Make no mistake about it: food is politics. Food is nation building and backbreaking business.
Where you source your food says a lot about your world view and even lack thereof. How you cook your food punctuates that argument. What you eat defines not only who you are, but what you can be.
Funny, isn’t it? Who would’ve thought a plate of roasted vegetables could be the topic for an intellectual discussion? But it is — and it invites lots of questions.
Did the vegetables come from a local farm in the UAE or even from our close regional neighbours, or from some factory farm in the USA? Did you cook it with healthy cold pressed coconut oil made in the Philippines or did you use the cheap ‘vegetable’ soybean oil from the USA (which, by the way, is genetically modified)?
Let’s go back even further. Remember the fish you served at your lovely dinner party? Did you buy wild, organic varieties from the local fish market that sourced it from local and regional waters, or did you get artificially coloured salmon farmed in and freighted from Norway?
As the conversations about the politics of food have gathered momentum, we have been made aware of the fact that we yield power with our wallets — and bellies.
If you have been in the region long enough, you may remember that more things were sourced locally and regionally. Back then, it was normal for people to exert some effort to find clothes and shelter. Everyone had a tailor in Meena Bazaar and a dearth of fast and processed food options meant that people cooked and ate fresh foods at home. Since then, life moved faster and ‘convenience’ became a buzzword. What was a healthy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diet has given way to highly processed foods that include imported ‘fresh’ factory farmed meats while genetically modified ingredients have been hidden in much of the products we consume. But all is not lost.
Our hope lies in making small but cumulative choices to buy and eat local. Our collective decision is what will breathe life back into local agriculture and encourage local production to meet global standards of quality and competitiveness. Let us demand local items in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. When there is no alternative for produce to be obtained from local sources, shop around until you find the ones grown and farmed in the region.
If we create a greater demand for local and organic produce, we will eventually drive local food prices down once supplies catch up. Let us guarantee farmers that if they plant fields of food, we will not leave them to rot on their hands for waxed and modified picture perfect imports. Storeowners are in the business of making profits and will sell what we are willing to buy.
Where the politics of food is concerned, we vote daily with our wallets and our bellies — so vote well.
Places to buy local and or organic foods in the UAE
Baker & Spice, Go Organic, Organiliciouz, Greenheart UAE, Blue Planet Green People, Ripe and the inaugural International Fine Food Festival scheduled to be held from October 30- Nov 2 at the Meydan. Thanks to Sally from My Custard Pie for collating the list.
Photos of the Al Shuwaib Farm in the UAE. Article first published in Kari’s “When Hunger Strikes” food column in the Khaleej Times wknd section.