Home / Columns / Celebrating Slow Food in the North End
From left: Rocco and Bartolomeo De Stefano, Carlos inside Boschetto Bakery (now closed).
From left: Rocco and Bartolomeo De Stefano, Carlos inside Boschetto Bakery (now closed).

Celebrating Slow Food in the North End

The “Slow Food Movement” was founded in 1986 as an alternative to fast foods and with the goal to preserve and promote regional cuisines. Now an international movement, it was founded in Italy (of course) where it grew out of a protest against the building of a McDonalds near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Its “Manifesto,” initially endorsed by delegates from 15 countries in 1989, reads in part:

A firm defense of quest material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long lasting enjoyment preserve us form the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.
Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food.

I make no apologies in saying that I am happy there is no McDonalds, Burger King, or similar ‘restaurants’ in the North End today. Our “Prado” may be the equivalent of Rome’s Spanish Piazza, but it — along with all of the buildings, streets, and spaces of the North End – is embedded in a tradition within which fast food has no place. I feel this way because “slow food” feels natural to me. It feels “North End” to me.

Growing up here, maybe the fastest thing you could get was a slice of pizza at a bakery. Sure, that was fast: you walked in, paid fifty cents, and took your slice. But that slice had slow life that began when the baker – who we could see in the back room – combined flour with water, mixed it to create the dough, work and shape it, and then combined it with a sauce, cheese, and spices that had their own slow life in the ground and the cow. And when one tray ran out we waited as long as it took for a new tray to come out. An “Italian sub” took a little longer. We would go into one of the neighborhood’s ‘supermarkets’ (1,200 square feet of it, if it was a big one) pick out our preferred fresh baked bread (I liked the seeded one) and watch as ‘the guy’ sliced and layered the cold cuts into a sandwich (or is it ‘sangwich’?).

I was young at the time, but I think I did sense that at work were not just human hands; rather, it was centuries of a tradition embedded in the knowledge that the root of the senses is in the stomach. This tradition would never sacrifice speed for quality, or prioritize efficiency for that one and only truly essential ingredient for any food – style. Our food had style – and it gave us “long lasting enjoyment.”
I have not even mentioned the food at home. I wrote about this in my very first article for Bostoniano, so I won’t say much more, except to give loving tribute to the hours my mother would spend in the kitchen to cook from scratch the many slow meals she made for us, always with love and always with her own style.
The restaurants in the North End today remain the first line of defense against the “universal folly of Fast Life. So do the cafes, small shops, and family businesses that remain.

A long life to Slow Food – and to the North End.

About James Pasto

James S. Pasto is a senior lecturer at Boston University, co-founder of the North End Historical Society and editor of the society's journal. To share stories about North End's past, e-mail pasto@bostoniano.info. To find out more about the North End Historical Society, visit alexgoldfeld.com/NEHS.html.