Enlisting ‘foodies’ in the assault on hunger
Chefs and food lovers have a role to play
Farmers' markets featuring locally grown foods are making a comeback in developed countries, as consumers rediscover the pleasures of heirloom fruits and vegetables and lesser-known varieties of grains and legumes. Farmers in developing countries are also recovering traditional crops that were disappearing, and people are learning to bring these foods back into their diets.
Slow Food, with its chapters all over the world, has championed the idea that small-scale producers bring variety to the table while protecting the environment. Recently, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO, told professors and students at the Slow Food-affiliated University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy that emphasizing small-scale production can also be a way to end hunger.
At the end of World War II, the world was suffering food shortages. The Green Revolution of the 1960s increased food production by 40 percent and many thought the problem of hunger was over. It’s hard to believe, Graziano da Silva told his audience, that though the world now produces enough food for everyone, one in eight people still go hungry.
Producing more food isn’t enough anymore. We need to guarantee that people have access to food, that we produce a greater variety of food, and that the Earth isn’t harmed in the process.
Human beings used to live on more than 7,000 different crops, but intensive farming of single varieties has reduced that number dramatically. The foods we’ve lost have been replaced by a small handful of food commodities. Rice, wheat, maize, soybean and potatoes account for 75 percent of our modern diets. Graziano da Silva believes that local production by small-scale farmers – and markets selling those foods – could help bring back some of what has been lost.
Examples of under-utilized foods that are finding new markets:
- kenema kola nuts in Sierra Leone
- wild palm oil in Guinea Bissau
- katta pasta in Mali
- salted millet couscous in Senegal
- quinoa, a nutritious seed from the Andes that can grow in difficult climates.
It’s important to promote these neglected crops that can be grown by small farmers to sell but also to eat. Graziano da Silva asked the Slow Food group to help him encourage farmers to grow traditional foods, but also to promote these foods in cookbooks and by using them in restaurants – all to help create a demand for variety. It’s about rediscovering lost flavours in some places and finding new ones in others.
The cultural value of food is often forgotten when considering food security, said Graziano da Silva. He praised Slow Food for reminding us that culture and food go together