On a recent panel organized by Food Tank and Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) chefs from the United States and Latin America explain that sustainable eating requires a respect for the land and the cultural traditions behind each dish.
The panel is part of a series to explore BCFN’s seven cultural pyramids. These pyramids — intended to illustrate the impact of different food groups on the health of people and the planet — provide a model for sustainable eating adapted to regional diets around the world.
Moderated by Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg, panelists include chefs Vincent Medina (Chochenyo Ohlone), Co-founder of mak-‘amham/Cafe Ohlone in California, and Mariana Tejerina, Co-owner of Catalino in Buenos Aires as well as Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot), Regional Director, Native Food and Knowledge Systems for the Native American Agriculture Fund.
“Foods are not just resources to be extracted from the land. We view them as our relatives, as our greatest teachers,” Segrest tells Food Tank. She explains that many people today see the purchase and consumption of food as a transactional arrangement. But consciously growing, harvesting, and sharing food with one’s community can instead create a transformational experience. This work also encourages what Segrest calls “active citizenship” among eaters.
Tejerina speaks to a similar intentionality behind her own cooking. “At Catalino, what we try to introduce to the community is a diet that is healthy and has the lowest impact on the planet,” she says. Touching on her decision to cook with ingredients such as venison, she explains that she does so not because it is “trendy,” but because it is sustainable. Such decisions can help to control the population of deer in the region and maintain a balance among local species.
Medina also touches on the importance of recognizing and respecting the traditions of local cultures and peoples. He finds that many chefs in his area believe that the addition of regional ingredients makes a meal California cuisine. But he says, “That’s not fair because what that does is it entirely erases us, Indigenous people in California, from that equation. The truth is California cuisine isn’t just whatever you want it to be. California has several established culinary traditions.”
Medina also underscores the need for diverse diets that are appropriate for an individual’s health and environment. Rather than imposing a single diet on all people, it is important to understand that “different diets work for different people,” Medina tells Food Tank. “And when our minds are clear and our bodies are full of traditional foods, that allows us to be more capable in other ways as well. It allows us to see the injustice that we’re seeing and find ways to respond to it.”
“There are always different ways of being and ways of eating. We want to be able to promote and elevate what’s best for us and our bodies and also to be aware that’s true for other people all around the world,” Medina concludes. “That’s something that’s really beautiful, that ability to have all these different ways of existing and eating.”
Watch the full conversation below.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Doran, Unsplash