Our local food heritage

New strains of the COVID virus as well as recent spikes in cases have brought back quarantine memories. As I contemplated the physical distance between me and my loved ones.

Returning for an extended half year visit back to Negros Island after being away for more years than I planned, here I am stateside once more. I can’t help but contemplate the distance between me and what I love – our homegrown comforts and treats, especially our local food.

In our blood is a culture that is interconnected and deeply imbedded in its food – from farm to table. Celebrations of all kinds punctuated by communal feasts. Occasions in life marking phases and passage.

Food is so precious, so savored, it is eaten with our hands instead of utensils. Eating is a sensory experience – stimulating spirit through touch. Our body and energy enlivened as we produce, collect, and are nourished by the food we consume.

Extending beyond the individual self to connect and collaborate with each other - as much as it stimulates smell and satisfies taste.

How could we reclaim this after years of denying ourselves this birthright? In a world where only a few grow the food that everyone eats, few of us remain directly connected to our roots.

Farm life is all too easily ignored or romanticized. Even for those who should know better —the farm-curious, the dedicated farmers market shoppers, the organic enthusiasts.

The idyllic image of a smiling farmer can be intoxicating enough to obscure the reality of hard, messy, treacherous, overlooked work. It is time we focus with care on our local food heritage. Be active advocates of our island grown biodiversity.

All too often the farmers and their role in feeding the community are overlooked. Their contribution to the agroecology of the community can all too easily be neglected in our ultra-modern and urban-driven exploits.

Propagating a lifestyle of good, clean, fair trade food is not always convenient or easy – much as its long term benefits outweigh all else. The reality is if we don’t eat what our farmers plant - preferably traditional or indigenous food which is part of our biodiversity - then farmers cannot make a living and are forced to stop planting.

When they stop planting in this manner our biodiversity changes and our traditional culinary history will be lost.

What is good, clean and fair for us all and the Earth? The answer is Slow Food according to a growing number of people worldwide.

The Slow Food Movement is an international and local grassroots revolution that promotes the preservation of traditional food cultures. It calls on using local produce and small producers to eat quality food.

Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement which originated in Italy in 1989 recounts the origins and developments of the organization that has since grown over 100,000 members in 160 countries.

Slow Food is the organization behind the Ark of Taste, an initiative to catalog and preserve endangered traditional foods from around the world. The Philippines currently has 86 products listed on the Ark of Taste – many of which are found in the Visayas, our own region.

At the forefront of changing and diminishing this damage are the dedicated members and volunteers of our very own Slow Food Negros community. They have started the first Earth Market in the Philippines. Earth Markets are places to buy high quality products, but also spaces to build communities, create exchange and education.

The Negros Island Earth Market is sponsored by the local Slow Food community to preserve, develop and promote local, good, clean and traditional foods in its natural environment through fair trade collaborations with small scale organic growers of Negros Occidental.

Their work is also supported by the Department of Trade (Region 6), the Province of Negros Occidental, Department of Agriculture, Mayor Nico Yulo, Vice Mayor Bebo Cueva, Vice Mayor Javi Benitez, most especially, Congressman Kiko Benitez, and Senator Loren Legarda.

Its contributing collaborators are organic growers like Mailum Organic Village Association of Bago – offers agro and ecotourism educational and walking tours to GREEN (Global, Regenerative, Empowered, Equitable, Natural) destination local farms.

Camingawan-Tagukon Farmers’ Association (CATAFA) group of Kabankalan is an extension community organized by Central Philippines State University (CPSU) through its College of Agriculture and Forestry (CAF). It assists small agribusiness ventures through improving farmers’ living standards with financing and farming technology.

The Slow Food Coffee Coalition was officially launched April 22, 2021. Its objective was to unite the many elements within the coffee chain - from growers to consumers via roasters and distributors. In its first 17 months it has acquired 29 new Slow Food Communities linked to coffee production in nine countries around the world - Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, India, Malawi, Mexico, Peru, East Timor, and Uganda.

The Negros Earth Market has been active in mapping food sources or ingredients, dishes and recipes in District 3 of Negros Occidental province. They host monthly educational events that showcase local producers, products, and their processes at Casa A. Gamboa in Silay - be sure not to miss them.

Written by: Issa Urra

Photos by: Bem Cortez

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