authenticity watch: slow food

One of my favourite sci-fi writers, Bruce Sterling (if you haven’t read Schismatrix, put down this blog and go read  it now), has a very neat but somewhat perplexing article about the slow food movement here.

The neat part is his account of SF  as a “networked movement”, made up of chapters (preciously called “convivia”) that scour the planet looking for artisanal cheeses from the milk of albino virgin goats and other such rarities. Sterling utterly nails the Slow Food  agenda, which is to promote products and services that, by their nature, can’t be scaled up and mass produced. This is the crucial move in the authenticity game, viz., to find a positional good which can’t be out-positioned and thereby lose cachet.

But what is weird about this is that Sterling can’t seem to decide whether the SF movement is a genuine economic revolution, or just yet another way rich people have  found to lord it over the poor while pretending to be morally superior (See: Organic Produce, passim). Speaking of slow food guro Carlo Petrini, he writes, “Petrini has become an international green guru who is on a first-name basis with Al Gore, Prince Charles, and Vandana Shiva.”

And he writes it  like that’s a good thing.

Moving on, here’s Sterling again:

A local product with irreducible rarity can be sold to a small elite around the world. But it can’t be sold to mass consumers because it doesn’t scale up in volume, so it can never lose its cachet. The trick is in uniting these niches. A capitalist business has a hard time of that, but a cultural network is a different story.

Whoa whoa whoa. What’s the difference between a “cultural network” and a “capitalist business”? Is slow food somehow a free service given out to whoever happens to wander into the Trattoria? Not exactly:

But while McDonald’s mechanically peddles burgers to the poor, Slow Food acculturates the planet’s wealthy to the gourmand quality of life long cherished by the European bon vivant. They have about as much in common as an aging shark and a networked swarm of piranhas.

Interesting: McDonalds is a capitalist business because it sells cheap burgers to the lower classes. Slow Food is a “cultural network” because it sells expensive burgers to the upper classes.

There is nothing surprising in this, except the ongoing inability of eco-snobs to admit that what they are doing is catering to the rich.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.