The answer to less anxiety with social media is in fast food

The Slow Food movement was a blueprint for healthy eating during the rise of fast food. Do we also need a ‘Slow Relationship’ movement to help form a blueprint for healthy relationships in the age of social media

* * *

The Slow Food movement began in Italy in the late 1980s to oppose fast food's spread across Europe. The founders believed it threatened local food cultures and promoted an unhealthy way of life. Fast food was a phenomenon but came with negative consequences that we needed to find a balance with. Social media is playing out much the same way today but instead of making us fat it’s making us anxious and depressed. Slow Food re-centred us on a healthy way to eat, a ‘Slow Relationship’ movement can re-centre us on how we connect.

Slow Food was started in 1986 by Carlo Petrini to oppose the construction of a McDonalds in Rome. It was an alternative approach to fast food with the goal of preserving traditional cooking by using local ingredients and home cooking. It popularized the ideas of "homemade" and "locally grown” and is a forerunner to our current mainstream appreciation of good food.

Back in the 1980’s, fast food was new in Europe. Restaurants like McDonald's were accelerating their spread and people were concerned about the effects. They believed the nature of fast food (industrially manufactured and uninterested in local ingredients or traditions) would negatively affect local food culture. They believed food was an important part of life, not a product to be optimized and industrialized.

Fast food brought efficiency and scale to food production and used it to reach as many people as possible. The food was secondary.

Fast forward to present day and that last sentence perfectly describes social media as well – just replace ‘fast food’ with ‘social media’, and ‘food’ with ‘relationships’. 

Social media brought efficiency and scale to our relationships and used it to reach as many people as possible. The relationships were secondary.

It’s a familiar scene, so what can we learn from it?

With fast food, the wake up calls were obesity and heart disease. When Slow Food began, America was in the middle of an obesity epidemic. The percentage of obese Americans double from 15 to 30% in just two decades between 1980-2000. People were shocked and in reaction, two important things happened. First, the government passed new regulations forcing fast food restaurants to be more transparent with calorie counts and nutritional information. This helped people control and understand what they were putting into their bodies. And second, Slow Food movement spread and provided a framework for a healthier alternative… local, homemade, sustainable.

Today, we are in the middle of a loneliness and depression epidemic as a result of social media. Study after study is showing the connection between social networks and feeling anxious, lonely, and depressed. These are our wake-up calls. What is not clear yet is a healthier framework.

Food and relationships are two of the most important parts of life. What we eat and the people we spend time with are an out-sized reason for our well-being. It took an over exuberance around fast food to realize slower is better. Similarly, this current over exuberance around social media will show us slower is better in our relationships too.