The Golden Arches mean quick service, Styrofoam containers and unchanging chow. Soon the sign of the snail in restaurant windows may offer a strong and opposite symbolism: gracious service, regional specialties, time to savor and linger. As Carlo Petrini—the Italian Gran' Gorgonzola of the growing international movement—puts it, the SLOW FOOD ideal promotes "the defense of peaceful material pleasure against the universal folly of the Fast Life."

Ed and Barbara Beltrami, both wine and food writers from Long Island, N.Y., are the new self-appointed "American mama and papa" of the Slow Food crusade. They are not militants staging boycotts; their plan is to form local chapters across the U.S., each distributing lists of establishments that earn their seal of the snail. "We don't necessarily mean gourmet," says Barbara, 49, "or expensive. It could be pasta or a burger. It means fresh ingredients, grown with care, deliberately prepared, leisurely enjoyed."

And as Ed, 55, pointed out in his address to the first annual convention in Paris, Americans too readily accept "slovenly, hasty and often rude service in many of our restaurants and food shops." The admirable civility of the Slow Food movement could limit its impact. But, as Barbara says, "We're not fanatics. If we were on the road, of course we'd go to McDonald's. We wouldn't die first."