The logic of the gift: the possibilities and limitations of Carlo Petrini’s slow food alternative

Abstract

The majority of literature on Slow Food focuses on the organization or actors involved in the movement. There is a dearth of material analyzing Carlo Petrini’s aspirations for Slow Food, particularly in light of his desire within Slow Food Nation (2007) and Terra Madre (2010) to make “freewill giving a part of economic discourse.” This essay corrects the literature gap through historicizing and critiquing Petrini’s alternative to global capitalism while rooting it in actually existing practices. First, Petrini’s problematic conceptualization of freewill giving will be compared to feminist theorizations and documentations of the gift economy. Second, Petrini’s avoidance of the toxic mimic of the gift, its subsumption to capitalism, will be amended by discussing how the gifting of food aid and emergency food networks actually reproduces inequality, poverty, and hunger. Third, Petrini’s example of gifting by a Trappist Monastery will be juxtaposed to the ongoing direct action strategies of Food Not Bombs, a much stronger example of an oppositional gift economy, one that is subsequently repressed by the state. In doing so, this essay seeks to expand discussion of the gift economy within the alternative food movement while amending many of the theoretical, historical, and political problems embedded within Petrini’s work, which performs a strong disservice to the politics of possibility embedded within gifting.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers and the editor, Harvey James, for their constructive comments that have significantly strengthened this paper. I also owe an acknowledgment of appreciation to Michael Menser and Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau for helping me work through my thoughts on the gift economy and the Slow Food movement. All claims and errors are my own.

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Correspondence to Justin Myers.

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Myers, J. The logic of the gift: the possibilities and limitations of Carlo Petrini’s slow food alternative. Agric Hum Values 30, 405–415 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-012-9406-6

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Keywords

  • Slow Food
  • Alternative food movements
  • Gift economy
  • Subsistence perspective
  • Feminism
  • Food Not Bombs