Slow Food is Good Food

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It takes time to change mindsets – especially when it comes to switching from convenient, fast food to healthier options – but the benefits are obvious.

In 1986 a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s near Rome’s Spanish Steps took place. Carlo Petrini led the campaign against the founding of the franchise at the Piazza di Spagna. That movement gave birth to the Slow Food organisation.

Its aim was to initially defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life under the tagline “good, clean and fair”. Now internationally renowned, it has embraced a more comprehensive approach to food that “recognises the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture”. 1

In Penang the Slow Food movement is primarily driven by cooking instructor Nazlina Hussin. “I was invited by Datuk Dr Anwar Fazal from Right Livelihood College, who is also the founder of Pesticide Action Network International, to the Gandhi Ashram in 2012 where I was introduced to Carlotta Baittoni and Elena Aniere from the Slow Food headquarters in Italy. They were visiting to give a talk about Slow Food.”

(From left) Chee Hoy Yee and Pop.

Motivated by its philosophies, Nazlina established Slow Food Penang in October 2012. “In the beginning, we organised monthly events with families and friends to cook and dine together as a way of appreciating local food. We came up with a theme for each month – for example, coconut this month and pineapple the next. Later, we organised Terre Madre day, which is officially slated to be on December 10 annually, whereby local ingredients and food are celebrated.”

The Slow Food philosophy, explains Nazlina, is in sync with the green movement. “For example, reducing food miles means less fuel is needed, removing the middleman. Reducing food waste equally saves money in the long run. Recycling food scrapes into compost means less waste is dumped at our landfills, and this simultaneously encourages a ‘no waste’ mentality in our youngsters while at the same time refutes the instant gratification expectation that is fast becoming synonymous with our current lifestyles.”

But the movement has been slow in growing. “So far we have about 20 members. It is hard to organise an event when most members are busy with their own Slow Food-related businesses. The older generation can relate more to the Slow Food philosophy because they grew up with the kinds of food and in environments that the movement advocates, while the younger generation may find the concept alien.”

Nazlina adds, “It is not for the lack of interest; it is simply that the Slow Food way of life does not accommodate most people who are always in a hurry. It is also the fast food hawker culture that is part and parcel of Penang lifestyle – most locals prefer to dine out rather than cook at home. That said, there are several groups of people who follow the Slow Food philosophy in Penang – people who are aware of the benefits of eating local produce, going back to the basics of preparing and eating food the way our ancestors did.”

Nazlina conducts traditional cooking classes at Nazlina Spice Station, 2, Lebuh Campbell.

The farm has over 30 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Pop & Chee Healthy Home Farming

Chee Hoy Yee and her boyfriend, Pop, manage an ecologically sustainable home farm, Pop & Chee Healthy Home Farming at their residence in Simpang Ampat. “The idea for the farm was driven by our desire for self-sustainability and healthy living,” says Chee, 29.

A self-professed health enthusiast, she explains, “When I opened my healthy bakery many years ago, I learned a lot about nutrition. Later, I grew interested in the well-being of our mind, body and soul while attending courses conducted by The Landmark Forum in Bangkok. I graduated as a therapeutic coach – what this essentially does is help people improve their health through their minds. Then one day it suddenly dawned on me that living a simple lifestyle may also be another way of doing just that. That was when Pop and I decided to create our home farm last year.”

Though compact, the farm boasts over 30 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs planted either in pots or raised garden beds. “We basically plant whatever we want to eat here, and the rest we sell at the Auto-City Farmer’s Market. When we first started, I was a greenhorn but Pop was already an experienced farmer back in Thailand. Learning to farm is not hard to do. A word of advice though: stay away from Google – it only makes farming for beginners unnecessarily complicated,” she laughs. “All you need is a keen sense of observation, awareness, passion and love. You must study the environment around you and be in tune with nature.”

(From left) Kim and Eric Chong.

Only non-GMO seeds are used in their farm, says Chee. “Unfortunately, the organic farms in Malaysia do not differentiate between the types of seeds used. Our goal is to try and plant only heirloom seeds (seeds that have been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait), but these are difficult to find. Our teacher, Jon Jandai of Punpun, an organic farm in Chiang Mai, has made it his life’s mission to search for these seeds. He distributes them to interested farmers and growers.”

Besides managing their farm, the couple also hosts workshops like the Grow Your Own Food workshop, which encourages the public to learn to grow their own food in their residences. “It’s perfectly doable even if you’re living in tight spaces. All you need is a pot, some seeds and soil.” The Bokashi Compost workshop, commonly referred to as the Waste to Wealth workshop, educates people on the importance of turning food waste into organic compost fertiliser: “Home-made fertilisers provide the soil with much-needed nutrients, which also enables earthworms to multiply by the dozen. But don’t be alarmed, earthworms are excellent soil conditioners.

“We will also be introducing a volunteer programme at our second farm along Gelugor soon for those interested to learn more about home farming. They will be exposed to hands-on training on how to properly manage a home farm and how best to care for different plant varieties among others.”

Pop & Chee Healthy Home Farming welcomes visitors to their Simpang Ampat farm at 25, Lorong Tambun Indah 19, as well as their Gelugor farm at 19 Persiaran Minden. For more details, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ popnchee or call +6014 247 0018.

Earthworms are indicators of healthy soil.

Green Acres

When Eric Chong and his wife Kim purchased Green Acres, a 16-acre orchard in Balik Pulau, in 2009, it was with the hope of giving their son Adric a safer, healthier and more experiential learning environment on a working farm.

“What amazed us was that the land had been chemical-free for a generation now,” says Chong. “The owners before us actually owned about 100 acres of land, but they couldn’t make ends meet. So they sold off 16-acre lots until all that remained was this piece of land. The father was very much against them using chemicals to treat the land because they were still living on it at the time. When we bought it over, we resolved to continue the practice.”

The discovery marked the couple’s foray into sustainable organic farming. “Interestingly, that was also when both Kim and I started learning how to tell apart the taste of chemical-free vegetables and those that are laced with them.

“I’ll give you an example: vegetables purchased from the supermarket have a slight bitter aftertaste, whereas organically grown ones have none – that’s the most obvious difference. Fruits, on the other hand, are more difficult to tell apart, but the bitter aftertaste theory still applies. It got us thinking that maybe this bitterness is caused by the prolonged use of chemicals. A lot of sponsored researches paid for by chemical companies insist that the fruits do not absorb the chemicals applied to the plants, but how do you explain the bitter aftertaste? Of course, there are other factors to be considered – lack of nutrients, for one. But this is one of the more noticeable indicators we’ve found.”

Chong giving a tour around Green Acres.

To prove his theory, Eric is working closely with the Penang Science Cluster. “So far, all the evidences have been anecdotal, but I would very much like to understand the science behind this. It would be another leap towards chemical-free sustainable farming, and perhaps then consumers would reconsider the importance of consuming organically grown produce. At present, organic shop customers are mainly those who have high spending power or those who are cancer-stricken. An otherwise normal, healthy person would opt for cheaper, pesticide-riddled alternatives.”

As active members of the Slow Food movement, the couple also want to draw attention to how the use of chemical fertilisers is affecting other living organisms. “As the plants can only absorb so much chemical fertiliser at any one time, whatever they can’t absorb will be leeched into the ground and into our waters. This inevitably causes an algae boom, which in turn suffocates and bleaches our corals. It is important that we do not contribute further to the breakdown of our environment.”

For more details, visit their website at http://greenacrespenang.com or email them at greenacrespenang@gmail.com.

Yin’s WholeFood Manufactory

A three-in-one cafe, restaurant and organic shop (in partnership with Zenxin Organic), Yin’s WholeFood Manufactory is the latest healthy-eating project by couple Ong Seng Keat and Chan Su Yin. They previously opened Yin’s Sourdough Bakery and Yin’s Sourdough Pizza in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

A happy family! Mathijs Nanne (second from left), Ong Seng Keat, Chan Su Yin and Teoh Cheng Jie from Zenxin Organic.

“The concept was partly inspired by what we saw at the whole foods market where we lived in Oregon, the US, sometime back,” says Ong. “We were impressed by how they did it. There was an organic grocer and a cafe, and while you take your coffee, you can see them making sausages, cutting hunks of meat, and once in a while you can actually see them running to get supplies from the grocer.

“It was always there at the back of our minds that we’d like to do something similar, and at that point in time, we got to know Mathijs Nanne, the executive chef at Suffolk House. He regularly patronises our bakery and is also the kind of person who likes to make things from scratch. We got to talking and realised that we shared the same vision on how cafes and restaurants should prepare their meals, and not to just rely on their suppliers.”

Ong explains that the idea for Yin’s WholeFood Manufactory is to revolutionise how food is made and served – from the farms of Zenxin Organic, made according to Nanne’s carefully curated recipes, to the customer’s table. Ong is optimistic that the farm-to-table concept is taking off in Penang. “I think it all depends on the individual – how health conscious they are and how they feel about the kinds of food they’re putting into their bodies.

“Our goal is to make whole foods affordable and still make them the right way, but that is another challenge. I believe eating healthy shouldn’t come with a premium price, and that it should be made accessible to all spectrums of people.”

Yin’s WholeFood Manufactory is located at Promenade Persiaran Mahsuri and opens Monday to Saturday, 8am-11.30pm.

1 www.slowfood.com.



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