เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

Preserving Local Food Culture

In Network Events, Youth Activities on 09/03/2010 at 11:31 am

On the first Saturday in February, AAN Yasothon helped host Ban Non Yang’s 3rd Month Merit-Making Festival.  The festival celebrates the start of a new season, a time when people will work through the hot weather to do maintenance on their homes and other community development projects.  The celebration is also about community welfare, as villagers donate sacks of rice to a community stock, which families can access if they are in need of rice later on during the year.  Like last year, the AAN seized the opportunity to campaign about local foods and indigenous rice varieties.

In the photo above, we organized small competitions for villagers to make a set of food dishes from exclusively local, natural and organic ingredients.  5 small teams of villagers competed to make the best tasting dishes from red ant eggs, snails, lizards and other forest foods that make up Esan’s traditional diet.  While still fairly abundant, these foods are less commonly consumed by villagers with changing consumer preferences.  By getting villagers involved with making these foods for the merit-making festival, we hoped to raise more awareness about the importance of preserving and maintaining these important food traditions.  Many of these foods are healthier and more nutritious than the current food trends like eating noodle soups and various fried foods.  An important issue is that while many older villagers still know how to make these dishes, the new generation shows little interest in eating them.

With the advent of large commercial rice mills has come the loss of the ability to mill rice independently.  During the festival we also organized a contest to see who could separate the rice husk from grain the fastest.  This is a skill few villagers still maintain, and many of our contestants said they hadn’t done this kind of work for over 30 years.  Yet everyone seemed to still remember how to do it!  The rice pictured above is Red Jasmine rice, a local variety that is increasingly popular among farmers and has been shown to help treat diabetes.

By taking an active role in community events like the recent merit-making festival, our members seek to revive local culture and food traditions, which we see to be important parts of sustainable agriculture.  Sometimes other farmers don’t see the connections between the way we farm and the way we eat, but these events are important reminders for the community, and we hope may help other farmers transition away from chemical-intensive production to more diverse, sustainable farms.

The festival also combines local beliefs about natural spirits in the community forest.  At the end of the day, we paraded outside of the village to bring flowers and songs to the village spirits.  The carving above depicts “Paw Yaai Ling” a monkey spirit who is revered during this holiday.  The village youth group also got into things, picking lots of flowers and helping to carry the gong out to the forest for our ceremony.

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