In the wake of the opening of a fast food outlet in Rome, in 1986 Carlo Petrini, a journalist and sociologist opposed to industrially-produced food and an ever faster way of life, founded Slow Food in Italy. This association advocates sustainable development and the biodiversity of the agri-food chain, promotes local agricultural and gastronomic heritage, and the right for everyone to enjoy good food. Slow Food adopted the snail as its logo, but was by no means slow to develop into an international movement, with members and local branches around the globe. By way of its publications and activities (Salone del Gusto food fair, conferences, etc.), Slow Food raises awareness of the art of gastronomy and encourages people to take time to cook and make eating a pleasurable, social act.
Ten years after its creation, the association launched the Ark of Taste project to catalogue traditional products, animal breeds and varieties of fruit and vegetables threatened with extinction. In 1999, it created the Slow Food Presidium label to safeguard these endangered products. Under this label, producers gain local and international recognition and benefit from a network of experts in various fields (agronomy, economics, anthropology, catering, retailing), some of whom come from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo in Italy, created in 2004. Slow Food also advises on public policies relating to food: Since 2009, the association has been working with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to help rural populations in the Global South develop their crop production or stockbreeding to increase their income, and thereby improve their food security and food sovereignty.
Today, Slow Food brings together more than one million people in over 160 countries, dedicated to supporting locally-produced, high-quality food. Despite their considerable effort to promote a high-quality agricultural and culinary heritage, their impact has not yet been measured. It is therefore difficult to know exactly who is involved and to understand what the movement actually brings, in concrete terms, to the products and producers. Moreover, some people criticise the excessive promotion of niche products and the lack of any region-wide projects. Others disapprove of the fact that some Presidia represent a single producer and question the self-certification process which does not guarantee any control. Finally, to the detriment of the producers, some consumers consider the price of the products as excessive and unaffordable.