“Sustainable food does not have to come at a high cost. In fact, it can be lekker food if you are willing to buy and cook produce that is not only fresh and in season, but also local.”
These were the words of Errieda du Toit, a well-loved culinary commentator and food writer, during the official launch webinar of “Heal the Land, Heal the People” yesterday. It coincided with Sustainable Gastronomy Day, a UN observance held annually to raise awareness about the ever-growing importance of gastronomy for sustainable development.
Du Toit counted among the more than 30 speakers at the webinar presented by the Integra Trust, a special-purpose entity which advances climate-smart sustainable and regenerative agriculture. She described fast food as “the one-night stand of the food world”.
“Fast food is a commodity produced in a factory. You have no idea of what is actually inside of it, where the ingredients came from or under which circumstances it was produced or cultivated. It’s a fleeting experience you have with the food,” she said.
During the webinar, hundreds of people also e-signed a manifesto in which they raised concern about the sustainability and health of their households, businesses, farms and/or communities. In the manifesto they vowed to join a community of like-minded people to “learn and collaborate to regenerate the health of farms, food as well as communities for the sake of the current and future generations”.
“Ethically grown produce usually tastes so good that the simpler you cook them, the more the integrity and the natural flavours come to the fore. And I honestly have to say, if you ever have doubts about healthy food and taste, eat a scrounging chicken that was ethically reared and cooked as naturally as possible with nothing but a roast potato. Good heavens. Few things can be so delicious,” said Du Toit.
The “Heal the Land, Heal the People” movement believes, however, that to eat good food, you have to be good to the earth. Only when you are good to the earth, can you be good to people, explained Dr Pieter Prinsloo, an Integra director who farms in the upper reaches of the Black Kei River basin around the town of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.
Prinsloo’s Langside Meats is known for its certified grass-fed beef. His cattle herd is reared without the use of genetically modified feed, supplements or ingredients, and he follows the highest animal welfare standards using regenerative agriculture methods. Around the world, regenerative agriculture is based on a system of farming principles and practices that, among others, increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services.
What is sustainable gastronomy?
“Sustainable gastronomy means you take into account where the ingredients come from, how the food is grown, how it gets to our markets and eventually gets to our plates. It all connects,” said Cobus Roode, a North West-based soil scientist and plant nutritionist who is also an Integra director.
He stressed the benefits of healing the land arguing that should farmers correct their previous ecological and other mistakes in land use, this will ultimately be reflected in people’s relationship with food. Regenerative farming, therefore, not only holds benefits to the farmer, but to the consumer.
Roode described food as the conduit of goodness, adding that South Africa’s food system was broken, partly due to the loss of connection between the people and the land.
‘No longer just a fantasy’
Grain SA’s conservation agriculture facilitator, Dr Hendrik Smith, said that the soil was at the heart of restoration in agriculture. “We need to create healthy soil. This will help us to farm sustainably in the future. Agriculture can play a huge role in reducing the carbon footprint to draw that carbon back into the soil where it belongs (a scientific process known as sequestering).”
Regenerating the land is no longer a fantasy, he added. “It is no longer a pipe dream. It is actually happening. People are producing wonderful, healthy food. Since covid-19, everything came to a standstill except for agriculture. We can stop everything in the world, but we cannot stop having food. Imagine what would happen (if we did)?”
Meanwhile prof. James Blignaut, another Integra director and resource economist attached to the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, said that the financial risks in regenerative agriculture are outweighed by the rewards.
This system presents a clear path towards sustainable farming, he argued. “By healing the land, we can move forward and reduce the risk that is entailed and embedded in climate and climatological changes and patterns going forward.”