Travelling foods

Like human beings, food has travelled continuously through the ages and across continents. The subject is so rich that the Unesco Chair in World Food has devoted a conference to it in 2018. Damien Conaré, its secretary general, will give a conference on this same theme at the Agriculture Fair in Nouvelle-Aquitaine on 7th June 2019. A topic very much in the news and really interesting for the members of the Kus Alliances attending.

“Talking about food is talking about a great mixing”.

Damien Conaré

“Eating the world” is a phrase that could sum up the food blending we have been living with for centuries. For example, according to a 2016 study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, two-thirds of the food we eat comes from other parts of the world. So it seems that the whole world is in our plates!

A blend of cultures, the result of a long history

This food blending is not new. It is in fact the result of a long history of human migrations, conquests, great discoveries and commercial exchanges in which agricultural and food products have always played an important role. Let us think, for example, of the spice trade which, since ancient times, has enriched the Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs and Portuguese. Let us remember the Dutch who, in the 17th and 18th centuries, built out a maritime and economic empire for themselves through the East India Company. In this respect, the travel of plants and the transformation of our breakfast habits are particularly enlightening examples…

The journeys of plants

Almost everyone knows the story of the tomato, the potato and the corn, which originated in the “New World” and were brought to Europe by the Spanish. Less well known, however, is the fact that many other food crops moved to other continents from the 16th century onwards, changing eating habits and agricultural practices.
This first globalization was essentially the result of Portuguese ships on the India Line that disseminated seeds and plants at ports of call in Madeira, the Azores, Brazil, São Tomé, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Malacca and Manila. Typical Asian plants such as coconuts, mangoes and sweet orange trees quickly found their way to West Africa and the Americas. Conversely, many American plants such as pineapples, peanuts, pumpkins, guavas and cashew nuts were introduced on the other two continents. Among them, the chilli pepper, unknown in Asia, was introduced very early in Goa where it changed the way people ate; or cassava, introduced in São Tomé in 1550, which quickly became the continent’s main food resource. Africa, for its part, exported a few important plants such as coffee, watermelon and oil palm. Sugar cane, which originated in Asia, was exploited almost industrially from the 15th century onwards in Madeira, São Tomé and then Brazil. These travelling plants have sometimes brought about changes in the way people eat, as shown by the history of the European breakfast.

The world in our cups

It was in the 18th century that Europeans progressively adopted the habit of a “breakfast” organized around hot drinks made from raw materials of tropical origin: tea (from China), coffee (from Africa) or chocolate (from America), three hot drinks most often served with sugar from overseas.

At the end of the 17th century, the most affluent European social classes discovered tea, coffee and chocolate. In the 18th century, their consumption, particularly in the morning, spread to working-class circles, and then much more widely in the following century. This craze required the development of production, mainly through slavery. This leads Damien Conaré to say that breakfast as we know it today is not unrelated to inequalities in the world…

Pizza or the conquest of the world’s tables

If products such as tea, coffee or chocolate have conquered the world, there is one dish from southern Italy that has also become established almost everywhere. Originating in Naples around the 16th century, pizza became universally popular in the 20th century, especially after the Second World War. In the United States, it even became one of the most popular daily foods. Ironically, it is now coming back to Europe and Italy in Americanised forms!
The history of the spread and appropriation of pizza throughout the world leads Damien Conaré to say that “even when globalized, pizza does not erase borders and particular identities”. In this respect, it is a textbook case for understanding the cultural mechanisms of borrowing and processes of reciprocal influence.

Culinary transmission with Grandmas project

If borrowing is an important dimension of our food, the question of transmission is also crucial, as shown by the Grandmas project. It all started about ten years ago with the personal experience of Jonas Pariente, director and producer. He realized that his two grandmothers (one Egyptian Jewish, the other Polish Jewish) had passed on their identity to him through cooking. To understand his triple culture (French, Slavic and Mediterranean), he decided to film them cooking: ingredients, spices, recipes, gestures…, and then decided to share his experience with other citizens of the world by proposing to them to film their own grandmothers in the kitchen. It’s 2013 and the participative web series Grandmas project has begun! It includes the recipe for Souffé au fromage (Cheese Soufflé) by Yaya filmed by Chloé Ledoux (France), Ajvar by Marta Dilparić filmed by Ivana Barišić (Serbia and the Netherlands) or Marillenknödel by Mamé filmed by Mona Achache (France-Austria). In total, more than twenty films that tell the story of transmission through cooking… and the adventure is still going on!

The kitchen to stay connected to your identity with the Tawlet project

Another example of transmission but also of expression of one’s identity through cooking is the Lebanese project Tawlet which brings together migrant or refugee women from Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. In 2009, Kamal Mouzawak, who defines himself as a “culinary activist”, initiated this project in Beirut. It is a restaurant where women from different regions and countries come to cook their traditional dishes. “The cuisine is the only thing that these women bring back with them from their country. They come from different regions and this project allows them to recreate a national identity through cooking and to perpetuate the culinary traditions of their regions,” explains Kamal Mouzawak, for whom this project completes a long-standing commitment to “cooking that brings people together.”

Nothing circulates or travels without being transformed

Thus, the journey of food and the migration of the men and women who cook it have shaped and continue to shape a world rich in fusion, reciprocal borrowings and identity recompositions around food. For Damien Conaré, “nothing circulates or travels without being transformed”. This opinion is shared by Laurence Tibère, a sociologist at the University of Toulouse, who believes that not only does food travel, but also the ways in which it is cooked and eaten. Adaptations, fusions and inventions are at the heart of cooking… and will be for a long time to come.

To go further

Unesco Chair in World Food:

Full programme of the Travelling Foods conference:

Grandmas project :

Talwet project:

Insertion versus Inclusion

Lighting by Yassir Yebba

Novembre 21, 2019

In order to enlighten the European partners on the issues related to the launch of a food truck activity by young people, Yassir Yebba gave a conference. He preferred the word “inclusion” to “insertion”. Excerpts to better understand his thoughts… 

“If you want to be active in your life, you have to find a way to become your own hero, from a simple resume to what I call a synopsis. On the one hand, you’re just an actor in a system or a company that provides you with a job. On the other, you’re offering a story to people.”

“Writing your story is obviously a lot easier if you have a script. So you have to think about what your ordinary world is, but also your extraordinary world. What your super powers would be if you had them.”

“For me the passage from insertion to inclusion is to accept oneself as human, to live one’s life from H to H, that means from human to human, from history to history, from heritage to heritage. If I do not accept who I am, with my own heritage, with my own history, I will not really find my place.”

“The problem in the food industry is getting people to pay, not just for the product but for the people, for the stories behind the product. The model of inclusion has to create value. That’s what I call recognition.”

Yassir Yebba

The cooking anthropologist

Within the framework of the European project, several operators from Europe were able to exchange with Yassir Yebba. Both an anthropologist and a cook, he has a particularly interesting perspective on food. A meeting with a man of conviction and action. 

Anthropologist and cook, that’s not a trivial association. How did you come to this ? 

I’m from a modest background. My Moroccan parents arrived in France when I was five years old. They couldn’t read or write, had never been to school, however I realized that they were people who knew. This led me to be interested in the thought that comes from the hands. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger says the same thing when he writes “thinking is manual work”. He is neither the first nor the last to have said it, and many contemporary philosophers are trying to reconcile these two generally opposed universes. For example, I find the approach of the American Matthew B. Crawford who gave up his brilliant academic career to set up a motorcycle repair shop very interesting… From this experience, he wrote a book, Praise the Carburetor – An Essay on the Meaning and Value of Work. I am one of those intellectuals who say that doing is a way of thinking. I wouldn’t be a good anthropologist if I didn’t do things with my hands every day. 

Could you have chosen plumbing or carpentry over cooking ? 

Cooking came into my life 20 years ago. I was 30 at the time. I had just separated from my partner, our son was still very young. I felt the need to cook for him. It was a way for me to take care of him and to pass on something of my culture to him. I’m Moroccan by the belly, so I passed on my culture to him by making him food. 

I came to the kitchen first as a dad, it was only afterwards that I realized that I thought better when I was cooking.  

What happened next ? 

I left university to create Territoires alimentaires (“Food Territories”), my own research laboratory and Le Goût du monde (“The Taste of the world”), an event cooking company. For example, I developed gourmet conferences: convivial moments that combine intellectual reflection on food and gourmet proposals. The idea behind these meetings is simple: think as well as you eat and eat as well as you think. I am not a caterer but a “well-caterer”. What’s important for me is that making food is to be in the concrete pleasure of caring for others. I have worked a lot on the notion of the chain of care. 

You did food anthropology long before you became a professional cook…

I first started by doing cultural anthropology by taking an interest in the Berbers in the Moroccan countryside and mountains. In situ, I saw that these people were happy because they were in touch with nature, with the soil. It was from the soil that they built a society. With them, I realized that food was a wonderful link to life. 

You also make the connection between food and language…

The first thing a human being eats are words. Food is the first language. That’s something that struck me among the Berbers: people who spoke Berber every day ate well every day. When I returned to France, I looked if the same links between speaking and eating existed. I found the same phenomena in rural areas and in the peasantry in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the region where I live. The places where regional languages are spoken (Poitevin-Saintongeais, Occitan, Gascon, Basque) are also the places where you eat best. Let’s take the example of the Basques. There is a close link between food and language. The Basques are people who feed their culture. 

You regularly castigate industrial food…

It’s what we eat that makes us who we are. We are what we eat. We eat something badly made, we participate in our own social downgrading. If we eat industrial food, we end up thinking industrial. At the supermarket, we serve ourselves like in a catalogue, but our dignity as human beings is to know how to think, to understand how it grows. It’s better to pick than to open a packet. We have to make food an experience again. My modest parents were magnificent bobos: they ate locally and in short circuits. I do the same. For example, I only eat meat that I slaughtered myself. 

Making the right products available to everyone is a sign of a healthy society. I like to quote Claude Levis-Strauss, “It is not enough that a food is good to eat, it must also be good to think”. 

You say, “I’m from where I eat, I’m from here because I eat here every day. I eat French landscapes” could you explain ?

In my research, I developed the concept of “repaysement” which is the appeasement of the landscape. But the landscape is also accessible through the plate. When I go to Morocco I bring with me good French things so as not to be disorientated and vice versa: I use Moroccan spices in French cuisine. I feel a great appeasement to recognize in an organic way what I am, where I am. What feeds us is what constitutes us, that’s for sure. 

Practical information

Yassir Yebba

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France

The street kitchen for the integration of young people

The Estey’s Bistrots

Novembre 27, 2019

The team of the Estey Social and Cultural Center of Bègles presented its Bistrot Mobile device to several European operators from Malta, Ireland, England and Germany. A look back at a meeting about a nomadic cooking initiative like no other.

On this November morning, it’s chilly in the huge hall of the Estey Social and Cultural Center in Bègles, a town of 27,000 inhabitants near Bordeaux. In the center of the room, about twenty people are crowded around an astonishing bicycle-carriole: “Bistrot mobile de l’Estey”. This strange kitchen bike is the emblem of a street food project, one of the main objectives is the integration of young people in difficulty. 

Here, no pizzas, hamburgers or kebabs, but “batbots”

For Le LABA, the organizing structure of the week of training and exchange around street food in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the Bistrot mobile is an essential project, as Margaux Velez points out. “It enables young people to gain their first professional experience and acquire the basic skills of a foodtrucker: product supply, stock management, food preparation, service and customer relations. It was important for us to share this experience between cooking and integration with our European partners”. 

Initiated by Charline Fournier and a group of volunteers who are particularly active within the social center, this mini-food truck allows young people – most often minors and in great academic, social or economic difficulty – to have their first professional experience around street food. But beware! Here, no pizzas, hamburgers or kebabs, but traditional Moroccan bread with toppings. Although these “batbots” require few ingredients (flour, semolina, yeast, salt, olive oil and water), they do require quite a bit of skill. Fatima, a great batbot specialist and initiator of young people in this field, is today demonstrating it in front of the participants. She vigorously kneads the dough before making balls and lining them up on a hotplate. While the balls are resting, she joins the group for the continuation of Charline’s presentation of the project. 

Le Bistrot: precursor of the Bistrot mobile

It all started a few years ago with the creation of the Estey Bistrot. Located in the heart of the social center, it has a professional kitchen and a stylishly decorated dining room. In this light-filled place, the inhabitants of the neighbourhood can come and have lunch three times a week. The full menu (starter, main course, dessert) is €6.50. The price of a canteen, except that here, the contents of the plate have nothing to do with a canteen! The service is done by the plate, we take our time, the flavours of the world are never far away and we don’t hesitate to vary the pleasures by inviting from time to time a chef, an inhabitant, an association to take the reins in the kitchen. 

This week, it is Chef Nicolas Cajal who is at the helm alongside the volunteers and employees. Participants will soon taste his cuisine: a fresh starter made with carrot and soy passion sauce, a dish of the day that subtly mixes salmon steak, green lentils and red wine sauce and, finally, delicious fruit profiteroles. “I like to cook healthy and tasty dishes with seasonal products and short circuits” explains Nicolas, who is also convinced, like the Estey team, that cooking creates bonds and facilitates social and professional integration. Integration is the other facet of the Estey Bistrot. Ghizlane and Marina, in the service and in the kitchen, are proof of this, as they are part of the “Employment-Skills Path” scheme, the aim of which is the sustainable inclusion in employment of people furthest from the labour market. 

Another face of youth

Although the Bistrot meets the objectives of sustainable integration and training pathways for adults, the Estey Bistrot needed more work targeted at the integration and mobilisation of young people, and more specifically 15-19 year olds who have dropped out of school or who have dropped out altogether. It was for them that Charline Fournier came up with the idea of the Bistrot mobile, an original and “agile” version of the year-round Bistrot. From the making of the breads to consumer relations, young people identified by the partner structures (ITEP, APSB, the city’s employment service or local mission) are invited for a week to discover all the stages in the life of this unique street kitchen. To accompany them, professionals and volunteers take turns. “With our partners and a group of 4 to 5 volunteers, we worked for 18 months to set up the Bistrot Mobile,” says Charline. “In the summer of 2018, we organized our first action by going from neighborhood to neighborhood to offer our breads”. In all, ten young people between 15 and 18 years old were able to train and work for a week each with real working conditions: “The young people were paid. They were given a contract and working hours. This committed them and was a real step for their future professional life” explains Charline, who is particularly proud to have been able to mobilise financial partners around the scheme. 

Buns to make young people grow up

However, she does not minimize the difficulties: “With sometimes 120 filled breads to prepare and serve in one evening, the workload was sometimes heavy and working five days in a row was difficult for some young people”. However, the benefits seem obvious, as Benoît, a householder at ITEP in Bègles, an establishment for handicapped children and teenagers that is a partner in the project, testifies. He participated and followed all the stages of the Bistrot Mobile and for him, “the mix of people, the change of place, of context, the fact of working with volunteers, outside the walls, all this has been extremely beneficial for our young people”. Marie, deputy director of ITEP, is also convinced by the project: “young people are moving from being passive youths to being citizens, actors and active”. As for Michel, a specialist educator, he welcomes the fact that “if the Bistrot Mobile is a place of reconciliation of young people with adults, it also allows the reconciliation of the young person with himself/herself. He/She can prove that he/she is capable of doing something positive”. 

“Doing something positive” seems to be the leitmotiv even for the volunteers who work on the project from the beginning. “It shows another face of youth,” explains Josiane. Esther is also enthusiastic: “Working with young people, I really enjoyed it, I don’t have another word for it. By listening to them, you learn a lot of things too: about computers, high tech, football, life and the street! It’s a human discovery that’s different every time! ». Fatima concludes with a smile: “The best moments? Those spent with these young people of course! ” 

Go and see what’s happening elsewhere in Europe

While Fatima bakes her breads on a hot plate, a bit like pancakes, the exchanges around the project continue in two groups. This is an opportunity for Le LABA’s European partners to ask technical, financial or organisational questions but also to react: “It’s a really interesting case study. Social centers elsewhere in Europe have the same problems, especially with young people in difficulty. This street food scheme is very inspiring” says Patricia Golden, project manager and volunteer for Momentum Marketing Services Ltd in Ireland. “The Bistrot Mobile ensures that each young person becomes an actor in the project and in some way an actor in his or her own life. It’s a really interesting accompaniment” says Eva-Maria Stroh, a social worker at Kiezkuechen Gmbh in Berlin. Charline can’t believe the interest that the Bistrot Mobile triggers: “It’s great! Listening to their reactions, I realise that what we are doing, without being extraordinary, is still very singular! It adds value to what we do… and also makes you want to go and see what’s happening elsewhere in Europe! “. 

Practical information

Bistrot et Bistrot mobile de l’Estey

20 rue Pierre et Marie Curie
33130 Bègles

Tel +33 (0)5 57 35 13 00

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France