Love makes the world go round, as the saying goes. But Food is what sustains us. And a meal cooked with love is like the proverbial cherry on the cake – nourishment of not merely the stomach but of the soul. In November 2015, Shillong in Meghalaya, North East India, hosted a mega-event that recognized and celebrated the traditional food ways of the global indigenous peoples.
The Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 (ITM) consisted of various programmes revolving around food to bring people from varied backgrounds together: to knowledge-share, to taste; most of all to rejoice. The global and the local, the village cook and the restaurant chef, the rural and the urban rubbed shoulders, experienced one another’s foods & flavours, learned, exchanged and emerged richer from it.
On the first three days, a closed door World Indigenous Conclave saw various experts on agro-biodiversity, farming, ecology and traditional food ways discuss the issues of the day. On the sidelines, Taste workshops exposed the audience to various food groups indigenous to the Northeast and beyond. These included Honey, Wild Edibles, Fermented Foods and Insects which some of the gathered delegates sampled with trepidation but found them to be rather palatable.
In fact, the spirit of the event lay in the knowledge sharing between the delegates coming from 50+ countries and the 40+ local host villages. On the fourth day of the event, the delegates travelled into rural Meghalaya for a day trip to experience firsthand the food ways, culture and heritage of the host communities. The villagers enthusiastically prepared traditional menus and performed cultural programmes for delegates from all over the world.
The closing day was marked by a Food Festival, open to the public, which over 70,000 people attended. Without a doubt, the centerpiece of the festival were the 40+ Mei-Ramew (Mother Earth) Food stalls, a celebration of local foods, that served as platforms for agro-biodiversity and cultural representation. These stalls not only served food but gave voice to the expression of traditional food and agriculture and brought conviviality and multiculturalism into play by bringing people together to discuss, exchange ideas and highlight issues related to the challenges that indigenous people face hence rendering a sense of ownership. These food stalls glamorized indigenous food preparations through innovative, creative and attractive presentations.
The cultural exchange, transcending the barriers of language and backgrounds between these disparate worlds, is what the heartbeat of such an event is – proving that when communities that are closely bound to Mother Earth, they can never be too far from each other.
All photos © Amrita Ravimohan, Ajay Nayak & NESFAS