The Slow Food Movement was born in 1986 when Carlos Petrini went for a drive on a highway near his native town of Bra, in the Southern Piedmont region of Italy. Stopping for lunch at a local restaurant, he ordered a peperonata, a traditional dish made with the fleshy Asti peppers native to the region. To his surprise, the dish, previously a personal favorite, was now tasteless. He questioned the owner of the eatery and was told that rather than using local Asti peppers, as before, the chef now stocked his kitchen with a cheaper, hybrid pepper imported from Holland. Later that same day, Petrini discovered that the local greenhouses that had once cultivated Asti peppers now found it more profitable to grow tulip bulbs for export. Their destination? Holland – a country known for its tulips.
Petrini was dumbfounded. With Italians consuming Dutch peppers while cultivating tulips bound for the Netherlands, traditional local agriculture had been turned on its head. Agriculture was increasingly becoming disconnected from native ecosystems. What else, he wondered, was being lost in terms of cuisine, culture, nutrition, and history?
Petrini began to stand up against large-scale agriculture. In Rome, he made headlines when he organized a demonstration against a planned McDonalds eatery near the Piazza di Spagni. During the protest, he and his fellow marchers expressed their opposition to the concept of fast food by brandishing bowls of homemade penne pasta. Some questioned Petrini’s methods, but none could doubt his sincerity. Soon after, he founded the International Slow Food Movement and issued a manifesto – his answer to fast food, fast life, and the erosion of local agricultural economies and traditions.
Petrini’s movement spread throughout Europe and eventually gained a foothold in the United States. Today, the Slow Food Movement has over 85,000 members with chapters in more than 122 countries, including Switzerland, Japan, and Germany. The movement seeks to sustain local farming economies, encourage small-scale food processing plants, establish seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties of produce and other farm products, preserve local culinary traditions, and encourage ethical buying practices. As one would expect, the organization of the movement is itself decentralized. Each chapter, or “convivia,” promotes local artisans, local farmers, and local flavors through regional events such as wine tastings, workshops, and farmers markets.
Today some of America’s most prominent food gurus, savviest nutritional experts, accomplished chefs, and visionary spa directors are Slow Food Movement proponents.
“Petrini comes from a part of the world where there has traditionally been enormous respect for the production and preparation of food,” says Alice Waters, who founded her legendary Berkeley, California, restaurant, Chez Panisse, in 1971. “He is an advocate for the preservation of ecosystem diversity as well as the social fabric.”
In the past few years, the Slow Food Movement has worked its way into spa treatments. It’s really a natural progression for an industry concerned with health and well-being. From large-scale hotel groups to independent establishments, spas are increasingly turning to locally produced ingredients for their freshness, sense of community, and cultural heritage.
“I wanted our spa menu to honor the agricultural richness of the Carneros region,” says Jeannie Jarnot, director of spa and retail operations at The Carneros Inn & Spa in Carneros, California. Inspired by the agricultural traditions of its locale, Jarnot divided the Carneros Inn’s spa menu into five categories: Harvests, Farms, Minerals, Cellars, and Creeks. Treatments in each category incorporate locally sourced ingredients. “By using products such as mustard seed, lavender, goat’s milk, gooseberries, and olive oil in our treatments, we can honor the local agriculture and support local growers, as well as offer the freshest and most dynamic treatments possible,” says Jarnot. “Instead of using ingredients that have been sitting in a package and shipped in an airplane, we just drive down the road and pick them up.”Even some of the larger hotel groups are turning to a Slow Food approach. At the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa’s Spa Moana, locally sourced ingredients such as awapuhi ginger, noni, mango nut, plumeria, and raw sugar are incorporated into the spa menu.“Our goal is to produce the highest quality spa experience while simultaneously supporting the local economy,” says Josay Fernandes, spa director of Spa Moana. “Whenever possible we use local vendors to assist in co-creating our unique blend of spa products and services. Since Hawaiian culture is rich with its own branch of herbal medicine and healing practices, it makes sense for us to understand, access, and honor this knowledge.”
A pioneer in wellness since its inception in 1940, Rancho La Puerta, which straddles the U.S./Mexican border, has been a proponent of Slow Food Movement principles long before the movement had a name. Back then, guests were expected to participate in maintaining Rancho La Puerta’s six-acre sustainable, organic farm. While weeding and harvesting are no longer required, guests can experience an intimate connection with the fruits of the earth through spa treatments.
“Many of our treatments use aromatic and medicinal herbs and other healing plants grown in our organic gardens at Tres Estrellas,” says Roberto Arjona, general manager at Rancho La Puerta. “For instance, every day we pick different herbs for a featured wrap. We embrace the ‘Slow Food’ philosophy as it pertains to the spa as well as the kitchen. And of course, the purity and freshness of these ingredients is a source of great pride.”
The Slow Food movement in the United States is divided into regional chapters. Carlos Forte, one of the leaders of the Carmel Valley, California chapter, along with his wife, Gabriela, applauds the spa world’s embrace of Slow Food principles.
“It’s natural and positive that the benefits of Slow Food are becoming clear to people in the business of health and healing,” Forte says. “Any time you use foods or herbs that are picked locally and are in season, you are imparting the most vitality, whether you are eating them or using them for a spa treatment. The ingredients are richer and protect your immune system better than something that’s been sitting around for awhile.”
When Carlos Petrini marched on the Piazza di Spagni with his bowl of pasta held aloft, surely he had no idea that his ideas would eventually have an impact on non-caloric indulgences like facials and body wraps. But without a doubt, the Slow Spa movement has benefited the spa lover by spurring the creation of fresher, more unique, and more culturally meaningful treatments. “People are becoming more aware of local ecologies and economies when they travel,” observes Fernandes. “Anything that supports a local economy is positive to the savvy spa-goer.”
SLOW FOOD IN THE SPA
The Aroma Spa at Hotel Esencia in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, uses organic ingredients hand-picked from on-site gardens and local farms. The natural world is incorporated into the spa treatments whenever possible. The Red Exfoliation, a gentle and hydrating treatment, utilizes locally grown papaya. Opened in May 2006, the primary source for all of Aroma Spa’s body treatment ingredients is the resort’s own organic garden. (877) 528-3490, www.hotelesencia.com
With buildings inspired by barns, silos, and other farm structures, the Carneros Inn and Spa in Napa Valley, California, takes a slow-food approach to its cuisine (the chef uses ingredients from small-scale Carneros growers) and many of its treatments. The Warm Goat Milk Wrap, Mustard Seed Massage, and an anti-aging facial with Carneros Gooseberries all use locally sourced ingredients. (707) 299-4900, www.thecarnerosinn.com
Mexico’s Rancho La Puerta uses produce and nutritious natural foods and spa ingredients from their own six-acre organic farm. Ingredients not grown on the farm are obtained from regional purveyors who practice sustainable, organic farming. (800) 443-7565, www.rancholapuerta.com
At the Spa at Sundance in Sundance, Utah, treatment blends of locally produced honey, cornmeal, sage, and sweetgrass are a reminder of the spa’s Native American roots. (801) 223-4270, www.sundanceresort.com
At El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa in Taos, New Mexico, treatments are crafted from indigenous, locally sourced flowers, plants, and minerals. Many are grown in a giant “bolarium,” or greenhouse, which also contains an aquatic treatment system that filters the water. (800) 828-8267, www.elmontesagrado.com
The Golden Door in Escondido, California, is another spa to embrace the Slow Food movement in its cuisine and treatments. Ingredients are sourced at their own four-acre organic farm. The Warm Honey Wrap and Orange Blossom Soak exemplify Golden Door’s Slow Food approach; the honey comes from local apiaries, and the orange blossoms are harvested on-site. (800) 424-0777, www.goldendoor.com
Spa Moana at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa takes advantage of locally grown, indigenous ingredients to formulate fresh, culturally distinctive treatments such as the Noni Sun-Relief Treatment and Maui Sugar & Lavender Cocoon. (808) 661-1234, www.maui.hyatt.com
To get involved in the Slow Food movement, log onto the Slow Food website at www.slowfoodusa.org (within the U.S.) or www.slowfood.com (international). Click on your state to locate a convivia in your area. Members participate in local farmers markets, seminars, wine tastings, seasonal feasts, farm tours, film festivals, and other events.