He is the charismatic Italian food activist who founded the international Slow Food movement to campaign against the industrialisation of global food production.


Following the 1980s controversies caused by the discovery of antifreeze in Austrian wine and the opening of a McDonald's at the Spanish Steps in Rome, he wanted the world to wake up to the "criminality" of the global food culture which he believes is now crisis because it puts profit before all else and regards food merely as a commodity.

His campaign for equal access to local, healthy, sustainably produced food at a fair price for farmers and consumers has taken root, with Slow Food branches in 175 countries worldwide. He recently launched 1000 Slow Food community vegetable gardens in Africa.

Now Carlo Petrini is in Scotland to launch Slow Food Scotland, a newly devolved branch of Slow Food UK. He said the organisation has been "asleep" for too long, was too much like a middle-class dining club, and could have done more to protect Scotland's unique food identity and heritage.

Speaking to The Herald before a lecture to MSc Gastronomy students at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Mr Petrini said: "Scotland is on the brink of a food revolution and is poised to become a great food nation once again.

"It is the part of the UK that has best understood its food identity, and has seen that this is a political issue that can change the culture of the nation.

"A great nation like Scotland is not just whisky and salmon; it has a wonderful tradition of artisan cheesemaking, of soups and broths, and there are some amazing breeds of animals here," he said. "The rest of the world envies its lush countryside.

"I sense a renewed pride in its specific food heritage and knowledge of food, and see that young farmers and producers are re-engaging in its agricultural past. Your national bard was a farmer, but he didn't work for Nestle. What's starting now in Scotland is beautiful."

He praised 20 Scottish chefs who are members of the Slow Food Chefs' Alliance for sourcing locally.

However, he warned the "devastating" effects of industrialised food production had taken its toll on certain sectors of the Scottish people, where levels of obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease are at worrying levels. "We spend more to lose weight than we do to eat. We are now producing food for 12 billion people for a population of 7.3 billion, so we throw away 40% of the food created, which is folly when 850 million people are malnourished, tens of thousands are dying of starvation, and 1.6 billion are hyper-nourished and obese."

Dumping the centralised global food distribution system and developing local community food networks, using new technology, could help young people reconnect with their food. He said going back to the past and planting seeds, making cheese, looking after animals, is a very modern way to live.

It was essential to encourage young people to work the land and become farmers, he said, adding that every school should have a vegetable plot, there should be more local community gardens, and easier access to allotments.

He also blasted TV cookery programmes as "food porn, not true gastronomy" and said we should "send Tesco away".

Asked if he thought farmers' markets were failing to reach the people most in need of locally produced food, he said: "Scotland should have more farmers' markets, and they should be in the most deprived areas of our cities.

"I personally opened the farmers' markets in Chicago and New Orleans in the late 1990s, and soon there were 100. Everything was organic and they were only for the elite. By 2000 there were 500 markets, by the end of 2010 there were 4000, and now they have 12,000. They are in the Bronx, in Harlem, the Hispanic quarter, everywhere. Now that is a revolution.

"If you start with food, you arrive at freedom."

On his four-day trip, Mr Petrini also also met with Scottish Food minister Richard Lochhead, visited the Dunlop cheese dairy in Ayrshire, and will today deliver a lecture to Glasgow University students. Tonight he will meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a dinner to promote the Milan Expo 2015 at the Glasgow Science Centre.