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Movement: The Forgotten Ingredient

On 6th and 7th July 2020, Omved Gardens hosted an online Chefs’ Manifesto gathering in partnership with the London SDG2 Advocacy Hub that was awakening and transformative.

The event was curated by Omved Gardens in collaboration with the Irish hub, Chefs Conor Spacey and JB Dubois and Chef Michael Elegbede in Nigeria and Chef Anjli Vyas in conversation with Chefs Chandni Gudka and Linah Maruping.

Over two days we hosted a thought-provoking and in-depth exploration of how food has historically moved around the globe and its legacy and delved further into what the current and future challenges hold, especially during this time of COVID-19 pandemic heightened uncertainty.  The international webinar discussion with chefs and food systems experts was a reconnaissance with lost and new awarenesses and each contribution opened windows of discovery.

Carolyn Steel, author of this year’s publication “Sitopia” and previously “Hungry City” introduced the first day’s session with the overlooked and yet fundamental point that we live on a moving planet, in a moving solar system. Our entire ecosystem and our food are predicated on movement both man made as well as the fundamental forces of nature. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, this movement was taken for granted by most of us and now we have the imperative to understand what this movement has meant and what do we want for the future. Within this unobstructed and wide view, manifold directions and themes emerged that we explore below.

To all, it became clear that what chefs have in common is their love of food and their desire to express who they are through their relationship with food and the land that nurtures them. As Anjli Vyas posed: “How do we find a way home through our food.?” Several chefs expressed the intimate connection they feel to their land through the food that they prepare.

As Chef Manjit said eloquently:

“Food is not a commodity, like billions of commodities in the world: food is an auspicious material. It is the only thing that nourishes the body… and the mind…I feel very blessed and honoured because India has such very diverse crops and varieties that are as diverse as our land and culture.”

The experiences that Ellie Kisyombe has lived in Ireland as an asylum seeker from Malawi, echo Chef Manjit’s point. Ellie is an influential food activist, who explained the vibrant importance of food from ones roots to asylum seekers in maintaining their culture and their sense of well being during the long process of seeking the right to remain in Ireland.

“Food is a basic human right. Food is political because food is life”. Cooking and sharing food is therapeutic and particularly important for asylum seekers who have no right to work and no right to cook for themselves in Ireland. It can take 15 years to obtain the right to stay and Ellie founded “Our Table” in response to this need for people to enjoy a sense of worth and connection through sharing food.

With the migration of people into Ireland over the last 20 years, Chef Conor from the Irish hub, pointed out, 1 in 5 of the population is now non Irish and this tremendous incoming wealth of diversity has had a hugely beneficial impact on the Irish food culture.

Chef JB from the Irish hub moved to Ireland 20 years ago bringing with him his French culinary training and the north African influences he grew up with in France.  Through researching old forgotten Irish recipes JB has created his own unique style of Irish food, celebrating his original heritage as well as his adopted home.

Ozoz Sokoh fortified the missive that food is not a commodity, rather it is a knowledge system about people, their land, their culture , their childhood and history. When we separate a food from its context, we lose the meaning of the food and our roots. Ozoz explained that the denigration of palm oil originates in this separation. She called for us to celebrate knowledge systems, create records and preserve the language to describe the true identity of foods.

“How do we review, dig, curate on earth the things that existed before? How do we relate them to the present? How can that help us as we plan the food futures? Because I feel that once people know who they are, what their foods are, food as markers of cultural identity then they can understand growing systems, planting systems, sustainability, we can back traditional methods- see if they are relevant for this day and age- and use this to create more sustainable food systems…Let’s connect food with its origins and let’s connect that in conversations, text and writing, because at the end of the day, there are many more similarities that connect us but once we ignore and don’t give credence to where food comes from , then we are appropriating and changing the narrative and not having the grace to have everyone at the table with equal opportunity.”

Eduardo Garcia speaking from Mexico City described how the love of food has ensured the longevity of the traditional food culture in Mexico. People in the rural areas especially, cook according to their heritage and every household has its own style and locally foraged herbs give each dish its distinctive flavour. His advice to the audience was; “Grow your produce; that’s the most amazing feeling that you can have in your heart.”

In her concluding remarks Carolyn Steel said that it’s a travesty that we in the west demand cheap food. “Food is the most important thing in life and should be valued as such. When we eat, we eat globally, with everyone else.”

Our forum’s contributors’ emphatic conclusion was that food is a life force necessity and the rudiment of our identities, cultures and societies and that we eat together as a sacred respect for the origin of our foods and the right of all to sit at the table together. This needs to be our dawn chorus.

This is the first in a series of 5 articles covering the main themes of the Chefs’ Manifesto online events held on 6th and 7th July 2020.

Keep an eye out for further articles over the coming weeks:

Movement of People and Food : From Empire to Aid

Whose Story is it Anyway? Food, Language and Appropriation

Waste or the Movement of Food in a Circular Economy

A Sustainable Supply Chain 

To find out more about The Chefs’ Manifesto or the SDG2 Advocacy Hub, visit their site here.