Fast debut for slow food

Chit U. Juan (The Philippine Star) - August 24, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - World Food Expo is THE show. If you want to start a food business, you can find something over a few days of shopping and watching at World Food Expo, also known as WOFEX.

If you are a culinary student, you will find your celebrity chef idols and models at this event. You will see the chefs in action, like a reality TV show or a food show come alive. Lots of foreign chef-teachers, pastry chefs, Filipino chefs, Asian chefs, competing for the Philippine Culinary Cup.

If you are a barista or a café owner you will find new models of espresso machines, third wave coffee equipment and coffee, of course.

And the latest trend? Juicing. Juice machines were aplenty. Slow juicers. Fast juicers. Blenders. Extractors. Anything to make the new juice drinks that everyone is crazy about.

So what is this stand called SLOW FOOD/ARK OF TASTE doing in this fast-paced show dedicated to the culinary and hospitality business?

That is the question we were asked as we put up the booth for the  advocacy called Slow Food Philippines. Paula and Nicolo Aberasturi, biodynamic farmers (what is biodynamic is the next query) from Bukidnon brought their heirloom tomatoes, also called ligaw or “lost” in English. They brought grass-fed beef jerky, microgreens and cherry tomatoes.

Over at the ARK OF TASTE side, we displayed  crillo, an old original cacao variety, Negros’ kadios or black-eyed pea, and barako or liberica coffee. All these plus about seven varieties of heirloom rice from the Cordillera are now part of the 1,300 species worldwide that is in the global listing called Ark of Taste.

On another side of the open booth was a basket with batuan, mabolo, siling labuyo and kamias. All endangered. All heirloom fruits and spices. All waiting at the pre-departure gates of oblivion. Unless we start using them again, farmers will stop planting them. If we continue to use instant souring agents, batuan and kamias may soon disappear.

WOFEX president Joel Pascual read about our movement and asked us to present a seminar about Slow Food. No less than chef-advocates Margarita Fores of Grace Park and Robby Goco of Green Pastures stayed all morning to explain what they are doing in their new restaurants.

This is not just “farm to table” or “locavorism.” They explained a deeper involvement with farmers who supply them carabao mozzarella or a lettuce that is found only in Bukidnon. 

Goco relates to the audience how they have helped farmers develop carabao’s milk into mozzarella cheese which he now uses in his restaurant. It used to be that the farmer just sold it as milk. Going up the value chain, but with Robby’s professional help.

Robby finished culinary studies in the US and knows of cheese-making among other techniques.

Fores finds farmers and tries their rare produce in her newest project called Grace Park. “We serve dishes from ingredients that are ‘in season’ and our customers are starting to understand why we need to change menus often,” she says.

Now that is locavorism and slow food principles – buying what is good, clean and fair. Fair to the farmer and to the consumer.  Clean of pesticides and chemicals. Good to the taste.

Slow food advocates from Cordillera and Pangasinan came down to bring their heirloom rice, fruits like mabolo and root crops like ube and camote. Free range organic chickens were explained by Tina Morados-Papillon of Pamora Farms in Abra.

Albert Jo of Rapha Valley Farms in Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental shared his knowledge on what kind of fish to eat as Slow Food. “Eat only fish with scales,” he says. Fish with scales are safer to eat because they do not absorb as much mercury or toxins as other species.

Nicolo Aberasturi shared information about our local cattle – Yellow cattle – that can withstand harsh weather and can survive and be well just eating grass and no feeds, no hormones. Food that is clean and safe.

Our staple is, of course, rice. Heirloom rice varieties come in different colors and are safer to eat if not healthier. They contain all the vitamins that are no longer present in white rice. Vicky Garcia shared stories about indigenous peoples and the rice terraces and how we can save these terraces by just buying heirloom rice. Simple yet far-reaching.

These advocates may be starting a quiet revolution to eat better, cleaner and safer food. And the media listened as each speaker also mentioned how commercialization is destroying our heirloom species, our heritage that may soon be gone if we continue to speed up food processing or the simple task of cooking.

“Eat like our grandmothers did,” someone was quoted as saying. This statement brings one back to the days when going to market meant bringing a woven native basket, choosing one’s purveyors in the public market and cooking a fresh meal each time. No refrigerators were needed because everything was bought fresh and cooked immediately.

Chickens were sold by live weight and fish was sold fresh and not frozen or already sliced and filleted. That is Slow Food.

Slow Food Philippines will participate in Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre this October in Turin, Italy. They will be cooking up a storm with a selection of Filipino slow food recipes including the bestseller: lechon.

Slow food may be the opposite of fastfood but to these advocates, Slow Food debuted at World Food Expo in a fast way. And what a way to introduce people to a choice or an alternative – eating good, clean and fair food, which used to be the normal choice.

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