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Book Review: Heirloom Recipes of the Cordillera

There are at least two reasons this book is important:

1.     It’s about time, and,
2.     It’s about time.

First, it’s about time such a book is published: a collection of recipes gathered from the hearths of the Cordillera region. For what does the act of publishing do? Beyond documentation, the act of publishing is to declare that a thing exists and to announce it to the world: “This is our food, our knowledge, our heritage.” It is to make a thing available to readers. We need more books like this. A question we are regularly asked in Mt. Cloud Bookshop is, “Do you have new books on the Cordillera?” Sadly, more often than not the answer is no. Not yet. In the past eight years of our existence, we can count on my fingers and toes the number of new titles on the region. This is just a drop in the bucket, compared to the volume of books being published in Manila today. This may seem surprising, but people want more books and they want more books from the regions. I hope this motivates homegrown writers, illustrators, and publishers to announce their existence to the world. But I say this for reasons other than my being a bookseller. I say this because to publish is also to stake out territory in the world of books, the space of shelves, and the minds of readers. To publish is to create another “ancestral domain.” “Heirloom Recipes” is about the Cordillera region, written and researched by Cordillerans, and published by Cordillerans. The informants, their recipes, and the places they come from represent the diversity of peoples and cultures across the region. The manner in which the recipes were gathered involved people coming together around a fire to cook and to share bounty, as we do in the Cordillera. We need more books produced in this way. I dare say this book belongs in a trajectory of reverse appropriation in which we in the Cordillera seize the means of production – or rather, publication, and make the process and outcomes our own. It’s about time.

Second, this book is about time: past, present, and future. It reminds us of times we don’t think about much. It asks us to pay attention to the time it takes to prepare food, and beyond that, the time it takes to grow, hunt, gather, and distribute food. And beyond that, the time it takes to to select the best seeds, breed delicious new plant varieties, and pass these down from generation to generation. And beyond that, the time it took to discover, learn, and share what can be eaten. Slow food is mentioned repeatedly in the book. What is Slow Food? It’s food that tastes good, is clean for the environment, and fair for everyone involved in the supply chain. Slow food is a way of life that is threatened by our hunger for speed and convenience, new aspirations, and transnational economic pressures. We’re in danger of forgetting how food – healthy food – really is slow and seasonal. We are living with the danger of loss in the present. Across the world we have already lost more than 90% of food diversity. Along with the disappearance of certain edible flora and fauna, ways of life are eroding. Without the various elements of our food, be it takong gathered on mountain slopes, kachiw from the river, tinawon in the paddies, or a community to prepare a feast, would we still be able to teach our children who they are? I will leave that unanswered for all of us to ponder.

In the future, the danger is even greater. Five years ago, I began asking scientists, development workers, and climate change warriors about the future. They all say that life will be harsh for our children, and even more so for our children’s children. There is a chance that life will get better after a generation or two, but only if we manage to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees celsius. We haven’t properly faced up to this reality. Who will do well in this painful future, I ask them? And the answer is almost always the same: those who can grow and produce their own food, those who are able to protect and maintain their food sovereignty.

According to the Nyeleni Declaration of 2007, “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers.”

Heirloom Recipes of the Cordillera contains the history and promise of food sovereignty in its pages. It may not be an antidote to the coming climate changed future. After all, there is no one solution. The future requires mass action and great demands. Heirloom Recipes of the Cordillera is merely a book, yes, but it is a torch we can hold up high on the dark mountain trail saying, “This way. This way.” And for this, I offer my heartfelt thanks to its makers. Sala-salamat. And congratulations!

-- FIN --

Heirloom Recipes of the Cordillera was published by the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples' Rights (TFIP) and Partners for Indigenous Knowledge Philippines (PIKP). Editor: Judy Cariño-Fangloy. Project team: Marciana Balusdan, Jill Cariño, Judy Cariño-Fangloy, Anna Karla Himmiwat, Maria Elena Regpala, Sixto Talastas, and Ana Kinja Tauli.


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