The Food Warriors: Saving the World with Taste
(This video from The Quint’s archives has been reposted to mark World Food Day on 16 October.)
You have heard of ‘fast food’, but the new buzzword in the culinary world is ‘slow food’. It is everything that ‘fast food’ isn’t! It is the kind of food that is normally produced locally, and is prepared according to the local culinary traditions. The kind of food that is safe and sustainable, so no chemicals are used in their production.
It is with this spirit that every two years, a very special ‘slow food’ festival or ‘Terra Madre, Salone Del Gusto’ is held in Turin, Italy. Called the ‘Terra Madre’ or ‘Mother Earth’, this slow food festival is a meeting place for food heroes from across the world. These are farmers, chefs, activists who believe in producing great quality food, and saving the planet at the same time.
Chef Joel Basumatari did hotel management from London, and then he went back to his home in Nagaland to set up a hugely successful restaurant called Saucy Joe’s. It was his way to popularise and protect Naga cuisine. Now, he runs a food processing unit that is commercially selling indigenous produce like black rice and the Naga Chilli paste. He procures the raw material from local farmers and shares the profits with them. He now cooks across India and the world in pop ups and culinary exhibitions, and even now, it’s the same cuisine he’s trying to populrise and spread – Naga food with traditional Naga ingredients.
Rosa, 12-year-old Giovanna and 13-year-old Marisol are part of a farmer cooperative who grow the Regina Tomato or ‘the queen tomato’. The name comes from the sepals of the tomato, which are in the shape of a crown. This is a very unique tomato species grown only in Fasano, Italy. Its outer skin is thick, which helps it to survive the long harsh winters. Rosa’s farmer cooperative still grows these tomatoes following the best traditional practices, 100 percent organic. Even now, they tie the tomatoes with cotton thread and leave them out to dry; a tribute to the cotton-producing tradition of the region.
‘Save the earth’, it’s the only planet with chocolate – that’s what Alejandro Solano’s business card reads. He produces the Fine National Aroma Cacao, one of the most distinguished and unique products from Ecuador.
This collective of 12 farms grow organic cacao in agroforestry systems, with the analogous forestry tool, to restore areas where forests were previously destroyed. This unique region is in the foothill of the Andes, 500 metres above sea level. The mixed influence of equatorial weather and the cold Andes produces the most unique cacao. When Alejandro took over the farms, it had 54 bird species. Now, it has gone up to 150.
Roy Kady from Arizona, USA, is an agropastoralist who specialises in rearing the Navajo Churro Sheep. It was an endangered sheep in the 1970s, but now due to the efforts of farmers like Roy, it has become a rare-breed sheep, which means it’s numbers have gone up. It’s a dual-fibre sheep that produces a combination of wool and hair, resulting in a sturdier hair. Roy specialises in felting and weaving. Some of his hand-felted scarves sell for hundreds of dollars. It’s a craft he picked up from his grandmother and mother, and he hopes his children will carry the tradition forward.
Dario Bosio creates magic with meat. For 40 long years, he has been in the production of meat, also producing the finest Parma ham that is seasoned for two long years with just salt. Dario, 61, says slicing ham with hand is an art that he picked up from his mentor. He adds that it took him 10 years to master the art, slicing that perfect strip of ham thin enough to melt in your mouth.
Realising I am from India, Robetro Felicetti shows me the Bhoot Jolokia, or the ‘ghost chilli’, which has its origins in Assam and is considered to be the hottest of its kind in the world. But Roberto grows Bhoot Jolokia in his farm near Rome. In fact, he cultivates almost 120 varieties of chilies from across the world, all 100 percent organic. The initial batch of seeds are provided to farmers like him by the group called ‘Pepper Friends’.
(The Quint was invited to attend ‘Terra Madre, Salone Del Gusto 2018’ in Turin, Italy.)