It looks as if those people who said the 'slow food' movement was the harbinger of a major social trend are entitled to pat themselves on the back. The evidence is accumulating from all quarters.
The slow food movement rejects our culture of quick consumption and urges people to savour their meals and the company they share a table with. Slow food is eating in the moment, taking the time to digest everything around you.
And now it looks like the fast food movement has heard the message. For example, the 17 outlet Shucky's Deep Fried Clams chain strung along the northern Maine coast is offering its "guaranteed slow eating" clambake bucket, at a small premium from the regular price. Their secret: a batter sprinkled with cayenne pepper, and then larded with lima beam paste. "We slow them down up front, and if they don't get the message straight away, we bloat them up during" chuckled owner Hans "Greasy" Fiord, adding he had also toyed with adding bran to the mix.
And over in White River Junction, New Hampshire, Shirley Rumpstock of Shirley's Biscuits/Lube/Worms ('We don't serve trash") is trying out a "guaranteed slow service" menu. She says that while customers have long commented on her leisurely service, she has only recently begun to see it as an asset. "People will pay a premium if they think they're being catered to" she said pensively.
And the slow service concept isn't limited to the food industry. Canada's Via Rail has already become a national institution in the slow service field, and is now aggressively marketing its "flex arrival" schedule. Timetables now state: "in the interests of customer wellness, we are proud to advise that scheduled arrival times are examples of a range of possible arrival times". "It makes our customers feel better", said Jacques Shrugge, national manager of customer relations, "and it's a great boost for employee morale to know we don't have to be defensive about arrival times any more". Other carriers are said to be studying VIA's results closely.
The "slow" concept is also expressing itself in other ways. For example, the Elks Club of Essex, Vermont is just one of dozens of state Elks Clubs now experimenting with "approximate time" meetings.
"We are fixated on punctuality" says local president Al Buckhorn. "So our members agreed that instead of having our next meeting 'Wednesday at 7:30', we'd hold the meeting "sometime next week'. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on the success of the concept, because no quorum has been around at the same time to call a meeting to order, and the only way to reconvene members is to give them notice of a meeting at particular time, which would defeat the object of the exercise. "We're still fine tuning the concept" said Buckhorn.
It's not just punctuality that's getting a pummeling: it's our whole results oriented culture. In the sports world, for example, the National Football League, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League Players' associations are in negotiations with the major sports broadcasters to reduce the Acceptable Athletic Output Level (AAOL) from 110% to 102.75%. "This is the lowest the AAOL will have fallen since they started keeping the stat in 1948" noted sports historian Art Toynbee of the well known web site www.getalife.com/sports.
Over in the publishing world, at least two New York murder mystery publishers are said to be eyeing a new genre called "who might have done it" books, where the reader is invited to reason to a personal conclusion from a short list whittled down by the author. "It invites you to think", noted one publisher's assistant, so it can't be a bad idea. And to the extent that you have to resolve the frustration it may create, we can call it self help and cross market it".
Slow food has now led us into new trends we will call slow service, approximate time, reduced expectations and ambiguous conclusions. Can the era of politicians scrapping their "agendas for action" and moving to "a few ideas I jotted down" be far behind? This writer is uncertain: no-one - slow food advocates included - has found an effective treatment for pomposity.
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