On the third and fourth week of the On My Plate challenge, we explore CLEAN food. Slow Food and the Slow Food Youth Network continue their journey through the tables of over 3,000 young people around the world.
Starting today and for the next two weeks, we will be going into what clean food means, how it’s produced and how we can fight for a more environmentally friendly food system, right from our plate. TO REGISTER OR FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE CHALLENGE, click here. onmyplate.slowfood.com
This week we’re sharing the story of three activists from our Slow Food network, who are committed to clean food for themselves, their communities and for the planet. Here is what CLEAN food means to them and why it’s important.
John Kiwagalo (Uganda)
For me, Clean Food means food and farming that promote health and well-being, preserve agricultural resources, protect the environment and biodiversity, and ensure animal welfare. I remember when I first realized the environmental impact of food: it was in 2013, when I attended a meeting organized by the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) with some students at the Kampala International University. The discussions there really opened my eyes to the scale of the problem, and since then I have been working with the SFYN to raise awareness, to sensitize youths about better food choices. I work to mobilize young people, to make them motivated and committed to changes in the field of food production and consumption.
Currently, there are 385 school and community gardens in Uganda involving different kinds of people, from young people to older generations, experts and agronomists to veterinarians, cooks, teachers and more. Decisions relating to how a garden is set up and how to deal with the harvest are taken collectively. The duties and responsibilities are also equally shared within the group on the basis of the ability and availability of each participant. However, most of the school gardens are mostly useful as learning tools: children use them for learning purposes, but it wouldn’t be possible to feed all the people who participate in keeping the garden with the produce the garden provides.
Our next steps are to develop more food education activities with the gardens, to create more gardens and continue to involve more and more people in gardening activities.
An important dish for me is Luwombo: it made with groundnuts mixed with mushrooms served with sweet potato. This dish is special for me because of the time and skills involved in making it, as one needs to tie up the ingredients in a scorched banana leaf and steam it over Matooke, potato or any other foods in banana leaves. It’s is prepared using local ingredients with diverse nutritional values.
Eduard and Gennady Yastrebov (Russia)
«My brother and I often joke about why we decided to leave the metropolis in 2007 and move to the countryside, 300 kilometres from Moscow: We say that “After forty years you feel nostalgia for the farmland.” Well, it’s actually true: perhaps the peasant genes of our ancestors had awakened. » Eduard Yastrebov, together with his brother Gennady, now leads the Eko-Ferma farm in Kozlovo (in the Staritsky district, ‘Tver Oblast’) in the north-west of Russia.
There, the Yastrebov brothers raise cows and goats and produce cheese: «We moved for the simple desire to eat real, country food, and breathe clean air. We did not start with the idea of creating a commercial project nor did we think of producing cheese. There was a farm in Kozlovo: everyone went there to get milk; then one day, it closed. The idea came to my older brother Gennady: “Why don’t we raise the cows ourselves?”. And so, we did. We soon understood the importance and need to produce food that is not only for ourselves, but also for our friends and the people who live in this area. »
So, they decided to start a real farm and to open a cheese factory: «Milk, ricotta, sour cream, butter and of course cheeses: soft, semi-hard, hard… We produce them and sell them. »
«For me, above all, clean food means a natural product which comes from unpolluted soils and from healthy cows and goats, a food that has no chemicals or additives –Eduard continues –. In our case, the cheese travels along the road that goes from the grass on our fields to the hands of our customers. It is a work that gives those who produce the food a great responsibility, both for the other people and for themselves. The taste? It is still the same as what out grandparents used to make.»
The Yastrebov brothers’ passion for cheese – «we make them first and foremost because they are delicious! » – has taken them a long way. All the way to Bra to be exact, for the occasion of the 2019 edition of Slow Cheese, where they participated in a workshop on raw milk cheeses. They told us of their initial attempts and errors, and also of those who asked them to produce something similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, which is beloved in Russia. «We will never do it – they replied on that occasion – because real cheese is like authentic wine, it has the flavour of the place where it was born. » Therefore, the answer that Eduard gave us to the question of what a luxury meal is for him, is not surprising: «First of all, a simple and sincere dish that tastes good. Luxury is a joy of the simple things, the taste of a place… I believe that every place has its own luxury dishes! »
Teresa Gilles (Bolivia)
I have always known, thought and felt that I have to take care of the land, to respect the Pacha Mama, to welcome with gratitude its fruits. I am lucky enough to have grown up in a multiculural (intercultural) family: my mother is a Bolivian farmer, raised in a small village in a rural area eight kilometers north of La Paz. My father is Belgian, and he’s an agronomist. My name is Teresa Gilles and I am proud to work together with 180 families from Achocalla, a municipality in la Paz district.
Together with them and with my family I started “Flor de Leche”, a social and ecological enterprise, which produces income and strengthens the local community, taking care to respect the nature that hosts us.
Attention and care for the environment have always been fundamental for my family. My mother grew up in the land and always cultivated her food. Even my father, as an agronomist, is always attentive to the theme of environmental sustainability. From them, I learned the rejection of any monoculture (our fields grow corn, beans, chickpeas or other legumes, vegetables and cereals), the alternation of crops and the rest of the land (up to seven years). And from them I learned the peasant rites to invoke the first rains after planting, or to thank the land at the first blooms. To this strong peasant wisdom, my father added his entrepreneurial attitude. Flor de leche was born in 1998 from his own initiative. The idea was to start a business project involving the local community, which could be sustainable from all points of view: economic (and therefore free from foreign or local aid, funds and subsidies), social and environmental.
Achocalla, where Flor de Leche was born, is a rural area, mainly dedicated to dairy production. Our company came as a result: my father simply wanted to enhance an already existing reality. To do so, however, he learned to make cheese, hosted by producers in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. We made the first cheeses in the home kitchen: me, my sister and my parents worked a few liters of milk a day. From 20 we have gone to 60, then 500 and now we can work up to 4000 liters per day together with a team of 35 stable employees, all from the area and 70% women. Together with us, of course, the number of families that give milk has increased: today there are 180. From the numbers you will understand that it is really, family farming: there are breeders who produce just 5 or 10 liters a day and bring up only one cow. And you have to remember that these are all local breeds, not at all selected for the production of industrial milk.
For us, it has never been a matter of production: the social aspect is fundamental, involving and respecting local communities is essential. We know all the breeders and work with them to improve livestock and conditions, as well as help them with paperwork. In this way we want to give value to peasant work, to the land, to manual work in the field, with the desire to stop the fleeing of young people towards the city. This is accompanied by an attempt to be as low-impact as possible with our company. That as well as social, there is a strong ecological aspect. For example, in order to purify and not disperse the water that we inevitably contaminate with our work, we have developed a biological system of regeneration. And we use regenerated water to irrigate the vegetable gardens (grown following agroecological models) with which we feed the employees’ kitchen and that of the restaurant, where we offer our cheeses during the weekend, that we make without additives, preservatives, or other altering substances. In a nutshell good, clean and fair.