Slow Food: Terra Madre’s African Market

The International Market was probably the most exciting aspect of Salone del Gusto & Terra Madre for me. Aside from being able to travel the world without leaving the Oval, some of these products and cultures would be out of reach for me and for most people, unless they were adventure travellers. Each person who has come to Terra Madre to represent their country, brings with them a story, a narrative that connects themselves to the land and the food that they present. Being here in Torino and sharing these experiences is nothing short of remarkable and for this I am very thankful.

The first day of Slow Food’s Salon del Gusto and Terra Madre filled me excitement beyond belief. As a delegate, we arrived early to set up our table with Bulgaria’s offerings. Rhe participants from over 100 countries hurried to put on their best display, and I had the opportunity to observe the calm before the storm.

One of the first places I visited was the African Food Garden. The concept of this installation comes from the Slow Food project to create A Thousand Gardens in Africa, while this idea is not revolutionary, it does focus on sustainable farming practices and using natural techniques, such as composting, interplanting and using mostly local plant varieties. Learning to listen to the land and its needs will give nations plagued by hunger and food shortages ways to rebuild the soil and the land to begin to independently support their people. In 1970 the number of malnourished people was a staggering 80 million, in 2009 that number more than tripled to 250 million, where it holds steady today. To give you the scope of that number the US has a population of about 314 million, so imagine the Unites States; excluding California and New York… malnourished and starving… Some of the reasons that attributed to this catastrophe include war, genocide, change in agricultural practices from small scale to monoculture based farming for export and a host of other issues. While most people can’t travel to Africa to devote their time to bring about chance, they can however donation to Slow Food and give needed support to this project.

After my visit to the African Garden, I spent a few hours making my way through the continent where human existence began, Africa (at least that’s what the bones tell us). The flavors, colors, culture and people were all amazing.
Each table had different products that were being highlighted, some were Slow Food Presidia products and others were regional and local specialties. Some trends that I observed were grains and cereals that provide the stable of the African diet. The biodiversity of these offering were enormous. 
From the beginning of our existence over 23,000 varieties of cereals and grains composed a vast majority of our diet. Today most of the world consume about a half dozen different grains. This abject disregard of dietary diversity, which is plaguing our society will ultimately lead to our demise. What will be the outcome if climate change eradicates the staples like; wheat, rice and corn? Where will we turn for sustenance when we have abandoned the alternatives? 

Another product that was featured from the continent was salt, in many varieties, sea salt, rock salts and the most unique, river salts from Kenya…

I have heard of rock salt and sea salt, but salt extracted from river reeds… Nzoia River in western Kenya has been cut off from the traditional salt routes, so the use of this unique salt provided a more convenient alternative to the marine variety. The flavor of this reed salt is distinct and dark in color. The process of creating the reed salt, which is extremely time consuming, involves harvesting the reeds after the flowers have wiled and the leaves have almost dried out to increase the salt concentration, the reeds are then dried and burned over a slow fire for up to three days. The ash is then mixed with hot water and filtered and boiled in a large pan over a fire till completely evaproated. It is collected and stored in banana leaves, which are dried in the hot ash overnight. One of the issues in the traditional processing is  the affect deforestation has had on the river. The water levels have decreased and this reduces the amount of salt the Bukusu community can harvest. Slow Food is working to help improve the processing facilities and aid in the reforestation of the area.
Some of the unique products that I took home included Cookies make from flour of the Madagascar’s native Babob tree… the idea of flour from this ancient tree is quite interesting. Those of you how have read the French classic book by Saint Exupéry, Le Petit Prince are familiar with the magic and spirit associated with the baobab and I look forward to the taste of enchantment in each bite.
Another really cool product was a non-alcoholic beverage made from the Kenema Kola nut found in Sierra Leone. The Italian company Baladin in conjunction with the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity are creating this soft drink that has just been launched on the market. This nut is native to the forests of West Africa of which there are about 140 different varieties. The kola plays an important role in the culture as well; it is used a symbol for friendship and used as part of rituals and ceremonies.There are also medicinal benefits, such as contributing to digestion if chewed after meals and reducing hunger pains. There are 80 kola nut producers and a portion of the proceeds go to helping Slow Food sustain it’s efforts in Sierra Leone.
I could go on about the special products I found, but I will add one final product from Senegal, Fadiouth Island’s Salted Millet Couscous. One of the reasons that this couscous is so special is similar to the reed salt. It takes a long time to create; almost two days to achieve a high quality product. To enjoy this product you would typically use mangrove flowers and peanuts to create a sauce with meat or shell fish. I am looking into some recipes that I will hopefully share soon!
I don’t know why I am so drawn to the African continent, maybe it is because I feel like it is something far away and out of reach. I devoted a few posts to exploring African cuisine:  the North African specialty – Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemons and OlivesSenegal’s Poulet Yassa; Ghanian Chicken with Groundnut and Tomato Sauce or South African Bobotie…Whatever the reason, I look forward to tasting the flavors of this diverse land mass which contains 900 million of the worlds population.

I was inspired and excited about a world that I have yet to discover first hand. My appetite has been whetted and hopefully in the future I can write a post about visiting these unique communities and participating in the process first hand! Till then, I can look back at my photos and smile.

If you want to see more photos from Terra Madre, check out my Slow Food: International Market album and African Food Garden at Terra Madre on EGL’s Facebook page

Author: caseyangelova

Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria

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