Last year, I was living with this indigenous family in India.
the young son was eating,
and at the sight of me, he quickly hid his curry behind his back.
It took a lot of persuasion to get him to show me what he was eating.
It turned out to be moth larvae,
a traditional delicacy with the Madia indigenous people.
"Oh my God, you're eating these!
I hope there's a little left for me!"
I saw disbelief in the boy's eyes.
"You ... eat these?"
"I love these," I replied.
I could see he did not trust me one bit.
How could an urban, educated woman like the same food as him?
Later, I broached the subject with his father,
and it turned out to be a mighty touchy affair.
He said things like,
"Oh, only this son of mine likes to eat it.
We tell him, 'Give it up. It's bad.'
He doesn't listen, you see.
We gave up eating all this ages back."
"Why?" I asked.
"This is your traditional food.
It is available in your environment,
and -- I can vouch for it -- delicious.
Why is it wrong to eat it?"
The man fell silent.
"Have you been told that your food is bad,
that to eat it is backward,
He nodded silently.
This was one of the many, many times in my work with indigenous people in India
that I witnessed shame around food,
shame that the food you love to eat,
the food that has been eaten for generations,
is somehow inferior,
And this shame is not limited to out-of-the-way, icky foods
like insects or rats, maybe,
but extends to regular foods:
mushrooms, flowers --
basically, anything that is foraged rather than cultivated.
In indigenous India, this shame is omnipresent.
Anything can trigger it.
One upper-caste vegetarian schoolmaster gets appointed in a school,
within weeks, children are telling their parents it's yucky to eat crabs
or sinful to eat meat.
A government nutrition program serves fluffy white rice,
now no one wants to eat red rice or millets.
A nonprofit reaches this village with an ideal diet chart for pregnant women.
All the expectant mothers are feeling sad
that they cannot afford apples and crepes.
And people just kind of forget the fruits
that can be picked off the forest floor.
random government employees
and even their own educated children
are literally shouting it down at the indigenous people
that their food is not good enough,
not civilized enough.
And so food keeps disappearing,
a little bit at a time.
I'm wondering if you all have ever considered
whether your communities would have a similar history around food.
If you were to talk to your 90-year-old grandmother,
如果你去和 90 岁的祖母聊天，
would she talk about foods that you have never seen or heard of?
Are you aware how much of your community's food
is no longer available to you?
Local experts tell me
that the South African food economy is now entirely based on imported foods.
Corn has become the staple,
while the local sorghum, millets, bulbs and tubers are all gone.
So are the wild legumes and vegetables,
while people eat potatoes and onions, cabbages and carrots.
this loss of food is colossal.
Modern India is stuck with rice, wheat
And we have totally forgotten foods like huge varieties of tubers,
tree saps, fish, shellfish,
mollusks, mushrooms, insects,
small, nonendangered animal meats,
all of which used to be available right within our surroundings.
So where has this food gone?
Why are our modern food baskets so narrow?
We could talk about the complex political economic and ecological reasons,
but I am here to talk about this more human phenomenon of shame,
because shame is the crucial point
at which food actually disappears off your plate.
What does shame do?
Shame makes you feel small,
Shame creates a cognitive dissonance.
It distorts food stories.
Let us take this example.
How would you like to have
a wonderful, versatile staple
that is available abundantly in your environment?
All you have to do is gather it,
and you have it for your whole year
to cook as many different kinds of dishes as you want with it.
India had just such a food, called "mahua,"
印度就有这样一种食物， 叫做 “马胡卡”（mahua），
this flower over there.
And I have been researching this food for the past three years now.
It is known to be highly nutritious in indigenous tradition
and in scientific knowledge.
For the indigenous,
it used to be a staple for four to six months a year.
In many ways, it is very similar to your local marula,
except that it is a flower, not a fruit.
Where the forests are rich,
people can still get enough to eat for the whole year
and enough spare to sell.
I found 35 different dishes with mahua
我找到了 35 道用马胡卡做的菜，
that no one cooks anymore.
This food is no longer even recognized as a food,
but as raw material for liquor.
You could be arrested for having it in your house.
I talked to indigenous people all over India
about why mahua is no longer eaten.
And I got the exact same answer.
"Oh, we used to eat it when we were dirt-poor and starving.
“ 哦，以前我们穷得 喝西北风的时候吃过。
Why should we eat it now?
We have rice or wheat."
And almost in the same breath,
people also tell me how nutritious mahua is.
There are always stories of elders who used to eat mahua.
"This grandmother of ours, she had 10 children,
“我们这个奶奶， 她生了 10 个孩子，
and still she used to work so hard, never tired, never sick."
The exact same dual narrative every single where.
How does the same food
get to be seen as very nutritious and a poverty food,
almost in the same sentence?
Same goes for other forest foods.
I have heard story after heartrending story
of famine and starvation,
of people surviving on trash foraged out of the forest,
because there was no food.
If I dig a little deeper,
it turns out the lack was not of food per se
but of something respectable like rice.
"How did you learn that your so-called trash is edible?
Who told you that certain bitter tubers can be sweetened
by leaving them in a stream overnight?
Or how to take the meat out of a snail shell?
Or how to set a trap for a wild rat?"
That is when they start scratching their heads,
and they realize that they learned it from their own elders,
that their ancestors had lived and thrived on these foods for centuries
before rice came their way,
and were way healthier than their own generation.
So this is how food works,
making food and food traditions disappear from people's lives and memories
without their even realizing it.
So how do we undo this trend?
How do we reclaim our beautiful and complex systems of natural food,
food given to us lovingly by Mother Earth according to her own rhythm,
food prepared by our foremothers with joy
and are eaten by our forefathers with gratitude,
food that is healthy, local, natural,
not requiring cultivation,
not damaging our ecology,
not costing a thing?
We all need this food,
and I don't think I have to tell you why.
I don't have to tell you about the global health crisis,
climate change, water crisis,
collapsing agricultural systems,
But for me, equally important reasons why we need these foods
are the deeply felt ones,
because food is so many things, you see.
Food is nourishment, comfort,
pleasure, safety, identity
and so much more.
How we connect with our food
defines so much in our lives.
It defines how we connect with our bodies,
because our bodies are ultimately food.
It defines our basic sense of connection
with our existence.
We need these foods most today
to be able to redefine our space as humans
within the natural scheme of things.
And are we needing such a redefinition today?
For me, the only real answer is love,
because love is the only thing that counters shame.
And how do we bring more of this love into our connections with our food?
For me, love is, in a big way,
about the willingness to slow down,
to take the time to feel,
sense, listen, inquire.
It could be listening to our own bodies.
What do they need beneath our food habits, beliefs
It could be taking time out to examine those beliefs.
Where did they come from?
It could be going back into our childhood.
What foods did we love then,
and what has changed?
It could be spending a quiet evening with an elder,
listening to their food memories,
maybe even helping them cook something they love
and sharing a meal.
Love could be about remembering
that humanity is vast
and food choices differ.
It could be about showing respect and curiosity
instead of censure
when we see somebody enjoying a really unfamiliar food.
Love could be taking the time to inquire,
to dig up information,
reach out for connections.
It could even be a quiet walk in the fynbos
to see if a certain plant speaks up to you.
They speak to me all the time.
love is to trust that these little exploratory steps
have the potential to lead us to something larger,
sometimes to really surprising answers.
An indigenous medicine woman once told me
that love is to walk on Mother Earth
as her most beloved child,
to trust that she values an honest intention
and knows how to guide our steps.
I hope I have inspired you
to start reconnecting with the food of your ancestors.
Thank you for listening.