I have just come back from the Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre in Turin , Italy where Ark of Taste products were displayed, and I can say we all have become more conscious about biodiversity.
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame said it so simply: Take care of our farmers and teachers because they take care of our children.” And she connected to school teachers by offering her restaurant for their meetings. When they started eating in her place, it slowly but surely dawned on the teachers: Take care of who grows our food. And so Chez Panisse became her tool, her instrument to change the minds of teachers to better appreciate farmers. It became her way of reaching out to consumers to appreciate real food. Good, clean and fair food.
When I first had dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California maybe more than 10 years ago, I was wondering why it was so popular even then. The food was prepared simply , yet they named their sources and the farmers who grew the vegetables, the ones who bred the animals and caught the fish. Back then, Alice Waters already knew that small natural gardens are the key to change the way the world eats.
From our very own Cordillera area, we were in the company of our farmers who were going to Salone del Gusto Terra Madre-Slow Food festival for the first time. They brought their heirloom rice, their air-dried meats, their beans and coffee. I spoke with Sister Julie Garwinen , 36 years old, who entered the order of Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary(SIHM) when she was only 25 years old. She brought products of her communities and the most popular is “itag” or the smoked and dried meat from native black pigs. Chef Margarita Fores of Grace Park and Lusso cooked the “itag” and made it Pancit Guisado for our PH stand visitors to try. It was a hit among the foreigners and Pinoys who visited our stand.
We also have two ladies from the Slow Food Cebu Convivium who brought corn coffee and samples of tubers and “landang”, which is a good thickener fro “guinataan” , and thickens dishes even better than Malagkit (sticky)rice. The ladies are Terrie Barte Gadrinab and Bingbing Perez. Apparently, this Landang is taken from the flower of the buri palm. This, however, is now rare as people cut the buri palm because they are a threat to their homes. Terrie and Bingbing also brought a native organic corn variety called “Tinigib”. It is low in sugar and is usually grilled then roasted to make “corn coffee”.
Manny Onolan, a veteran of Slow Food events, provided entertainment as he danced and made the guests follow his Igorot dance while the other Cordilleran ladies danced with even jars or palayoks on top of their heads. Manny sells “tawid” rice which are heirloom varieties, too.
These farmers bring their “endangered” produce to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste so the whole world will be aware in helping save them and to help them propagate these rare varieties.
I asked Sister Julie what she thought of the whole event at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. She replied: “I am amazed and also overwhelmed with the entries from other countries. I never saw such magnitude of how Ark of Taste is preserving biodiversity.” And she saw productive plants from other countries which she said were just like weeds from her hometown .” Truly the gathering benefits our small producers because they know our indigenous crops can have a chance at being saved from extinction.
The Ark of Taste is a collection of entries of endangered animals, plants, fruits, vegetables and even coffee and seeds which are now rare. The Philippines entered about 30 species of heirloom rice, coffee, corn, cacao and even the fruit called “tiyesa” or chesa. The plan is to catalogue 10,000 entries from all over the world. Todate about 1500 are already listed and recognized from all over the world.
And to make people relate to our unique produce, Chef Margarita Fores incorporated the Ark of taste entries in her menu served at the stand. We had Kadyos with Baboy(pork) and Batuan ( a rare souring agent). We also prepared Kaldereta, and Adobo –with a side sauce of siling labuyo with patis and “atchara” salad of pickled tomatoes, carrots and garlic. And of course, the pancit Guisado with Sister Julie’s smoked black pig meat.
So Slow Food must really start from the grassroots. From the farmer whose hands are held by chefs like Margarita who discover these rare ingredients and makes them appealing as she includes them in her cooking. As we try to preserve all these threatened plants and animals (e.g. black native pig), the cooks or chefs become co-producers in the process. And the diners who become aware of these ingredients become supporters and co-producers, too. Because if you are at least aware of it, you have already helped create biodiversity in our farms. And make for a healthier soil and healthier planet.