Global warming, the most extreme effects of which are felt in the Arctic circle, is jeopardizing the work of Sweden’s indigenous Sami reindeer herders and their traditional lifestyle.
The Sami live in an area called Sápmi, an arc of land spreading across the north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The Sámi speak dialects of an indigenous language of the same name and their culture has been shaped by the extreme cold and isolation of Sápmi.
With unusually warm winters becoming more frequent (the average December temperature in Kiruna was -7°C against the normal -14’C). Falls of heavy snow were also well above average, making it difficult for reindeer to dig out the white moss that is their natural food.
Herders being forced to feed reindeer on factory foodand this is incurring them great financial losses, up to 5 Swedish crowns (US$0.710) a day according to some estimates.
A minimum of 600 head is necessary to subsist exclusively on herding alone, and Sweden boasts a reindeer population of about 240,000. 20,000 members of the Sami population are believed to be dedicated to herding.
The Sami parliament now intends to request government funds to subsidize money the herders in the 51 Sami regions, or ‘villages’.
Reindeer meat is the traditional food of the Ssmi people. One of the most traditional preparations of this special, flavorful meat is Suovas, made by dry-salting meat and smoking it in a traditional peaked hut for eight hours over an open fire. For long trips, the Sami traditionally pack Suovas with unleavened bread to eat on the trail.
The Suovas Presidium is Slow Food’s first in Sweden and brings together Suovas producers in Swedish Sápmi. Presidium Suovas is made from the meat of semi-wild animals that are slaughtered every autumn and winter; it is prepared throughout the year with the most traditional techniques of preparation, salting, smoking, and curing.
The reindeer used to produce Presidium Suovas are not given any antibiotics or man-made feeds and graze entirely on the natural forage, found in Sápmi. The Presidium is working to raise awareness of this ancient cured meat and to encourage the use of reindeer meat instead of introducing high-input domesticated animals that tax this Arctic region’s delicate ecosystem.
Now, due to the increasingly warm winters described above, this entire cycle is being threatened.