Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lviv is in the air

By Michael

Lviv love must be in the air!
The Kyiv Post, an English language Ukrainian newspaper, did an article about the !Fest Emotional Holding company that I mentioned in an earlier post. Don't you just love when you learn about something new, and it seems that everyone else is learning about it at the same time? I feel like people share a common or collective consciousness wherein, when one person learns something new, the information is telepathically transmitted  to others. It could also be coincidence, but that is much less interesting. I prefer to look for wonder and fascination in the world.
From the Kyiv Post article I learned that the !Fest company has a local pig farm which they use to create their own brand of local, organic meat. Perhaps they would be interested in teaming up with a group of local homesteaders who grow rare heirloom fruits and vegetables using permaculture methods (wink, wink). An interesting concept restaurant would be one that prepared food using Ukrainian heirlooms and landraces. A landrace is similar to a wild species. It is an agricultural food that has been developed naturally rather than being modified by human selection. Ukraine has a number of ancient varieties of wheat, for example, which are considered landraces. I think it would be wonderful to have a loaf of sourdough bread at a restaurant made with ancient Ukrainian grains.
Yulia and I believe permaculture and small organic farms are the future of food production. We are discouraged to see Ukraine following America in its shift to large scale industrial farming. Yulia and I see the industrial agricultural system already cracking in the US, and we do not want the same fate for Ukraine. Weeds and insects are developing resistance to herbicides and pesticides. Top soil is vanishing. There is a dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. People are getting sick from eating the seeming diversity of food created by a very small number of ingredients. Wheat, soy and corn are used to create a dizzying variety of processed foods--from soda, to ketchup, to cookies.
We are also bemused by Ukrainian villagers who grow most of their own food. They grow very little variety and are reliant on a foundation of meat and potatoes for their diet.
Many people think this is a traditional Ukrainian diet, but that is nonsense. First of all, potatoes come from the Andes mountains of South America. The Incas (who, of course, lived there) did eat a diet composed largely of potatoes, but they ate a large number of potato varieties. Many of these varieties were local landraces. They came is all sorts of colors and sizes. They did not simply eat the oversized white potatoes that everyone plants around here. When French and Russian royalty attempted to introduce potatoes to their respective countries, people were skeptical about eating the potato. The royalty had to make their case, and, eventually, convinced their subjects to eat them. In fact, people were so well convinced to eat potatoes, that certain cultures have become reliant on them. This has the potential to be disastrous. Just look at the Irish potato famine.
Many people also think pork is a traditional Ukrainian food. This is true to an extent. The tradition does not go too far back in history though. Pork became popular when Ukraine was a conquered territory of the Ottoman Turks and other Muslim peoples. When conquering an area inhabited by Ukrainians, they would often take all the food from the locals except for their swine. Muslims, after all, do not eat pork. The Ukrainians were thus left to resort to a diet of pork to survive. So it is a tradition, but a tradition of a conquered people.
Yulia and I prefer to look to the traditions that reflect a healthy and prosperous Ukrainian people. While we are discouraged by the white potato based diet, we are encouraged by the many wild foods we see people gathering and selling at the bazaar. In the summer, it is common to see суниця (wild strawberries) being sold. Just last week I saw someone with mugwort and other herbs. Ukrainians have also not lost their tradition of harvesting wild mushrooms. This is absolutely wonderful. Traditionally, Ukrainians ate these foods. They pressed their own oils. Flax and hemp, for example, were not only eaten, but used to make fabrics.
Traditional foods are traditional because they are suited to local conditions. Landraces can grow wild without human intervention. This means they are the most resilient foods for farmers to grow. It only makes sense that this is the future of food in Ukraine. We think the shift to these methods needs to start now before chemical resistant weeds and insects develop and before fossil fuel scarcity really becomes an issue.
That is what Yulia and I are focused on changing. We hope to be part of a cultural shift. Like I've said before, we feel a certain kinship with the !Fest people. They are doing great things and are creating positive changes in Lviv and Ukraine. While they focus on business, Yulia and I are focused on our domestic lifestyle. We want to use art, creativity, food, and tradition to change the way we live at home and encourage others to take part in what we think is a good thing.

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