Surely all of us have heard by now that our planet’s biodiversity is degrading, insects are vanishing, animals that are now endangered and plants that get lost forever. What we tend to think less about is that local traditional food is equally getting lost.
But how can that be? In an age, where every third person is a self-declared ’foodie’ and where food has been more or less lifted to an art form itself, an age where formerly considered ’exotic’ food has become more accessible than ever before - in this age, food is getting lost (possibly forever)?
A sad by-product of our fast paced culture that thrives on consumerism and the uniformity of taste is that it slowly pushes out local traditional food to the corner - our habits have changed so far that knowledge often gets lost for generations to come and what’s more the ingredients of food as well. As biodiversity is dwindling, so is our food. Many local foods that make up special traditional dishes vanish increasingly. In order to preserve our cultural food heritage, the Ark of Taste Initiative was founded by Slow Food.
Slow Food? That’s right.
Slow Food is a grassroots organisation that dates back to 1989. Founded by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists to counter the people’s fading interest in their food and the rise of fast food, it has grown to a big global movement with many autonomous national divisions (e.g. in Germany, Brazil or the Netherlands). Its vision is simple: greater access to food that is good for us, good for those who grow it and good for the planet - in other words, food that is good, clean and fair.
Ark of Taste is one of their projects to protect food diversity - it is an online catalogue that gathers and eternalises traditional or cultural local food from people ’who see the flavours of their childhood disappear’, drawing attention to its risk of extinction and convening people to preserve their heritage. Fruit, vegetables, animal breeds, sweets, bread, cheeses, so far over 2500 food varieties were collected, ranging from a purple Japanese sweet potato to a particular fresh cheese from Lithuania. From Czech Republic there's the all-time favorite "tvarůžky" cheese or a fruit called "oskeruše" (who knows how it looks like?) in the database.
And why do we think this matters? The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has published that for instance 75% of the world’s edible plant varieties have been irreversibly lost. Today’s food is to 60% based on solely three cereals: wheat, rice and corn. And while thousands of rice and corn varieties were once cultivated, nowadays only a few hybrid varieties are usually selected and sold to farmers by multinationals. This raises an essential question: if biodiversity disappears, what will happen to our food?
If local curiosities disappear, we would lose not only the food riches, but also a significant part of our culture. So, what's our advice? Taste, learn and choose wisely, please.