About The Resilience Institute

The Resilience Institute is part of WWU Huxley’s College of the Environment. It facilitates scholarship, education, and practice on reducing social and physical vulnerability through sustainable community development, as a way to minimize loss and enhance recovery from disasters in Washington State and its interdependent global communities.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Slow Food

Slow Food “street,” in Bra, Italy

In February, WWU took advantage of the opportunity to enter into an agreement with Slow Food click here for details. What does this mean? Within 24 hours of the press release, already I had received e-mails from all over Whatcom county (as well as from the university) about “Well, what does this all mean?” Here’s a start: This agreement is meaningful because

• it affirms Western Washington University’s commitment to sustainable and resilient farming and food cultures on campus, as well as in the larger community

• it ties together our work in risk reduction in food production systems with healthy eating• it helps us to understand food security as a disruption of usual and customary ways of growing and procuring food

• it highlights the importance of food appreciation and eating as a cultural as well as political act – all very important tenets of Carlo Petrini’s popular Slow Food.

• it brings together business interests (e.g., agritourism) and environmental studies under a sustainable food production umbrella, and poses some new possibilities for interdisciplinary work at Western in so many areas.

Slow Food in recent years, has reached out to universities. WWU now joins 135 other universities (including departments and centers) in forming a network of collaboration. WWU students, staff, and faculty are eager for such collaboration. Already at Western, there are numerous student groups centered around food issues, as well as active individuals, advocating for more food choice on campus – in terms of what I call global green (sustainable practices, worldwide) as well as true blue (local sourcing of food). This relates to ideas I’ve written about “everyday farming” see here.

The University of Gastronomic Sciences, in Pollenzo, Italy

Student interest is huge. Look at the major commitment students and staff have put into the Outback, efforts to recycle food wastes and locally source food as evidenced by Seth Vidana’s WWU Office of Sustainability work, and other efforts on campus. In the fall, a new course I’m teaching, Ecogastronomy: The Art and Science of Food will use considerable materials and project ideas from Slow Food offices and cooperating universities. All other help, ideas, effort with, and participation in, this course is gratefully appreciated!

The “presidi” translates as “garrisons” (from the French word, “to equip”), as protectors of traditional food production practices
There are so many ideas for collaboration! I could rattle off any number of them, quickly…but we are then perhaps reminded of the Slow Food mascot here, la piccola lumaca, the snail, which elevates slow plodding, and the importance of time.It’s taken us a long time to get here, but the time is right to take advantage of the overwhelming student and faculty/staff interest and expertise throughout courses and projects in place. Forza!For more information on Slow Food, click here.

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Traditional Foods

This past year, I have had rewarding opportunities to observe traditional food cultures in varied regions of the world. These are:

Athabascan Indian in the interior of Alaska (the traditional Tanana Chiefs Conference tribal lands) in July, 2008 (for more, read below);

Fort Yukon king, subsistence (gill net) fishing in Fort Yukon river

Swahili coastal tribes in the area of Munje village (population about 300), near Msambweni, close to the Tanzania border in December, 2008-January, 2009 (for more, read below); and,

Families in Munje village

Fresh or unprocessed dairy products and non-GMO oils in the Laikipia region of Kenya (January, 2009), a German canton of Switzerland (March, 2009), and the Piemonte-Toscana region of northern/central Italy (images only, February-March, 2009).

Vending machine for fresh, unpasteurized (and organic) cow’s milk in Bra, Italy (the home of SLOW FOOD)________________________________________

In Fort Yukon, Alaska, salmon is a mainstay of the diet. Yet, among the Athabascan Indians, threats to subsistence foods and stresses on household economics abound. In particular, high prices for external energy sources (as of July, 2008, almost $8 for a gallon of gasoline and $6.50 for a gallon of diesel, which is essential for home heating), as well as low Chinook salmon runs for information click here, and moose numbers.

Preserving King salmon in a community kitchen in Fort Yukon

Additional resource management issues pose threats to sustaining village life – for example, stream bank erosion along the Yukon River, as well as uneven management in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. People are worried about ever-rising prices for fuels and store-bought staples, and fewer and fewer sources of wage income. The result? Villagers are moving out from outlying areas into “hub” communities like Fort Yukon -- or another example, Bethel in Southwest Alaska – even when offered additional subsidies, such as for home heating. But, in reality, “hubs” often offer neither much employment nor relief from high prices.

In Munje village in Kenya, the Digo, a Bantu-speaking, mostly Islamic tribe in the southern coastal area of Kenya, enjoy the possibilities of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and fish/oils.

With my rudimentary sentences in Swahili (to explain who I was and what I was interested in, what foods villagers eat and how much they must pay for store-bought foods…-- “I’m a teacher…” “I want to understand what you eat……”). I saw how things are changing slowly in the village, in part due to the high costs for store-bought staples of their foods -- Sh 90 for a kg of ugali, which is maize flour or ground maize, Sh 70 for a kg of rice, Sh 150 for a kg of vegetable oil, Sh 70 for a kg of dried beans, Sh 50 for a forearm’s-length of cassava, and Sh 15 for a handful of spinach-like greens (at approximately Sh 80 to a U.S. dollar). Some foods in major cities, such as Nairobi, are much cheaper -- ugali and cassava, for example, presumably due to transportation costs. Yet, much of the pricing seems counterintuitive. For more information click here.

Breakfast in the village typically consists of mandazi (a fried bread similar to a doughnut), and tea with sugar. Lunch and dinner is typically ugali and samaki (fish), maybe with some dried cassava or chickpeas.

On individual shambas (small farms), tomatoes, cassava, maize, cowpeas, bananas, mangos, and coconut are typically grown. Ugali is consumed every day, as are cassava, beans, oil, fish -- and rice, coconut, and chicken, depending on availability.

Even with their own crops, villagers today want very much to enter the market economy and will sell products from their shambas to buy staples and the flour needed to make mandazis, which they in turn sell. Sales of mandazis (and mango and coconut, to a lesser extent) bring in some cash for villagers.

Fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk in Laikipia

Fresh, unpasteurized camel’s milk in Laikipia

Villagers in Munje enjoy a wide variety of fruits

A treasured food is, in fact, the coconut. This set of pictures show how coconut is used in the village. True, coconut oil now is reserved only for frying mandazi. But it also is used as a hair conditioner, and the coconut meat is eaten between meals. I noted also that dental hygiene and health were good in the village. Perhaps the coconut and fish oils influence this (as per the work of Dr. Weston A. Price).

Kimbo hydrogenated vegetable oil is replacing oils found in coconut products

Photos L-R: Using a traditional conical basket (kikatu), coconut milk is pressed from the grated meat; Straining coconut milk from the grated meat, which is then heated to make oil; Common breakfast food (and the main source of cash income), the mandazi, is still cooked in coconut oil

Money is needed in the village to build homes

Note: All photos were taken by G. Berardi

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