Natural Foods vs GMOs & Health at Ubud Food Festival

Food source and its impacts are as important as using consumer power to influence food ethics. Such views make up the political hot potatoes at Ubud Food Festival 2017, reports Kayti Denham for Gaia Discovery.

Bali, 15 June 2017. This year’s Ubud Food Festival, delicious as always, entertaining as ever, had an underlying current to it that was as pervading as that secret ingredient that chefs never share. In surprising and unsurprising ways, things were getting political.

Diana Von Cranach is a well-known face on the Bali food circuit, with her beautiful Northern Bali retreat Puri Ganesha Villas, her pioneering of raw food rijsttafels and her vision and provision of rawfoods and indigenous spices. Known as one of the island’s colourful and kind eccentrics, she brings a flash of beauty and laughter to any gathering and smiles abound. As it was with the panel The Language of Spices, accompanied by three other presenters, Helianti Hilman, Manjunath Mural and Arif Springs their discussion on the history of the Spice Trade was fascinating, what made it more so was Diana’s dire warning at the end.

The act of eating is very political. You buy from the right people, you support the right network of farmers and suppliers who care about the land and what they put in the food.
— Alice Waters - food crusader and activist

In a clear voice, she implored the audience to support the diversity of natural foods by signing up to Sum of Us – a popular public advocacy network to protest the Monsanto’s acquisition by the giant corporation Bayer. Monsanto has already wreaked havoc with its product Round Up and this latest merger could see the unregulated use of pesticides in the mega production of genetically engineered crops. Diana warned that if we do not act now, the ability to access natural foods, food produced without some form of interference will be greatly diminished. In a world where many struggle to survive the idea of ever available, viable crops may seem like a dream come true, the reality is that it has a far, far darker side.

Handcrafted cheeses with local flavours such as durian at the Ubud Food Festival 2017

Handcrafted cheeses with local flavours such as durian at the Ubud Food Festival 2017

That side was presented by Tri Sutrisna, an emerging star of last year’s festival, in Artisanal vs Artificial an interactive tasting workshop that highlighted the work of his Balinese farming cooperative Wanaprasta. This cooperative now represents hundreds of Balinese farmers and produces fine charcuterie and cheese products using traditional and creative applications of process ( including his amazing durian cured cheeses!! ) and pitted these productsagainst the ‘commonly found’ supermarket products.

Tri Sutrisna shares the spirit of farming and healthy food movement in the cooperative Wanaprasta of Bali.

Tri Sutrisna shares the spirit of farming and healthy food movement in the cooperative Wanaprasta of Bali.

The workshop began with a presentation on the production methods that began benignly enough, yes, we understand that a chicken that lives in the open air is going to have a better life than one in a coop, but what was revealed is not just that your average chicken for consumption is cooped up, it is also dosed to its blind eyeballs on drugs, pumped with chemicals and contained in a way that is cruelty in the extreme.

The list of ingredients that go into chickens, pigs and cows developed for meat is scary. Never mind the antibiotics, think for a moment about the chlorine baths and the bleaches to make that meat smooth and e.coli free and then imagine this, supermarket seafood is being fattened by the use of a suspected neurotoxin Sodium tripolyphosphate. It got a little mind boggling so it was something of a relief when Tri turned to the practical aspect of his presentation and invited us to try for ourselves the obvious benefits of eating well-cared-for life stock and naturally processed cheeses.

It was not strange that by this time no one was helping themselves to the alternatives of frankfurters, bacon and chicken nuggets that Tri had brought along to offer in contrast.

Politics of another nature was also in the air when Dylan Jones of Bo.Lan spoke to Gaia Discovery of the much-protested recent decision of the Thai Government to clean up the street food stalls of Bangkok’s inner city. Dylan had caused a little controversy in his adopted home city when his comments in the press were interpreted to be going against the fandom that surrounds the ubiquitous trade in street cuisine. Rather than being against it, he implied, that with regulation street food could be better, healthier and yes, while street food is a huge part of Thai daily life, shouldn’t it at least have the opportunity to be a healthier part, a cleaner part and more nutritious part?

Dylan explained that many of the ‘street food vendors’ are no longer actually making their food, rather they are buying it bulk, prepared from larger ‘wholesalers’ , cutting corners on costs to keep prices down and taking the quality down with them. This was cause for reflection what if by protesting the regulation of street food entire cities are being surreptitiously fed horrendous amounts of unregulated drugs and chemicals by a power crazed despotic leader - and that kickstarted a bleak dystopia where citizens become zombies without a voice, mute and unprotesting leading meagre lives of unclear meaning in urbanised industrial estates providing only the means for others to gain power, wealth and global dominance.

A nightmare of gargantuan proportions loomed, so to better the view a visit to the cocktail class was in order. And there under the stage lights was the most charming, non-verbal political protest of all. The young men of Locavore’s Night Rooster were wearing especially made t-shirts that noted their support of the recently jailed Governor of Jakarta.

Solidarity is in the kitchen… thank you Ubud Food Festival!

About the Ubud Food Festival

Founded in 2015, the Ubud Food Festival is a three-day culinary adventure that celebrates the archipelago’s rich culinary heritage and the entire spectrum of its food industry, from farmers and producers to world-class chefs and restaurants.

Ubud Food Festival is a major annual project of the Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati, with a vision of enriching the lives of Indonesians through community-building and cultural programmes.

Photos by Kayti Denham.

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