August 12, 2023 | 12:00am
The Ark of Taste is a veritable catalog of what species could disappear from our food culture if we stop eating them and farmers stopped growing them. You can find our Philippine listing with 86 items in www.fondazioneslowfood.com. You will be surprised to know that our kamias, kamatis (tomato) and even the common corn (tinigib) could disappear if we stop making a note of it. Over the years we have re-discovered our backyard fruits like santol, mabolo and duhat rather than propagate Thai varieties, for example. While Thai and Japanese fruits are now available locally because of Free Trade agreements, this also makes us forget our very own species.
Chinese fruits like ponkan and kiatkiat, cheap Fuji apples, even pears flood the public markets even in Cavite and Zamboanga City. What will happen to our local fruits? While we crave durian, marang and mangosteen when we go to Mindanao, these fruits are shared with the rest of Southeast Asia, where durian food markets are even featured as a tourist eating destination. But we hardly hear of duhat or santol picking tours. Or mabolo and kamias tours. It is about time we think about these non-commercial but available species.
We want to teach our children the diversity we grew up with by showing them fruits before the World Trade Organization (WTO) allowed foreign produce to come to our shores. My friends and I still get thrilled to see our duhat fruit as well as bignay and katmon. You may ask – what are these? And that is the reason why we list them in this catalog called Ark of Taste. Thanks to Slow Food (www.slowfood.com) we have a destination for all our food memories.
I have nothing against imported fruits. Many are GMO products which are overly sweet and almost perfect. And the uninitiated will only judge a fruit on sweetness, size and perfect looks. It is time we looked at the natural appearance of our tropical fruits. The petite size of natural and organic fruits, the imperfect appearance of santol and mangoes, and the raw and blander sweetness of local papaya is what we should train our tastebuds to appreciate. Once you get used to natural sweetness, our palates will soon find imported fruits too sweet. I do not enjoy the over sweet taste profile of GMO-altered cantaloupes or grapes. Fruits, I believe, can be sweetish tart and not saccharine.
Those advised to add berries in their diets may be pleased to know we have sampinit, a wild berry we have found in Quezon. Berries are found when hikers forage in the forest. It is not the pesticide-full berries we find in monocrop cultures. So, when we get berries from other places, it may help to check if they are organically-grown, or we may be negating its health benefits if they were grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
So, if you want to eat safer fruits, eat local. They do not keep very long because they do not have ripening agents, they are as natural as the day they were picked. Better yet, find a friend who plants bananas, pineapples and papaya. We find these three growing in Cavite and we can buy weekly or twice a week for our daily fruit needs. When buying papaya, we tell the seller we want one for today and tomorrow, and some for two or three days after – and they can give you three papayas at different stages of ripeness. That is what we have been doing the past years when our own papaya trees are still developing.
When it comes to mangoes, we do not look for perfect ones. After all, farmers who do not spray pesticides will surely harvest imperfect fruits.
The most protection we can apply is to “bag” the jackfruit as it ripens , for example, so bugs and other insects cannot beat us to it.
You can train your palate to adjust its sweetness indicator. After all, the sweetness tolerance of each person is personal. If you drink coffee without sugar, you will train your taste buds to adjust to less sweet flavors. If you start to avoid adding sugar (especially white refined sugar), your taste for fruits will change, I promise you. You will stop tolerating overly sweet imported fruits and reopen your palate to naturally-sweet harvests.
Is Ark of Taste just about fruits? No, but it is a good start in understanding why we are preserving our biodiversity and our food culture. Ark of Taste also catalogs rice, beans, pulses and other staples like corn, cacao and coffee. We can move to our essentials like rice and other grains and discuss why it is important to eat local varieties. Also listed are many varieties of heirloom rice, also called tinawon (once a year harvest) from many parts of Kalinga, Mountain Province and Benguet.
We can also discuss ways of food preservation like salting or smoking meat. Kini-ing or itag (also called etag) is pork that has been salted and/or smoked and makes a great addition to a vegetable soup. It is always served to us when we go to the Cordillera area. If the continental chefs have bacon, we have kini-ing. More often than not, this meat comes from the native black pig, also in the Ark of Taste.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity was created by Slow Food International and Slow Food Italy to be the operational body for the protection of biodiversity through Slow Food communities all over the world.
We have about 86 products now listed, and we can do more. All it takes is for us to open our minds to trying fruits, vegetables and meats we may soon lose, if we stop consuming them. While we are trying to rediscover our ancestors’ food, we must continue to propagate it by continuing to plant and consume grains and fruits; raise fish and animals that are threatened with extinction.
Imagine how eating – which we do at least three times a day – can help preserve biodiversity.