As part of Terra Madre 2020, students on the Master of Food and Food Cultures course at the University of Paris-Sorbonne invited Bastien Beaufort, Co-President of Slow Food Paris and Deputy Director of Guayapi to take part in one of their weekly seminar sessions on October 15.
Bastien and the students discussed Slow Food’s approach to food biodiversity as well as the tools we have at hand to protect and enhance our gastronomic and ecological heritage. How can we go beyond the limited scope of locavorism and consider food in a truly holistic manner?
The seminar opened with an exchange among students on their definition of local consumption. How to define it? Is it simply a radius drawn in the sand of a certain number of kilometers? Or is it an act of ecological advocacy? Is it supporting farmers by buying from them directly or avoiding corporate middle-men? Is it consuming seasonal produce? The answers are diverse and complex.
MORE THAN JUST EATING LOCAL
Bastien Beaufort reminded students that simply because food travels a short distance between farm and fork, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, clean or fair. Indeed, it is not only a question of consuming locally-produced foods or foods we make ourselves at home. A holistic approach to food means taking an active interest in shorter value chains and direct channels of exchange between producers and consumers, considering seasonality, and giving preference to products that are made with the philosophy of Good, Clean and Fair in mind.
In the second part, Bastien presented his thesis on the globalization of plants, with a particular focus on the Amazon. While the world’s largest rainforest is often considered a wilderness, it’s actually been the cradle of domestication for many of the plants present in our daily lives on a global scale, such as tobacco and cacao.
FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL
So how do plants once produced and consumed on a local scale become a worldwide phenomenon? The arrival of European colonizers brought the introduction of monocultural farming, whereby exotic plants previously confined to relatively small areas were used to transform entire ecosystems, a process largely powered by slave labor from Africa. This triangle of trade between continents led to the death of 90% of the indigenous population in the Americas. This was the beginning of the long process of globalization that created the colossal inequalities which still dominate the world today.
Bastien cites the example of Guarana, an Amazonian plant with energizing effects similar to caffeine. This plant, which is a forest vine, was domesticated two to three millennia ago by the Sateré-Mawé people of the Amazon, who call the plant Waranà. It has been subject to an intense process of commodification and commercialization by multinationals like Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Red Bull who use it in their soft drinks. Today, the market for Guarana is estimated to be worth between four and seven billion dollars a year. However, this market is 99% illegal according to the Convention on Biological Diversity signed after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which requires that the benefits of biological resources must be shared with indigenous peoples.
“Respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices.”Article 8 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
PROTECTING BIODIVERSITY THE SLOW FOOD WAY
The seminar concluded with a presentation outlining the Slow Food movement to students. This included an explanation of the Presidia project and the Ark of Taste, and the ongoing efforts to protect our ecological and gastronomic heritage from extinction.
Guarana is a plant in danger because of the greed of multinationals, but it’s also the focus of a Slow Food Presidium – representing some of that tiny percentage of Guarana production which respects the Convention on Biological Biodiversity, as sold by Guayapi. The aim of the project is to protect the authentic, native guarana and all the associated traditional knowledge of the Sateré-Mawé people.