Fight against the clock

Observations on slow movement

''Time is money." "Lunch is for wimps." "You can't beat a Big Mac."

If you violently disagree with all these statements, then the Slow Food movement is for you. It was launched in Italy in 1986 by the left-wing journalist Carlo Petrini as a pressure group to oppose the opening of a McDonald's in Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna. Slow Food has, in the intervening 16 years, grown into an international movement with more than 70,000 members in 40 different countries. But while the organisation's stated aims are "to celebrate the diversity of culinary traditions and culture, promoting ecologically sound food production and reviving the dinner table as the centre of leisurely pleasure and social interaction", the movement has evolved into one concerned with more than just matters gastronomic. In the words of its founder, Slow Food wants to fight "the insidious virus" of the modern age - "fastness" - which is making us "forgo much of what makes us human".

"We have lost our sense of time," bemoans Petrini. "We believe that we can add meaning to life by making things go faster. But the problem is that we don't know how to spend our time wisely. So we just burn it."

Petrini is not advocating slow movements or slow work; rather he thinks we should "govern the rhythms of our own lives". Forget street protests or, heaven forbid, voting for political parties, the fight back against the fast life must begin at the table, where, according to Patrick Martins, president of Slow Food USA, "we can protest through pleasure".

No need to man the barricades, next 1 May: if we all go back to eating proper meals together and start relearning our table manners, then many of the problems of the world would soon be solved.

As Slow Food movement delegates meet in Austria for their fourth annual conference, it strikes me that "slowness" could be the one issue that might unite traditional conservatives and anti-globalising leftists in their opposition to the inexorable blandness and uniformity of a Third Way, McDonalised world. Scrutonites and Bennites can rally round to defend proper cooked lunches and all that they represent against the Golden Arches/Pret A Manger axis of evil.

"Friendships have been formed and deepened, love affairs began and ended over a cooked meal, but not, I think, over sandwiches eaten at your desk, with indifferent coffee in a paper cup," argues A N Wilson. A movement whose underlying philosophy could gain the support of both Wilson and Dario Fo (a founder member of Slow Food) surely has a lot going for it.

Gordon Gekko or Carlo Petrini? I know whose side I'm on.