Slow Sápmi

30 Jan 2009

Members of Slow Food’s newest convivium—Slow Food Sápmi—have always been active in the Terra Madre food community network and some years ago launched a Presidium to promote the production of Souvas, the salted and smoked reindeer fillet which is one of the region’s oldest food traditions.

The Sámi are the indigenous people of northern European who inhabit the area called Sápmi, an arc of land sweeping across northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. While traditionally the Sámi relied on a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding, their food supply is almost entirely dependent on the giant herds of reindeer. Berries, wild grasses and lichens are also collected during the two brief summer months.

Today, only around ten percent of Sámi remain connected with reindeer herding, in particular because of the difficulties of a nomadic life during the region’s severe winter periods. For traditional and cultural reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for Sámi people in some parts of the Nordic countries.

The animals raised by the Reindeer Souvas Presidium producers are semi-wild, grazing in forests throughout the winter and on higher pastures in spring and summer. They are not given any manmade feeds or antibiotics and the Souvas are produced using traditional techniques.

Once smoked, Souvas can be cut into pieces and grilled over an open fire or eaten raw, and are often accompanied by pickled mushrooms or lingonberries. The Sámi traditionally pack Souvas with unleavened bread to eat on long trips.

The Reindeer Souvas Presidium is also working to raise awareness of the environmental advantages of maintaining these native herds and discouraging the introduction of high-input domesticated animals that can have a devastating impact on the Arctic region’s delicate ecosystems.

Being closely tuned to the weather, the Sámi are also very aware of climate change—they are known for having around 300 words to describe snow. To raise awareness of the impacts of climate change, they have named 2009 the International Polar Year (IPY) in a project involving scientists and Sámi people from Norway, Sweden and Finland, as well as Nenets from Russia.

Traditionally, nomadic indigenous people have coped with climatic fluctuations by migration and moving the reindeer herd from one pasture to another and by maintaining a well-balanced and robust herd structure. However, today their ability to move to regions where the grazing is good is much more severely constrained by infrastructure, fences, and national borders.

Slow Food Sápmi contact:
Lars-Ove Jonsson
Convivium leader
[email protected]

Click here for more information on the Reindeer Souvas Presidium

Sami and Climate Change

Bess Mucke
[email protected]

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