Beating ‘Industry Logic’

There must be a grain of truth in the argument against the industrialization of food and the entourage of rampant and exploitive practices it brings along with it. Policy makers and lobbyists might argue the ‘industry logic’ – that industrial scale agriculture is the only way to produce mass amounts of affordable food for the planet’s growing population. But we then need to examine the meaning of ‘affordable’ with due concern to the urgency of the clock ticking away on the planet’s resources.

Is it ‘affordable’ to subsidize food corporations who manufacture highly processed food and market it really well to make it readily available to the intended masses? Is it ‘affordable’ to have epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease? Is it ‘affordable’ to adopt ‘mono-crop’ farming models that deplete the soil, create conditions highly susceptible to pests and disease and furthermore have an adverse effect on the edible bio-diversity of our planet? Is it ‘affordable’ to grow more food by injecting fertilizers and pesticides that eventually amount to the soil’s inability to regenerate itself?

To achieve affordability in terms of quantity as opposed to the quality (of what we produce and what we eat) is a mistake.

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell” ~ Edward Abbey

The current food production and consumption systems are harmful to the earth, to its ecosystems and to the people who inhabit it. Industrialization of food systems has created such disparities in the consumption patterns that millions of people from developing world countries have to starve, while in developed countries thousands of tonnes of food wastage are discarded daily from restaurants and homes.

Since the floodgates of economic modernization opened in India, the agriculture sector has taken quite a hit. News channels keep reporting on the plight of farmers in the country and the increasing number of farmer suicides. It is now, more than ever, that we should reflect on their significance in a country that claimed to be built on the backbone of these very farmers.

In 1986, when Italian writer Carlo Petrini and a group of activists heard about junk-food-giant McDonald’s plan to open near the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) in Rome, they held a historic demonstration at the intended site and sowed the seeds of their Slow Food Revolution – a movement that has today created an active network that is spread over 160 countries and has been galvanized by the joining of over 100,000 stakeholders.

The Slow Food movement is dedicated to work towards a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grows it and good for the planet. At the heart of the movement lies the belief that sustainability in agriculture is culture-dependent – the cultures of producing and consuming.

The movement advocates that we reconnect with our food, the land and the people who produce it. The success of the movement lies in the understanding that consumers affect the market and the production patterns with their food choices, while producers must play a key role by working to achieve quality and nutrition in their cultivation. It also lies in the commitment of the Slow Food movement to bring together the collective expertise of the network that includes (apart from the producers and the customers) traditional and modern culinary experts, academicians, researchers and marketing experts to support the initiative with the right infrastructure.

North-east India too has its champions of the Slow Food Movement in the form of NESFAS and individuals like Joel Basumatari and Rahul Antao who is an alumnus of the University of Gastronomic Sciences located in Bra, Italy (the Slow Food International Headquarters are located in Bra, Italy – the town in Piedmont where the movement was born). Rahul presently works as a consultant with ‘The North East Slow Food and Agro-biodiversity Society’ or NESFAS – an organization that has its headquarters in Shillong and has been set up on the lines of the International Slow Food Movement. With his academic background in culinary arts, applied nutrition and hospitality, past experiences of having worked Navdanya in India and with Slow Food in Italy, Rahul advocates his passion for food and agriculture with a deep understanding of the holy-trinity of culture, man and ecology.

NESFAS has hosted the likes of Petrini himself, and more recently Chef Fabio Antonini who feels that the situation in the region is urgent. Chef Antonini, who is a one of the ambassadors of Slow Food Chef’s Alliance explains,

“The local bio-diversity is disappearing and indigenous products are becoming obsolete; everyone chooses to eat noodles with chicken – fast food products- and in the city, eating indigenous food is considered an embarrassment. And yet here, each community has its own ingredients. Extraordinary products like the Khasi mandarin, honey from wild bees of Nilgiri, banana flowers or tomatoes that grows on trees.”

Ingredients like the ‘Khasi mandarin’ have been included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste program that essentially works toward the protection of ingredients that face the threat of extinction because of industrial agriculture, environmental degradation and homogenization.

Chef Joel Basumatari from Nagaland, who has previously worked at ‘The Regent Park Hotel Marriott’ and ‘The Washington Mayfair’ in the United Kingdom, assisted Chef Fabio Antonini during a fine-dining event held at the NESFAS lawns on the 30th of March this year. The event was part of the awareness drive to put the limelight on local ingredients on the brink of extinction. Joel shares the culinary ethos of the movement and believes that the North-east region of the country has a lot to learn from and offer to the international movement.

In the end the International Slow food movement is all about getting back to the good old basics. It is about proving that we have more than the ‘industry logic’ to rely on to sustain life on our planet. If every decision that we make can be assumed to be a vote for the kind of world that we choose to live in, then choosing to have ‘slow food’ as opposed to eating ‘fast food’ might be instrumental in saving our planet (for a responsible handover to the future generation).

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