Swapping Guns for Forks – India’s First Slow Food Community Launches in Nagaland

On August 15, 2018, India welcomed its first Slow Food community.

The new Slow Food Nagaland Community was launched alongside the Slow Food Youth Network Nagaland, under the able guidance of long-time Slow Food activist and member of the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance, Joel Basumatari. After forging a successful career as a chef in London, Joel was drawn back to India, returning to his roots, to work with his community and promote and protect his indigenous cuisine, culture and traditional knowledge. The signatures of the prospective board members on the Slow Food Community Declaration formally inaugurated Slow Food Nagaland, and the recently formed SFYN Nagaland celebrated the day by holding a Disco Soup, under the banner: “From fighting with guns to fighting with forks” a clear reference to the region’s troubled history of conflict.

Nagaland has a very rich traditional food culture. The vibrant state is one of Asia’s biodiversity hotspots, and the more than 36 different tribes and languages native to the region, each hold dear different food cultures and traditions. This diversity is, however, at risk and in dire need of conservation and rejuvenation. The traditional Naga way of life is in danger of being smothered and lost to a homogenized and westernized wave, condemning the traditions that make up the identity of the Naga people, to memory and nothing more.

Plagued by seven decades of militia-led violence, the state has suffered thousands of deaths, and the current toll is a testimony to the fact that arming youths with guns is no way of securing peace. The state is losing young lives to an unending cycle of violence, young lives that could and would have otherwise been involved in a positive contribution to the state and its future. Not every youth in Nagaland wants to pick up a gun, even though the state is the epicentre of the insurgency in North Eastern India. One of the root causes for the unrest that persists in the valley, has been unemployment, sitting dangerously between the different sides of the animosity. Educated, unemployed youth is one of the vulnerable groups in society, and studies have suggested that high levels of unemployment for educated youth has contributed to the spread of drugs, alcoholism and drug trafficking. Sources tend to agree that the frustration of unemployment in this current generation, despite education, has led many to rebel and turn to militancy and the like as the easiest solution.

A major hope for the newly minted community is that it will be a collaborative and productive initiative, shared by young and old, allowing community members to focus their energies towards achieving a common goal. The members are encouraged not to depend on government jobs, instead pushing ahead through self-employment and independence, making use of local resources and knowledge. The community can flourish with the proper development of small scale production of indigenous ingredients, spices, and foods. Slow Food is an important factor in this, as projects such as the Ark of Taste and Presidia, can be instrumental in safeguarding traditional knowledge and production, leading towards economic viability.

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