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