In recent years, South Korea has been very active in organizing its farmers and producers to mount shows on Slow Food and its variations like Ark of Taste, Slow Meat, Slow Fish and even Slow Cha (Tea). One of its major food events was held in 2013 at Namyangju. For this year, it has grown triple in size as it was held from November 18 to 22 at the Korea International Exhibition Center.
I was very fortunate to experience such revolution in food beginning with the opening dinner. It was a very unique setting of a kilometric table lined with seats where diners would face each other on one of two rows set for the delegates from 36 countries. The middle (in between the two long tables) had a ramp or walkway where the flag carriers would parade to show one and all the solidarity of Slow Food in the world.
The next treat is the presence of Slow Food founder Italian Carlo Petrini. He is now 70 something but still as charismatic as ever in addressing the crowd of about 300 farmers and producers, retailers and community organizers. Though his message was delivered in his native Italian, I could glean the passion in those words where he mentions the food justice everyone is working for.
The highlight of the dinner was the “temple-guided” vegetarian meal, spread on each placemat properly and graphically labeled with the dishes on the paper placemat: rice, soup, side dishes and dessert.
The monks assisted the audience as the announcer asked us to “lift the paper and raise the rice bowl to our foreheads” to thank the farmers who grew the rice. Then we were asked to quietly go from soup to side dish to rice without leaving anything in our bowls. This is mindful eating at its best. There was soothing background music and hardly anyone spoke as suggested by the announcer.
It was my first time to have a temple meal taken this way but I must say it was a beautiful, soothing and satiating experience. Just like how every meal should be. Everyone was quiet (save for some who could not help but capture the moments on their cameras) and the meal ended on a relaxed note as we were served plum tea and a rice dessert.
Some may think Slow Food is temple food but it is not just peaceful dining. Slow Food advocates the pleasure of eating without forgetting who grew our food, who prepared the dishes, and finally making sure we eat in peace and quiet.
That was the opening night. A good way to start—slow.
The next few days were busier days as we shared stories and attended Taste Workshops where different Slow Food members from various countries present their culture and their food.
I happily attended the Culture and Identity of Israel, which had the chef demonstrating how to make Falafel and two other dishes from his country.
I also attended a Taste workshop on Making Over Fermented Kimchi. A mature lady demonstrated how to preserve Kimchi for 10 months, then make it into soup or mix it rice and bean sprouts to make a heartier version.
The challenge of translation happened when the workshop was done by a man from Kyrgyztan, and the translation was Russian to Korean. That’s where the importance of language was highlighted. We had to content ourselves (the English language speakers) with tasting by watching the chef make a lamb dish, and finally something oh so familiar—baklava. That one spoke to me so well.
Yet after all that I had experienced, I could say that Slow Food is still more than taste workshops and temple eating. It is about respecting the hands that grew your food by always thanking them and almost consecrating the meal before eating.
More to come.
Next week: Preserving biodiversity
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City and Antipolo City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustain¬ability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org