The Flavor of Indigenous Biodiversity

Throughout Indigenous Terra Madre 2015, along with plenary speeches and thematic track sessions, delegates had a chance to taste native flavors from around the world through four workshops on edible insects, wild herbs and grains, honeys and fermented foods. Samples of these delicacies arrived from near and far, from countries including India, the United States, South Korea, Austria, Thailand and more.

Curious delegates filled the room for the first workshop on edible insects. Some were presented dried or simply cooked, providing more texture than flavor, while others were served with mixes of spices or in composed dishes. Samples included Indian Ant Chutney (a recent nomination to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste), riverbed beetles and grasshoppers from Northeast India, and the Eri silk worm. The third was of particular interest to visitors to the event, who not only were able to sample this culinary use of the silk worm, but also were able to witness traditional silk weaving at Indigenous Terra Madre, showing just how intertwined this insect is with local lives and livelihoods. Overall, the workshop emphasized the cultural significance of these insects to the local people who use them, as well as their importance as a source of food security.

A workshop on wild herbs and grains featured a number of foraged plants presented in different ways. Many unique herbs had been transformed into wines or distillates, such as the wild apple and gooseberry wines of Nagaland, India, and spirits made with wild Austrian herbs. From the United States, a Native American chef prepared a dish of wild rice, served also with a sauce made from wild fruits, while other Indian dishes included a foraged porridge and wild herb buttermilk. Responsible harvesting techniques and the importance of understanding the land and reproductive cycles of wild plants, to ensure a use that works with nature, was highlighted as a critical component of maintaining sources of wild foods that have so far nourished generations of peoples for the future.

The honey workshop highlighted four native Indian bee species: Apis dorsata, Apis cerana indica, Apis florea and a variety of stingless bee. Participants tasted honey from each of these bees coming from both North East India as well as other areas around the country, highlighting how even within one country, or even one region, the local flora gives a unique flavor to the resulting honeys. The medicinal qualities of honey, particularly those of stingless bees, was discussed by all panelists, noting that in some cases, honey was only considered as medicine, and has only more recently been used as a sweetener of foods. The panel of experts also noted the importance of working with wild or native bee species as a factor in keeping colony disorders and disease lower, by not importing foreign species.

Although Indigenous Terra Madre has come to a close, and delegates have returned to their home, sharing the stories and the flavors of their native foods has allowed these lessons to leave a lasting impression on the event’s participants. Natural, wild foods have long been part of the identity of many native peoples, and by celebrating them together and raising awareness about their uses and threats to their survival, we can join together to help indigenous peoples maintain access to their lands, their dietary staples and their living traditions.

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