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Six hundred delegates, 145 communities, 58 countries. The second Indigenous Terra Madre, organized in Shillong recently by the North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (Nesfas), The Indigenous Partnership, and Slow Food International, rallied together indigenous peoples from across the world around the idea “The Future We Want: Indigenous Perspectives And Actions", with an emphasis on the survival of small farmers and indigenous community food practices.

Eight takeaways from the jamboree—including why India is central to the global plan.


Foodways in cultures and communities across India are primarily slow, unlike most of the West. From the fields to our kitchens, food practices depend mainly upon farming systems. According to Sunita Rao, director of Vanastree, a grass-roots women’s seed-saving collective in the Western Ghats, about 30% of the food system in India is industrialized; the rest still remains with farmers (read, is not genetically manipulated, and uses non-patented seeds). Watu Ferdinandus of the East Nusa Tenggara Local Food Farmers Association of Indonesia summed it up neatly: “Seeds are related with culture and identity. When the seeds are lost, culture is lost; save seeds for the future to save our wisdom."

Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist, narrated the story of how the Anishinaabeg tribe had to struggle to protect 800-year-old seeds of wild rice—found at an archaeological dig in the US—from being genetically manipulated and patented. The seeds were then planted on native land, and yielded the biggest rice harvest in recent memory this year.


At an afternoon taste workshop on wild edibles, Sean Sherman, also known as The Sioux Chef, prepared a delicious gourmet dish of Anishinaabeg wild rice with blueberries and maple glaze to promote “pre-reservation" Native American cuisine, simultaneously educating the consumer on regional food histories and nutritive practices. While wild rice was harvested, blueberries and maple were foraged in pre-reservation times, he said, and the time has come to tell new food stories. The overarching message: Food is not a commodity, contrary to notions popular in industrialized food economies, but a source of nutrition, individualized to each culture, with particular food systems and practices.


“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them," activist Esther Wanjiku Mwangi of Kenya said, quoting Albert Einstein while discussing unsustainable systems and ideologies. The solution, she suggested, lay in the approach of indigenous and small communities, who do not see the earth as a resource to be exploited, but as the provider that nourishes through land and environment.


Slow food is a “virtuous process" based on sustainability, well-being and conservation, said Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International. If that sounds terribly antique to you, you’re right. It relies on age-old values and ancestral knowledge, and partners with the elderly to help “young people find identity and motivation from their foodways where they are the protagonists", and ensure continuity through the transmission of knowledge both orally and through technology.


Like the Zapatistas, the revolutionary farmers of Chiapas in southern Mexico, who developed a system of membership and rotational representation giving a voice to all communities, food practices and systems, the challenge is to recognize a world where many worlds fit in and are celebrated. Food practices encourage pluralism. At a plenary on “Understanding Well-being and The Future We Want", Manish Jain, co-founder of Shikshantar, an institute for rethinking education and development, and Swaraj University, Rajasthan, advocated food as a good way to decolonize the mind through the stomach, transcending the dictates of nation states, the media, and big corporations.

A Nagaland stall displaying traditional crafts and food
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A Nagaland stall displaying traditional crafts and food


“Sustainable agriculture depends both on individual and collective choices. We cannot only talk about community, or only about women or men, we need all of these elements to work with the same approach of ecological sensibility," said Vincent Darlong, representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Eating locally produced food supports farmers, local livelihoods and economies, and sustains the heritage and history of a food culture.


“Terrace rice farmers from the Kalinga province of the Philippines organized a cooperative against chemical farming. We used gentler, indigenous methods on our farmlands to produce organic rice for ourselves and for export," said a delegate from the archipelago. “Last year, we harvested 13 metric tonnes of rice for export to the US. The local government moved from monoculture and chemical farming to creating a programme that acknowledges ‘authentic ecological rice is from us’." A relationship between land and people that promotes and protects peace makes for a resilient food system. Peace and well-being are intrinsically related to foodways.

An assortment of edible insects from the North-East
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An assortment of edible insects from the North-East


“I tell my children and grandchildren stories of the plants and animals around us so that they remain connected to the food their ancestors ate," Kaichou Titiana, member of a New Caledonian fishing community in the South Pacific, said. Storytelling links communities to their traditional knowledge and food systems. Pius Ranee, an associate of the non-profit Nesfas, pointed out how young people who leave their home communities in search of livelihoods forget, or are forced to forget, their ancestral knowledge, and are thus disconnected from their heritage. Kegitar Lyngkhoi from Shillong narrated the story of a local edible root, soh phlang, which also talked about community consciousness among the Khasis of Meghalaya.

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