- Chefs, traditional cooks and culinary schools join the “Dale Chamba” campaign to promote the use of at-risk ingredients that are essential to the country’s cuisine.
- Mexico is the place of origin for more than 100 species of edible plants that are now part of much of the world’s daily diet.
- The country imports 6 out of every 10 green peppers (Capsicum annuum L.).
MEXICO CITY– The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Mexico launched a campaign today to promote the conservation of fundamental ingredients of Mexican cuisine that are at risk. This includes varieties of chili peppers, beans, squashes and tomatoes that could disappear, due to changes in consumption habits, difficulties in their cultivation, climate change and the invasion of foreign products, among other reasons.
The Dale Chamba (Give it Work) campaign, which will take life through digital channels, is supported by traditional cooks, renowned chefs and culinary schools in Mexico, which will be promoting the use of at-risk or forgotten ingredients that are a substantial part of emblematic dishes of the country, such as the chile en nogada and mole for three months. The chile en nogada, which offers a lively combination of flavors, is usually made with imported ingredients instead of the ones that originally gave it life, such as the San Juan pear, the panochera apple and a native peach. These crops only bear fruit during the rainy season in Mexico’s central highlands and are consumed little outside of this region because they do not share the visual characteristics as other crops that are popular in supermarkets.
Throughout history, humans have fed on around 7,000 species of plants and many other animals. However, 90% of our current daily diet is based on 15 vegetable and 8 animal species. “This not only implies a loss for farms and cuisine, but also for our culture because it is known that biodiversity, food, art, and clothing are closely linked. There are 364 linguistic groups in Mexico, which leads us to understand there are at least 364 culinary combinations. Let’s work to conserve them all,” stated added Jorge Rickards, General Director of WWF-Mexico.
The decline in national production affects ingredients whose place of origin and domestication is in Mexico, such as green chili peppers (Capsicum annuum L.) whose varieties have been an essential part of the milpa cultivation system, which is the basis of Mexican cuisine. These peppers, whether dried or fresh, have given life to a multitude of dishes such as sauces, moles and stuffed peppers. However, only 4 out of 10 types of green peppers consumed by Mexicans are produced in the country– the remaining 60% comes from China, added Rickards.
Similarly, Mexican family kitchens are seeing a loss in the variety of native beans. Of the 150 types of beans in the world, Mexico is home to 50 of them, but only less than a dozen of those are cooked in homes around the country.
“This campaign seeks to raise awareness among Mexicans about the value of biodiversity in our cuisine, and urges citizens to go to the markets and rediscover varieties of crops they have previously dismissed but have fortunately been preserved thanks to local producers and traditional cooks who continue to use them. We generally do not make a connection between the mass extinctions of terrestrial and marine fauna that we are witnessing and the loss of ingredients, dishes, flavors, and the historical traditions of our daily diets. It is a call to open our eyes and palates to the fundamental ingredients of Mexican cuisine that we have stopped using or are at risk of losing,” explained Ana Laura de la Torre, the campaign’s spokesperson, while inviting the public to visit the campaign website.
De la Torre explained that the traditional cooks from Oaxaca, Celia Florian (Oaxaca de Juárez), Mayra Mariscal (Cuicatlán) and Reyna Mendoza (Teotitlán del Valle), chefs Ricardo Muñoz Zurita and Yuri de Gortari, the YouTuber Sonia Ortiz, and five culinary schools will share recipes on social media, from August to October, in which they use endangered species and will invite culinary students and the general public to use an ingredient that is currently endangered and share their own recipes under the #DaleChamba hashtag.
“Dale Chamba” is a call to reinvigorate these ingredients’ consumption and production in order to continue enjoying the country’s rich agrobiodiversity, which varies from season to season and from region to region.
The following culinary schools will participate in the campaign: Centro de Estudios Superiores de San Ángel, Colegio Superior de Gastronomía, Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, Universidad Panamericana y Universidad del Valle de México.
“Mexico has an immense amount of biodiversity that we are unfortunately losing. This has multiple causes but, perhaps, the most significant reason is the lack of awareness, because we ignore the ingredients that are produced in our country,” said Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. “We look at products in Oaxacan or Yucatecan local markets and think they have been brought from other places and, since we do not know what they are, we do not cook with them. That is very serious. We must rediscover and reclaim our entire cuisine, our historical cuisine that is based on corn.”
For Chef Yuri de Gortari, Mexican food has “ritualistic and festive qualities, strong historical ties and a powerful union with the diverse expressions Mexico’s cultural and artistic heritage. There you can find its richness and the reason why traditional Mexican food is an essential element of identity, that is unique in the world. Of course, it is enriched by the great diversity of ingredients and products that Mexican land offers, whether it be by region, by season, or by the infinite techniques and ancestral ways of preparing them. Our cuisine is a mosaic, a melting pot of cultural traditions, that we must value and preserve.”
“To conserve Mexico’s different species, we must get to know them, buy them and learn how to cook with them,” highlighted the influential cook Sonia Ortiz. “If we use them, they will continue to be cultivated, thus protecting them. We are very disconnected from our food sources and we must reconnect to them. You must learn to plant seeds and know what it takes to grow these ingredients in order to truly value them. That is achieved by raising them as if they were a child: understanding that they have pests like a child gets fevers and the flu, and understand that when we have a garden, animals will eat a third of it. Not everything is for us.”
WWF is one of the largest and most respected independent conservation organizations in the world, with more than 5 million supporters and an active global network in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the natural environment of the earth and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable and promoting the pollution reduction and useless consumption.
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