- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

WELLMAN, Iowa Cinnamon meets ginger in a pot of simmering pigeon broth in Simone Alvarez's kitchen, where the aroma of baked bread lingers.
She lifts the lid of the pot on the stove for a sniff of the savory steam.
By sundown, her dining room will become her own Cafe Alvarez, filled with 16 persons eagerly eyeing a menu featuring a Moroccan-style pigeon pie and orange salad.
Fast food is too fast for Mrs. Alvarez. She rises at 5 a.m. every day to milk the goats and feed the chickens on her 10-acre homestead, and tend to the fruits and vegetables in her orchards. Then she sets about preparing meals the "slow food" way.
It will take seven or eight hours to prepare this Moroccan dinner, but good things take time, and time here is marked by the sunrise and sunset, not the cadence of a watch.
The slow-food movement is intent on preserving the rich cultural traditions of home cooking. Members may seem like a group of tortoises among a generation of hares, but their worldwide numbers have grown rapidly, from 20,000 in 1995 to 65,000 in 2001.
"I think one of the things that draws people is a view that what we're doing to ourselves in terms of speed of lifestyle is causing us more pain instead of gain," said Dick Bessey, a spokesman for Slow Food USA in New York.
Founded in 1986 by Carlo Petrini in Bra, Italy, the organization is nurtured on the premise of avoiding fast food, condemning it as a sign of living too fast.
Fast living "pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods," according to the group's manifesto. "Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food."
The group has chapters, called "convivia," in 31 states and all over the world. A chapter is asked to open a new convivium when more than 40 or 50 people have joined so events can be kept intimate and enjoyable. California has 20 convivia.
Members are drawn by their passion for food, that connects local farmers with chefs, restaurant owners and people who simply like to eat. Members are encouraged to buy food from farmers living in the area near their convivium as part of the philosophy of slow food.
"It doesn't have to be glamorous stuff. It doesn't have to come out of some celebrity chef's kitchen," Mr. Bessey said. "It's got to be prepared and served with love."
Mrs. Alvarez's own form of slow food attracts hundreds of people who escape to her slice of paradise every year to enjoy a meal on the edge of Iowa's Amish country.
Mrs. Alvarez, a former French literature professor at the University of Iowa, books suppers at her home on Fridays and Saturdays from mid-March to mid-December. For brick-oven pizza dinners, she charges $20 per person. The gourmet meals are a little extra, $25 each.
The food she chops, stirs, grates and bakes is grown on her homestead or purchased from one of the local farms.
"I call it catering at home," she said. "I don't buy a can."
Bill Leefers, a slow-food farmer in nearby Solon, provides Mrs. Alvarez with bison meat from his Jordan Creek Bison Farm, where 40 buffalo amble through the pastures.
Although Mr. Leefers prefers cooking at home and his mouth waters at the thought of filet mignon, he admits he chows down a fast-food burger every now and then.
"I eat fast food just like everybody else does, but not to an extent that it's part of our lifestyle," he said.
Some of Mr. Leefers' business depends on local restaurants. One of his customers is Kurt Friese, who owns the Mediterranean restaurants Devotay and Adagio, both in Iowa City.
Mr. Friese and his wife, Kim McWane Friese, make eating an event at their cozy restaurants. As a potter, she designs and makes the dinner plates and Mr. Friese sometimes develops matching entrees, creating a harmonious, colorful display of vegetables, spices, pasta and art.
He helped spread the word about slow food in Iowa, starting a convivium based in Iowa City a year ago. He now leads a convivium of 37 members, including Mr. Leefers and Mrs. Alvarez. They meet occasionally, whether to help a farmer plant his garlic crop or to make a dinner celebrating the harvest.
Food unites people in several ways, Mr. Friese said.
"If you think back across your entire life, think of the top 10 happiest moments of your life. I bet you nine out of 10 of them were spent around a table with the people you love."
A fresh tomato or warm loaf of bread offer more than just nourishment. Food and cooking are part of cultural and religious identity.
"For me, it's an extremely spiritual thing," Mr. Friese said. "That's true of any religion as well, you'll find that food is extremely important. For example, for Catholic sacrament, [you have] the bread and the wine, the very basics."
Sadly, the tradition of spending time peeling fruit, slicing vegetables and preparing meat is disappearing, and food is becoming standardized through fast food, such as cheeseburgers and french fries, Mr. Friese said.
"We've been tricked, for instance, into thinking that cooking is a chore, like laundry," he said. "That's a shame, 'cause it's not. It's a pleasurable pastime."

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