Noah: Ark of taste
This post originally appeared on Neesh Noosh.
Was Noah the first seed saver? The first protector of biodiversity? This week we read that humans’ lawlessness and corruption incensed God enough to cause him to flood and destroy all creatures on the planet. “I am about to bring the Flood — waters upon the earth — to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish.” Noah was tasked by God with saving pairs of every species on his ark and repopulating the planet once the flood waters receded.
After the flood ended, a rainbow in the sky became a covenant between God and man. It “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.” We are challenged every day to live by this covenant, especially when we look at the impacts of climate change–including rising sea levels–on our planet. Modern agriculture today is contributing to climate change, from water usage for livestock to fertilizers to land management. And, climate change is, and will continue to be, a major factor in future food production due to flooding and droughts, desertification and habitat loss.
The Slow Food movement’s biannual gathering begins this evening in Turin, Italy with tens of thousands of people from more than 120 countries in attendance. One part of the conference is Salone del Gusto-the largest food and wine conference in the world. The other part, Terra Madre, is a gathering to give a voice, resources and organizing to small-scale agricultural producers worldwide. Indeed, there are 500 million family farmers worldwide who are each growing food on less than two hectares of land. Terra Madre advocates that “eating is an agricultural act and producing is a gastronomic act.” This is the antithesis of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, ConAgra and Monsanto.
Slow Food is about protecting heirloom foods, culinary traditions, small-scale farmers and fishing and farming practices that tread more lightly on the planet thanindustrial agriculture and fishing. Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar, in writing week about the Tower of Babel asserts that, “neither can we ever accept enforced uniformity, the coupling of unanimity and anonymity that is the hallmark of totalitarian movements.” Industrial agriculture is uniformity: it is not healthy for ourselves or the planet.
The extinctions that so many species–including foods–are experiencing on our planet are because of humans. Many of the farmers, vintners (Noah was the first one), cheesemongers, bakers, chefs, ranchers, picklers, fisherman and butchers, are practicing agricultural and food production techniques that arethreatened by industrial agricultural (GMO seeds, mono-cropping, elimination of local food traditions, pesticides, etc).
But, through our food choices, we can each try to contribute and sustain a Noah’s Ark for the 21st century. Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste” program has over 2000 products from more than 125 countries that are “small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet.” Slow Food plans to have 10,000 products in the Ark of Taste within four years. And, many of these 2000 items will be at Terra Madre.
Millions of small-scale farmers and producers–including the thousands who will be at Terra Madre–are on the front lines in the movement against industrial agriculture. They are growing, harvesting and making foods that enable each of us to support local, culturally relevant food systems in the most delicious way possible-through eating!
Shmita is another way we can each play a role in protecting local food systems. As I’ve written previously, this is the final year in the seven year Shmita cycle, where the land is to lie fallow in Israel. For those of us living outside of Israel, it is a time to think about and act upon values and ideas of Shmita that we can incorporate into our lives in the diaspora. What can and should we be doing to let the land rest, grow more perennials and implement more long-term sustainable agriculture practices?
We each play a role in the delicate ecological balance of our planet. Biodiversity“is life itself and it is the diversity of life, on many levels, from the smallest (genes, the building blocks of life) to plant and animal species, up to the most complex levels (ecosystems). All these levels intersect, influence each other and evolve.
Like the rainbow covenant between God and man, we can have a sustainable food covenant. This might include eating more locally grown foods, supporting local food purveyors, choosing sustainable fish, growing foods or herbs at home, connecting with a farmer in your area, and thinking more about the impacts of your food choices.
I spent the past week in Rome, Italy–the country where the Slow Food movement started. During this time, I ate many Roman culinary treats and visited farmers markets. I also enjoyed some Jewish-Roman food specialties at a Shabbat meal, restaurants and bakery and picked up a cookbook on the topic (I look forward to sharing recipes from it once I figure out how to easily translate it from Italian!). The Great Synagogue in Rome has a gorgeous rainbow ceiling, symbolizing the covenant between God and humans.
Alas due to my travels, I do not have a recipe to offer this week but I will add one when I’m home next week that will involve a rainbow of colors, perhaps a boat shaped vegetable and/or liquid. In the meantime, think about incorporating a rainbow of locally grown colors and flavors at your next meal.