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Feature - Issue #1

Food Identity

More than any other food, vegetables connect us to the seasons and to where we live, and are unique to each region and nation. For a local voice and a global statement on diversity, vegetables are the food of choice.

In a world that now relies on long distance journeys for much of our food, chefs are at the heart of both the issues and solutions that we all face in being a food secure and resilient planet.

With so much of a nation’s identity connected to the food that it grows and eats, chefs the world over are clamouring to serve authentic food from regions and cultures that are sometimes thousands of miles away from where they are actually serving the food.

People dining out have never been so spoilt, or been able to experience such a variety of authentic cooking styles and ingredients. But knowing where you are in the world, by identifying with and understanding the local produce from the country you are living in is an important step to generating a more localised and secure food system for that region. The focus on a biodiverse, local food system is vital for the future of humanity on a global scale.

Every region, country and continent has specific produce that allows the people, cultures and communities to identify with who they are and how they connect to the planet. With so many different climates, soils, minerals and microbiomes, our planet is abundantly rich in edible foods that not only provide us with sustenance and vitality, but also allow us to know ourselves, to know what makes us human and celebrate in the knowledge that through food we connect to the earth and all of its beauty.

What better then than to use food to identify with not only who we are but where we are in the world. Knowing oneself and culture through food is to deeply connect to ancestral customs and generational knowledge. So now more than ever it is important to highlight ingredients, support them, love them, and nurture their diversity.

Many different ingredients go into making one dish, and hundreds of different ingredients go into designing a menu. Chefs use thousands of different ingredients in countless kitchens all over the world, but it is with growing realisation that I know it is only when you begin to focus on vegetables that you get the best understanding of seasonality, soil health, the skill of the grower or producer, and where you are in the world.

How better to know where you are than to be delicately brushing off the soil from the base of a porcini mushroom or to be tasting a peppery olive oil or podding dragon’s eye borlotti beans, surely you’re in Tuscany, Italy. Freshly milled teff flour injera pancakes will place you in Ethiopia, and huge, sweet, freshly harvested globe artichokes weighing up to 500 grams will put you in the growing region of northern France. The sandy loamy soil that produces the world’s most delicate potato, the Jersey Royal, means you must be in southern England, and a myriad of coloured sweet corn, deeply nutritious and with amazing varieties of flavour would mean you are in Urubamba, Peru.

FoodSpace Ireland challenge themselves to source as much produce as possible, for each kitchen, from within a 50-mile radius. (Photograph courtesy of FoodSpace Ireland).

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