We first met Juan during a trip to research new Presidia in Chile, and he became the coordinator of the Presidium for Merken, the ancient mix of spices ubiquitous in Mapuche cuisine. It became his raison d’être. Before he passed away, he finished a book dedicated to merkén which he had been working on for some time. But the strong mark he left on the story of Slow Food in Chile is of even greater significance.
Juan was a noted figure in the Mapuche community. He was a cultured and courageous man, open to the world. It was he who made it possible for us to access these places and communities, which was by no means an easy task. There is no people more proud, more strongly attached to their history and their roots than the Mapuche. And perhaps there is no people more closed and mistrustful. This mistrust is obvious when one thinks of the centuries of clashes and actual wars with Western colonization. Not to mention the violent persecution by the Pinochet dictatorship, and, today, the targeting by multinationals that attempt to deprive them of their rights to their homeland.
However, Juan understood immediately that Slow Food’s message was in complete harmony with the ideology of the Mapuche people, that protecting and preserving the Earth was exactly what they had always done. And so it became possible to create two of the first Presidia outside Europe–for merkén and the blue egg hen–right in Mapuche territory. Slow Food has always been welcomed there, and it was the base from which our network in Chile spread.
Thank you Juan, we’ll miss you.
Piero Sardo is the president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.