Since the last Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre event held in Turin in 2014, Slow Food in Fiji has continued to grow throughout the country. The event was a huge reminder of who we, and the need to produce good, clean and fair food that is healthy and affordable for every human being. For us, it was a celebration of the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples of the world.
The event showcased and reminded us of the richness of Indigenous Peoples’ sustainable agricultural practices with seasonal planting times, cultural traditions, customs and the history behind it all; how they live in harmony with Mother Earth and how she nurtures the peoples of the world and future generations.
The practice of Slow Food is not new to indigenous Fijians, but the term Slow Food is new. In the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase of fast food eateries in urban centres in Fiji. In this digital era, with the effects of modernization, globalization and a fast way of life, there has been a huge shift in agricultural practices, means of food production and eating styles. The media plays a big role in this shift. TV commercials have been very influential in the minds of our young people, coupled by sponsorship of sports tournaments for young people and students by multinational corporations like Coca Cola, KFC, McDonalds and others.
While the Fijian Government continues to build new hospitals and introduces new equipment, machines, health insurance programs and other amenities, illnesses continue to increase. According to a 2002 Ministry of Health survey, in the year 2000, 82% of all deaths in Fiji were attributed to non-communicable diseases with coronary heart disease and strokes responsible for one third of all deaths in the 40-59 age group. This could be easily linked to our lifestyle and the fact that we have moved away from not only our traditional foods but more importantly our traditional agricultural practices and social habits through the changing times. In the days of our forefathers, root crops and vegetables were grown organically, fruits were harvested according to their seasons, and seafood was caught using traditional sustainable methods.
In rural Fiji, the NGO that I represent, Social Empowerment & Education Program (SEEP), had always believed community participation and making informed decisions, workmanship and solidarity (solesolevaki) to be the best hope to build people – centred, sustainable and cohesive communities for sustaining the environment for the future generation. SEEP is now promoting Slow Food, using the media to convey the messages to churches and respective government stakeholders. The launch on Terra Madre Day was atteneded by the President of Fiji, who was very supportive.
It would be interesting to conduct research in Fiji to determine whether we are complying with prescribed standards and the extent to which chemicals are affecting our food systems, natural resources and biodiversity. When our agriculture department introduced chemicals and pesticides, did they establish a transparent report of the implications of their usage on our food quality, our ecosystems and our general health? Or was it purely quantity focused, driven by the almighty dollar?
There are many other questions we need to answer fast. What is our definition of a good quality of life? What are the roots causes of common illnesses in Fiji? What actions can we take together as a nation to respond to health, social and environmental crises?
SEEP will continue to spread the good values of Slow Food in communities. At this point in time we are engaging with a rural district of Kubulau in the Province of Bua on the second largest island in Fiji for the rural gardens and works closely with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Nutrition, promoting good seeds, healthy plants and nutritious food.
In 2015, SEEP is planning organize an event for Terra Madre Day to raise awareness of Slow Food, hosting a lunch that will bring together rural communities with Members of Parliament, from both sides of the House of Representatives. We also hope that the Ministry of Education will urge schools and students to create gardens, perhaps including the idea in school curriculums.
Finally SEEP hopes to lobby for changes in legislation in the usage of chemicals and fertilizers, and revisit some past practices, such as sustainable and organic practices of land use that will contribute to healthy food.
As Hippocrates said: “Our food should be thy medicine and our medicine should be thy food”
Social Empowerment & Education Program [SEEP]