Reflections from the Monday parallel session “Stewardship of gastronomic landscapes (gastronomic stewardship) – meet, greet and eat while exploring the future of food”
Line Gordon, the deputy director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) has of latest played around with the idea of gastronomic landscapes, a new research area she is developing within the SRC. Determined to enlighten us, she asks: “can the art of eating well enhance biosphere stewardship?”
The importance of food is not to be misunderstood. Food is the main driver behind global environmental change and a determinant for human health. The food system is embedded within the biosphere, and as we are crossing planetary boundaries, food production is playing a large part in that. On a pie chart, Line shows us how global food production has increased since the 1960’s, and although there are real distribution and equity questions that need to be solved, the total volume of food is enough to feed the world population. The big global gaps today are however situated within safety and nutrition aspects of food. Similarly, human health has bettered when it comes to undernutrition, but we see new problems coming up related to overweight. All this meta-data is an indication that we have much thinking to do about how we relate to food. Rapid urbanization, a decreasing number of food producers, homogenization of diets and simplification of agriculture. How can we instead create mouthwatering landscapes that are sustainable at the same time?
Line Gordon proposes gastronomy as an entry point into that discussion; practicing biosphere stewardship through the art of choosing, cooking and eating good food.
Jamila Haider, a PhD student from the SRC, then dismantles the concept of gastronomy by taking off the cape of elitism that it so often wears in the Western world. The story of the ‘second bread’ in the Pamir mountains resonates with everyone. Haider shows a picture of a man posing with a big loaf, the different grains painting a blend of colours in the crust. They have a saying in these communities that if you disrespect bread, you disrespect life. The creation of this loaf was an intense and time-consuming interplay of rough growing conditions, humans and animals working together to harvest, mill and fold it into the meal it has become. We are all surprised to learn this man was actually embarrassed to pose with this bread. These days food aid trucks are bringing in imported wheat that is much cheaper and infiltrating communities as a new, ‘better’ life standard, for a ‘primary’ bread. Haider and her colleague Frederik van Oudenhoven, spent several years documenting the rich gastronomic heritage of these communities, an extremely rich food culture that no one had celebrated. This eventually turned into a cookbook that to their biggest surprise won the prize of best cookbook in the world. It is a clear sign that people are realizing that gastronomic diversity should be celebrated, and the Pamirs are just one of the many places in the world at the border of change.
In the Western Cape of South Africa, Laura Pereira from Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, is working amidst the nutrition transition, where obesity and stunting are living side by side, with economic statuses and diets differing along lines of racial and geographic segregation. However, several pioneers are innovating within this broken food system, providing small seeds for transformation. A self-crowned Spinach King, who is creating healthier alternatives to the low-nutrient, white bread that is becoming the norm, an indigenous food forager that is finding edible plants between the weeds growing in the cracks of the pavement, a baker building ovens and starting bakeries in townships with nutrient rich bread recipes, …
Admitting my sweet tooth, bringing in two practitioners was definitely the cherry on top of the cake. Sébastien Boudet, the famous baker, and Paul Svensson, the famous chef, deserted their kitchens to share with us their view on all gastronomic science. What would a true baker have to say about all this? All eyes turn to Sébastien Boudet. “Everywhere in the world, we remove the nutrition from the grain to create the flour. We pretend to be rich, but we are not rich anymore. We are nutrient poor. We have to go back to the ‘second bread’.” Bread should be different in every place in the world, because the crops that grow best are dependent on the place and the season.”
“Today,” Paul Svensson adds, “no ingredient is rare anymore, it is the knowledge behind things that is the rarest. So running a restaurant should be about telling a story, being an ambassador to the soil.”
The change according to Svensson is about working really close with the farmer. Farming from a taste perspective, all the crops are interesting, even the cover crops. Today we call the farmer and ask: “what do you have?” rather than giving them a grocery list. “You can’t force nature into being something,” he says, “This year was a very bad season for asparagus, they were all frozen. But what is wrong with a frozen asparagus? You can make a great soup out of it, great puree, …. As long as you can make tasty meals from it, it is premium food!”
To the moderator’s question if Sébastien Boudet is also making gluten-free versions of his delicious bread, Sébastien answers immediately he does not believe in ‘anything’-free bread. “I can make a bread that by coincidence doesn’t have gluten, but that is not because I’m looking to leave things out, bread should be full of things!!”
Your Resilience2017 correspondent:
Elke Markey is a former Master’s student from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where she earned a degree in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. Her roots lie in political science and in Belgium, where she gained another Master’s degree in Comparative and International Politics from KU Leuven University. To complete these endeavours, she packed her backpack for field work on forest governance in the Amazon region as well as on food systems in South Africa.
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