One country in particular has responded with great eagerness to last year’s appeal to relaunch the Ark of Taste project and to nominate as many traditional food products at risk of extinction as possible: Brazil. A veritable downpour of products has landed in the Ark from the South American country, revealing an unparalleled enthusiasm.
Between March and July, over 300 nominations arrived from the Brazilian network. This urgency to report the food biodiversity at risk of extinction reflects the constant threat that looms over artisanal food production, cultural diversity and natural ecosystems in the country.
Brazil’s gastronomic heritage is enormous, the result of an extraordinary biodiversity and a vast surface area, characterized by an immense variety of landscapes (from the Amazon jungle to savannas) and indigenous cultures, not to mention all the migrations and fusions that have occurred throughout its history.
Enormous, but in danger. That’s the paradox of this country, and the deeper reason behind this collective mobilization: Both the Amazon jungle and the Cerrado, the savanna that represents one of Brazil’s biggest biomes, are losing land each year due to rampant deforestation, which leaves behind hectares of soya monocultures, used to produce feed for livestock raised in factory farms. Over 50% of the Cerrado has already been destroyed.
When it comes to artisanal food production, extreme hygiene regulations and industrial standardization are penalizing the small-scale producers struggling to protect Brazil’s raw-milk cheese traditions, which have developed over the centuries thanks to communities of European immigrants.
And so Slow Food Brazil finds itself on the front line of the fight to protect biodiversity. Within the context of a project funded by the Secretaria Especial de Agricultura Familiar (SEAD) and led by the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), and in partnership with Slow Food Brazil and a network of universities that includes the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, a research study was carried out on the nominated products, in order to help the Brazilian Ark of Taste develop further. Already, a total of 75 new products boarded the Ark in 2016.
Traditional raw-milk cheeses, fish caught using artisanal methods but threatened by industrial overfishing, wild fruits from the Cerrado and the Amazon jungle that have been an integral part of the way of life and diet of native people but are now losing their habitat: These products were all featured in the Ark of Taste Festival organized by Slow Food Brazil for the second time from October 20 to November 6.
During the festival, which was held in São Paulo, producers, cheesemakers, barmen and chefs from the Brazilian Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance came together to offer menus and taste workshops based on Ark of Taste products from the southeast region to the public. Listening to a food’s story, touching it, smelling it, tasting it in all its forms: What better way could there be to relaunch the mission of the Ark than by bringing the catalog’s products to life, in order to promote and protect the diversity of a region?