to slowing down urban spaces.

Advocating quality over quantity

Overall, more than just the physical pace of our passing days, the Slow Movement is concerned with how the industrial revolution changed the relationship between the individual human and the macroeconomic system. In our current macroeconomic system, we are valued primarily as consumers. In labor, production, and consumer functions, individuals and companies are rewarded for the consumption and production of quantity over quality.

The Slow Movement questions this emphasis and asks that we place a renewed focus on the benefits of quality over quantity. It asks us to consider that by focusing on quality over quantity, we may need to slow down how we eat, how we travel, how we consume, how we produce, and how we live. But The Slow Movement also promotes that in adopting a slow approach to activities: making time to sit still, to reflect, to relax, to spend time with loved ones, and generally permit our minds and interactions to rove without the constraint of time — we will greatly benefit as individuals and communities: greater feelings of belonging, family, success in career, quality of community, environmental security, and social welfare.

The Slow Movement is not a movement that advocates something as simplistic as physically slowing down our pace or actions, but is instead a movement that places a new value on the benefit of taking more time to achieve outcomes or meet our needs.

What do you think?

  1. Could slowing down the pace of life open up spaces to consider new values and ideas about prosperity?
  2. Have you worked on a project or a goal that would have benefited from slowing down the process, creating more time to contemplate next steps, outcomes, or solutions?
  3. All over the world levels of extreme poverty beg to be addressed. Is it naïve or narrow minded to talk about a Slow Movement when so many people are struggling to gain individual economic empowerment? Is there anything about Slow Movement that could benefit poverty elevation?

[1]“Slow Food Revolution” CMusca (New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 2002), 52:15 mins


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *