Dr. Constanza Monterrubio Solis holds a PhD in Biodiversity Management from the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent in England. Since 2008, she has worked with indigenous and rural communities in Southern Mexico regarding the conservation of bio-cultural heritage and community-based initiatives for conservation. Deeply passionate about food sovereignty, her current academic interests focus on the role of women in upholding food traditions and seed conservation.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to Constanza about the culturally diverse food traditions she has encountered and the role of these traditions in enhancing food security and sovereignty.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to research culturally diverse food traditions?
Constanza Monterrubio Solis (CMS): I come from a background in biodiversity conservation, focusing on the different conflicts that arise from the imposition of artificial barriers between cultures and environment, particularly the creation of human-free spaces for conservation. Looking for a more joyful way to reconcile human-environment interactions, I found food to be the basis of our relationship with our environment. Through this focus, it also became evident that women have a key role in the maintenance of not only their families, but also of a wide diversity of seeds, flavors, preparation, and other features of their biocultural heritage. To me, this knowledge and practice hold key answers for the challenges we face to feed the world in quality and culturally appropriate means.
FT: Congratulations on your project making the finals of the BCFN YES! Competition in 2016. Can you tell us about the project and how it addresses food security?
CMS: Many thanks! Mainstream approaches to achieve food security tend to have an emphasis on increasing production through big-scale agriculture and subsidies for male peasants to have access to lab-improved seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. These solutions mostly center around high-tech and fossil fuel dependent agriculture. This poses a series of problems for the agrobiodiversity that has co-evolved with human societies through history. Moreover, these models overlook the role of women feeding most of the households that struggle for food security around the world. So this project takes a step back and looks at the roles of women in pursuing food security through the knowledge their cultural background has provided them, using food traditions as an expression of their biocultural heritage. Documenting important cultivated and harvested foods and preparations and sharing them amongst similar groups of women, this project aims to facilitate an ongoing transmission of knowledge and the recovery of traditional foods in biocultural diverse areas.
FT: Can you explain the term bio-cultural heritage?
CMS: The term biocultural heritage refers to the active interaction between the biological diversity in a certain region, and a set of knowledge and cultural practices that have co-evolved through time. The conjunction of knowledge and cultural practices constitute a ground for societies to interact with their environment and have been the key to the survival and sustainability within indigenous territories and rural areas throughout the world.
FT: How can the recovery of food traditions and bio-cultural heritage enhance food security in different regions?
CMS: Taking food from the soil to the table, as a complete social phenomenon, allows us to explicitly make the re-connection between agricultural practices, seed diversity conservation, and food traditions. They are all interlinked, and if we want to achieve food security through social justice and small-scale agriculture, agrobiodiversity and the recovery of traditional diets become essential. This requires a holistic, agroecosystems approach to ensure the continuity of cultivation of diverse crops through small-scale agriculture, as well as to enhance the preparation of culturally appropriate foods that value and consider the cultural knowledge that women and men hold. Moving beyond big-scale solutions, focusing on rural realities, and using local knowledge and cultural practices hold incredible potential to achieve real and autonomous food security.
FT: What one change do you think all of us can make right now to reconnect (or connect deeper) with food?
CMS: It is very simple. When we connect with our senses, we connect deeper with our surroundings. Looking for a diversity of colors, tastes, textures and to create that diversity in each of our meals not only feeds our body and senses, but is also good for the environment and ultimately enhances agrobiodiversity. Instead of searching for exotic superfoods, we should be looking back at the diversity already around us.