I just returned from a trip to Turin, Italy, where I was a delegate at the Slow Food conference, Terra Madre. I do love to eat, and any cause centered around good food interests me, but Slow Food is a passion I have long held close to my heart. The ideal that the pleasure of food should be linked with responsibility, sustainability and harmony just makes sense. Even though I am fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where I don't have to work hard for many of my everyday pleasures, I think it is reasonable to be an active part of the process. I want to be an aware consumer. I care about what I eat. Does that sound too aggressive? Militant even? I hope not, but if so then consider what has happened to our food, to our world.
We have seven billion people on the planet, and we continue to grow as a population. There is concern about world food supply. There are companies that are promoting GMO's (genetically modified foods) saying they will help to produce more food faster for the growing population. And yet this engineering has not seemed to increase production much faster than natural methods, but has caused other "unintended" consequences such as affecting plants at neighbouring farms and possibly offering opportunities for new allergens in foods.
It is said that we already produce enough food to nourish more people than we currently do. What happens to all the food that people don't eat? Across the world, about one third of the total food produced gets wasted. In many third world environments waste happens because food cannot get to the people before it spoils, but in our part of the world, waste often means weird shaped veggies or items that are scuffed, bruised or otherwise considered undesirable and hence unsale-able. I don't know about you, but I LIKE the curvy carrots I pull from my garden. They taste just as great as the straight ones. I would buy them if they were in the store.
Diversity is something that is important for many principles. We say that it is good to share ideas, learn of new cultures, try new things. We need to make sure that diversity exists in agriculture as well; did you know that when you plant one kind of organism over a large area it becomes much more susceptible to insect pests and diseases, and the soil is much more stressed than when a full ecosystem exists. Variety is not just the spice of life, it may be the secret to a healthy life.
Education has seen many advances with technology and the sharing of knowledge around the world. Did we remember to keep educating our children about the traditions surrounding our food, our culture? If we don't write down Granny's Christmas cookie recipe, who will remember it when she is gone? Google can't save us on that occasion. It shouldn't be the only place kids learn what an eggplant is, either.
I was so heartened to discover a world of people who are as passionate as I am about sharing our culture through food. We all believe that everyone has the right to enjoy good, clean and fair food and we are prepared to defend that right. Having a kinship with people who lived on the other side of the planet and spoke a different language was a special thing; we understood through the taste of a morsel of food and a smile that we shared a common goal.
If you want to know more about our Thompson Okanagan food community, you can like our page on Facebook.
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