“FOOD is culture.”
This statement from Eating City Director Maurizio Mariani is a testament that local ingredients and cuisines mirror the vast history, colorful tradition, and rich heritage of a certain nation. If not preserved and fortified for future generations, this could lead to the loss of national identity.
“One of the keys [to preserving the food culture] is through food literacy among the youth, not only in the school canteen, but it must be curricular,” he told reporters during the Terra Madre Day celebration of Slow Food Manila held recently in Makati City.
Believing that they are the decision-makers of tomorrow, he emphasized that cultivating food learning and appreciation must start at an early age, “otherwise, our pupils will not live with the same quality of life of the generations before.”
Teach ‘em young
AT Eating City, Mariani said they work at the policy level. For instance, he cited that in the framework of the European International Cooperation Project called Food Wave, they have defined the need for a city foodmaker, or someone with the skills of gastronomic chefs, producer, distributor, and communication and marketing professionals who could work with the Mayor’s office of every city worldwide to create a food policy related to the reality of business.
Part of this initiative is SchoolFood4Change, which is funded by the European Union with €12.5 million to develop food literacy among schoolchildren. Such a project connects chefs to elementary pupils. In a kitchen set up in a school canteen, the former would go there once a month to teach the latter about a certain food or recipe with focus on its taste and nutritional value, as well as the food chain, including its historical, anthropological and labor aspects.
“I also explain to children that they have to give a look always at the label when they buy a food. If there are more than five ingredients, throw it. No need for this. This is an ultra-processed food,” said the Eating City director.
For him, two of the raw materials they should be wary of are sugar and salt. An excess of any has been causing all the lifestyle diseases that affect many people worldwide. While before herbs and spices were widely used to flavor food, now these sweet and salty ingredients, plus other chemical-laced seasonings and preservatives, are mostly utilized. Proof of which are the highly in-demand processed and fast food products. Their rise could be attributed to the industrialization of the food chain starting in late 1970s up to early 1980s.
“We industrialized our food and we are losing our health. Processed food has scientifically been proven to kill us. Before, food is our medicine, but not anymore. It’s now causing diseases. It’s killing us,” Mariani noted.
The advocate also pointed out a problem on the loss of local production due to the institutionalization of crops per area. He said: “Because we institutionalize the production of like tomatoes in one district, another one for potatoes, and carrots to the next, that reduces a lot of self-sufficiency for food of a given county since everywhere it’s the same.”
Protect indigenous ingredients, preserve local taste
GUIDED by the same mission to revive the disappearance of local gastronomic traditions, global movement Slow Food continues to ensure that everyone has access to good, clean and fair food.
Per its Manifesto for Quality, the three tenets to consider when eating something are: “Good” in terms of natural flavor and aroma; “Clean” for sustainable practices of farming, animal husbandry, processing, marketing and consumption; and “Fair” that stands for the pursuit of social justice via creation of respectful and rewarding labor conditions.
“People think food should be cheap. But it’s not,” Slow Food Manila Head Pacita “Chit” Juan said, while citing the existing supply chain is what makes it costly because goods are passed from the farmer or producer to the distributor who then delivers to consumers.
With this system, the middleman is the one gaining more due to logistics and other services offered in between. She said: “Most of the value of money that people now spend to buy food do not go to the farmers, but to logistics.”
A paradigm shift is needed to remedy the situation. Trading between the producer and customer is beneficial to both parties. The price will decrease to the advantage of the former; its value will go directly to the latter, per Juan.
“It’s really all about minding what you eat; know where your food comes from,” she said, while hoping for the consuming public’s realization of the importance of patronizing local produce or ingredients not only to themselves, but also to the community and environment as well. “That’s the reason why we prepared these [local cuisines] to showcase their ingredients that sometimes you don’t see anymore.”
The Slow Food champion was referring to takway, adobo sa atsuete, and bringhe, among other spread of local dishes and delicacies served potluck style during their Terra Madre Day event.
Joining other communities of the organization in around 160 countries, they celebrated food the slow kind by digging up old recipes, finding ingredients that may already have been forgotten, and cooking or simply eating what Mother Nature—the celebrant—still has to offer.
This intimate gathering also reminded the movement’s members of the flagship project Ark Of Taste (www.fondazioneslowfood.com), an international catalog of ingredients, flora and fauna, which may disappear due to the pressure of the industrial food system and the standardization of diets. Among the Philippine ingredients listed here are adlai, batuan, kadyos, native corn, and turmeric , among many others.
Slow Food’s presence in the country has helped increased consciousness about Philippine coffee beans Barako or Liberica and Benguet Arabica, as well as heirloom rice or tinawon. Its advocates work together to revive food tradition and culture, especially among the youth, like eating a chico, mabolo or kamias that’s used to be enjoyed in yesteryears.
“Slow Food Manila is our community. Because we don’t have farms here, what we do is educate and promote the preservation of food culture in Manila,” Juan stressed.