APPETITE can join forces with radicalism, and both sides can be the stronger and the prouder for the meeting. Or so a group originating in (where else?) Italy would have it. The message is one that many thousands of people in Italy and across Europe apparently want to hear, and that many Americans will learn about in a few months, when the group, Slow Food, barnstorms the United States. Slow Food combines great issues of recent decades, such as safeguarding the environment and cataloguing and preserving indigenous crops and traditional social groupings, with a distinctively nineties hedonism. It calls for "biodiversity" and "ecosingularity" -- terms that could come straight from the environmental movement -- but also instructs members to be ready for what its manifesto calls "suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment."
This ideological stew mixes sixties idealism and the Italian love of show and bombast, along with a wish to give a socially conscious gloss to desires most people succumb to anyway. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, first broadcast his leftist ideals in the 1970s, on a pirate radio station in his native Piedmont (home of Fiat, and thus a labor stronghold), using an American-made transmitter left over from the Korean War. Now forty-nine, he is still a tireless orator who never shies from a microphone. It was in the seventies, Petrini recently told a group of journalists, that he realized he had been impeding his own cause by denying himself pleasure. "I came to understand," he said, "that those who suffer for others do more damage to humanity than those who enjoy themselves. Pleasure is a way of being at one with yourself and others." Petrini practices what he preaches: he's a big, shaggy, bearded man who clearly loves to eat as much as declaim.
The catalyst for Slow Food was the announcement that a McDonald's would open in the middle of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome -- an unthinkable invasion and, to Petrini, a provocation that could not be ignored. In 1986 he devised his manifesto, and representatives of fifteen countries endorsed it at a November, 1989, meeting at the Opéra-Comique, in Paris.