On the second day of his six-day tour of India, Carlo Petrini paid tribute to the country’s indigenous cultures and urged young people to preserve its rich gastronomic heritage. Speaking at a culinary festival in Mawphlang village near the city of Shillong, Slow Food International’s president joined residents from fifteen local communities in celebrating and showcasing the region’s indigenous foods, with dishes prepared by representatives of the Khasi and Jaintia ethnic groups.
With a large number of youth present, Petrini took the occasion to call out to the custodians of tomorrow’s inherited traditional knowledge, urging them to maintain their distinct identity in the face of the globalization. “The world is charmed by McDonalds and fast food,” he said. “However, you will eat much better here than in McDonalds, and I exhort the youth to retain their distinct identity, culture and traditions.” Speaking through a translator into Khasi, the local language, Petrini continued, “Be proud of your own culture, tradition and history. Let people know that you are a Khasi.”
“If we look around us, we will see that the world has forgotten about indigenous food,” said Phrang Roy, an internationally renowned expert on rural development, gender and indigenous peoples and coordinator of the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, which Slow Food has recently entered. “However, we are trying to remind people about the importance of local gastronomy, culture and traditions.”
On Tuesday, Petrini spoke at the Asia Pacific Regional Workshop on People in Biodiversity Conservation conference in Shillong, organized by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development, a United Nations agency). He participated alongside academics and researchers, as well as representatives of NGOs, institutions and communities from Asia-Pacific, including India, Japan and Australia.
Biodiversity is a particularly pertinent topic in Shillong. "This part of India is one of the most diverse regions in the world, both culturally and biologically,” said Phrang Roy. “In this area, not much bigger than the UK, about 250 distinct languages are spoken and there are still many plant species that have not yet been accounted for."
Petrini addressed the conference with a speech entitled “The Human Side of Biodiversity”, discussing the importance of valuing and protecting indigenous peoples, women, youth and farmers, in order to protect biodiversity. According to Petrini these four key groups are the best custodians of traditional knowledge and will be the ones to ensure its survival.
The conference was organized by NERCORMP (North-Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for Upland Areas) and MRDS-LIFCOM (Meghalaya Rural Development Society – Livelihood Finance Company of Meghalaya), local project partners of IFAD.