The hotspots of food biodiversity often coincide with regions inhabited by indigenous peoples. Old animal breeds, plant cultivars or traditional processed specialties like cheeses, breads or cured meats survive in these areas because they form an integral part of indigenous peoples’ identities. Traditionally, food used to be strongly linked to religion, ecology, history, geography and customs; Of course, food is a significant cultural marker in general. However, in some cultures, the necessity of asserting distinction by setting symbolic boundaries might be stronger due to the feeling of being endangered.
Moving to Stockholm from the Piedmontese town of Bra in Italy, where I worked for Slow Food International, I hoped not only to learn more about local food cultures, but also to identify some of the remaining treasures of the food biodiversity in Sweden and add them to the Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods.
In Sweden, people abandoned many of their food habits due to a changing lifestyle and because of other socio-economic changes. A great number of heirloom foods, and with them local customs, crafts and heritage, are disappearing. It is true that the New Nordic Cuisine brought some pride back to the people of Sweden. Still, the innovative chefs are always on the lookout for products with identity and history. This is why the region of Sápmi (Samiland, i.e. the part of Europe inhabited by the Sámi), which remains one of the most interesting areas in terms of food biodiversity in Sweden, drew my attention.
Needless to say, Sápmi is not a region untouched by globalization, where the local stubbornly resists the global. It is much more about cultural resilience, where traditional food still finds its way to family and community celebrations. At the same time, traditional products, through new culinary interpretations and creative adaptation to current food trends, attract more interest – one has to think of reindeer suovas on pizza or pasta.