Imagine a world in which people sat down at their table and ate together regularly.
Then imagine the food they ate had been prepared in their own kitchen using ingredients found primarily in nature, and nearby.

That’s the basis of the Slow Food movement, begun in Italy in 1986 and spreading around the world — including Maine — among people who are concerned about a number of areas affecting the food we eat.

Primarily, the slow food movement dislikes the fast food movement, both for the high-calorie and fat, low-nutrition content of fast food, its effect on the entire culture in many ways (See Fast Food Nation) and the fact that local food producers suffer when consumers buy food “sourced” around the world.

Not too many years ago, of course, the slow food movement’s ideal was   exactly how nearly everyone ate, partly because people had little choice and partly because home cooking and sitting down with the family was the accepted, preferable way to consume food.

Urban dwellers in most cities have always been able to grab some kind of food on the fly, yet fast food was unheard of outside of major metropolitan areas until well into the 20th century. The Automat started in 1912 and peaked in the ’20s and ’30s, and White Castle introduced the fast hamburger in 1921 — both in big cities. Even though McDonald’s began in 1940, fast food did not become the   culture-changing phenomenon it is now — mostly due to McDonald’s — until the 1960s. Since then, fast food and its companion, chain restaurants where the food may not be as fast, but is mostly prepared ahead of time and in bulk, have been ubiquitous in the U.S. and a presence in nearly every country on earth.

Nearly 20 years ago, the sea change occurred when the numbers shifted   from people eating most meals at home to people eating most meals out (51 percent when the shift first occurred — it’s more now).

The Slow Food movement is a great idea, even if it’s a little weird that an entire movement is required to get people back to eating the way they did right up through the 1950s. Slow Food proponents want consumers to buy locally, cook from scratch and enjoy the pleasures of the table. It’s likely the Slow Food movement will get a boost from recent contamination of spinach by e Coli on California farms, as well as other incidents involving food-borne pathogens in food produced far away and shipped around the country. At the time of the recent organic spinach debacle, Maine consumers said they did not fear eating any Maine-grown vegetables. Such local confidence can’t be purchased, it must be earned.

Let’s face it. We may all want to eat exactly the way the Slow Food Movement would have us do. But most of us will still be in a hurry most of the time. Although it’s sort of a contradiction in terms, we need to figure out how to cook something “slow” quickly. Seafood is the perfect slow/fast food. We can be in a hurry and still cook fish from scratch. Most fish can be prepared in minutes with a minimum of fuss. Tiny Maine shrimp can be prepared in seconds.  Throw a salad together or steam a green vegetable and you’ve taken less time than the trip to Mickey D’s, or even the time needed to microwave some frozen entrees. Spend just a tiny bit longer and you can bake an organic heirloom Aroostook potato to go with the fish. Maine offers many organically grown vegetables now, and produces many   cheeses, as well as locally prepared condiments and sauces in jars, with the wholesome ingredients displayed clearly on the label. No need to buy bottles of stuff with a list of strange words on the label that no one outside the lab can recognize.

Consumers, surveys always tell us, are afraid to cook fish if they are not already familiar with it. Maine’s seafood industry, especially the shrimp industry, could capitalize on the slow food movement by helping consumers figure out that fish is easy and fast to cook and that buying locally caught fish supports our local   fishermen and seafood purveyors. Best of all, besides allowing consumers to feel righteous about their food selection, Maine seafood is delicious. It’s a win-win situation.

Nancy Griffin has written about the fishing industry and everything connected with it for decades.