China is many things, but perhaps most of all, it is renowned for its food: something that is rooted in its culture and its history. Yet this Chinese identity is becoming increasingly diluted.
Today food is not only unhealthy, unclean and polluted – perhaps the price to pay for decades of rapid development – but it has become mass-produced, banal, tasteless and detached from its roots and identity.
Thirty-five years of reform and liberalization brought China rapid economic growth, but this also damaged agricultural production, as quality has dramatically decreased, detaching local areas from the food they produce; this is a global phenomenon. Thousands of animal and plant species die out every year, as do food products that have been part of people’s diets and identities for centuries. Distorted consumption is depleting the world’s resources and damaging the eco-system where we live; food safety has become a national concern throughout the world and China.
In early 2015, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced he would take a “zero-tolerance” stance against violations and crimes of food safety and ensure food safety for the country’s people. What promises to be the “most important food safety law in history” will officially come into effect on October 1, 2015.
Our environment needs protection and farmers need dignity, as does our food, its industry, its distribution and perhaps most important of all, its culture, which is important for the Chinese and for the whole world.
Particularly in a time when food is abundant, even in urban areas, it remains an intellectual and cultural experience. For this reason we need to preserve nature, continue to produce these foods, and treasure the cultures and traditions that have created them.
Confucius once remarked that he did not eat what was not in season, pointing to the importance of collecting and preparing herbs and food in concordance with Yin and Yang in nature so as to ensure that such herbs and food can absorb vital essences from nature, optimizing scent, taste and nutrition. The broad and profound traditional Chinese culture is a splendid chapter in the context of world civilization, and is aligned with Slow Food’s concepts, such as “saving biodiversity” and “eating seasonally”.
Some 30 years ago when Slow Food International was founded in Italy, founder Carlo Petrini said, “Everyone should have access to good, clean and fair food”. So far people in over 170 countries worldwide have joined Slow Food.
And now Slow Food has arrived in China. Slow Food China, a non-profit association, will be committed to celebrating the rich food traditions of China and protecting our edible biodiversity. For this reason, the Ark of Taste is crucial in bringing forgotten foods back onto Chinese farms and ultimately onto our tables.
We have to create a robust network that will grow and work to change China for the better. We must ensure that our children have a bright future and that everyone has access to good, clean and fair food. This change starts now by thinking about our daily food.