A Declaration of Independence from Africa

A few hours after the opening of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Turin, a declaration of independence was made. Gastronomic, first and foremost.

The conference “The Africans’ Africa” presented a new perspective on development for the African continent, far from the stereotypes that have dominated the collective imagination in the West in recent decades. “In the 1970s and ’80s, Africa was talked about only when there were particularly bloody wars, epidemics or famines,” confirmed the editor of the Italian daily La Stampa, Mario Calabresi. “Now people demand a different approach: Last year we dedicated an issue to Africa and its opportunities and it became the best-selling edition of the last five years.”

“Africa is a continent rich in resources and beauty,” said John Kariuki, the Slow Food vice-president from Kenya. “We must be proud of our traditions, and work together to defend our land and our seeds.” Edward Mukiibi, the Ugandan coordinator of the Thousand Gardens in Africa project, continued, “When they brought other foods to Africa, products that have nothing to do with the local climate and culture, we were colonized for a second time. The land is ours, it belongs to us. We must believe in Africa, and proudly defend our gastronomic independence.”

“Returning to our local identity is the greatest possible revolution,” said Abdon Manga, a chef from Guinea-Bissau, who transformed his restaurant a few years ago after he first attended Terra Madre. “Now at my table you won’t even find a menu: I talk to diners, I suggest the freshest products to them and I combine them using traditional recipes. Sometimes they’re a little revised—my country’s food can be a bit heavy at times!”

In Kenya, promoting local products is one of the focuses of the work that Father Kizito, the editor of the monthly publication Nigrizia, has been doing with street children for the last 20 years. “Between 100,000 and 150,000 children live on the streets in Nairobi,” he said. “They have very tough lives, they take drugs and they grow up in great hardship. The daily activities of caring for the food garden, the pleasure of seeing their own food grow, are very helpful in giving back a serene life to these children.”

In South Africa, according to Sithandiwe Yeni, the national Thousand Gardens in Africa coordinator, the biggest challenge is access to land: “We are working in a dramatically hostile context, in which 80% of the fertile land is owned by the few whites who with apartheid inherited a position of privilege. They have easy access to credit and land.”

What role can western countries play? For Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s president, there is only one answer: “restitution.”

“After slavery and colonialism, including gastronomic colonialism, we cannot intervene with humanitarian aid. We must guarantee one thing alone: restitution. And it will be the Africans to show us how to return what has been plundered.”

“Dear African friends,” concluded Petrini. “We create food gardens together, work with you to develop geographic indications, but all that we can give back to you is the helm. Keep it in your hands.”

Photo: La Stampa

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