Food, glorious food! Grow it, savour it, share it

Siyabonga Mngoma, Naudé Malan and Amanda Manyatshe all agree: food connects us all. It connects us to each other, to our own past, to our identity and to the world around us. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

World Food Day will be celebrated on 16 October as a collective call to action against global hunger. Food brings us together; it is how we share our identities and nourish ourselves. And isn’t it fascinating how similar food traditions are across the globe?

“[Food] is culturally important, historically important, anthropologically important and physiologically important,” says activist Dr Naudé Malan. “Food binds everything about humankind together.”

Dr Naudé Malan, an academic and the founder of the Soweto-based farmers’ lab called Izindaba Zokudla. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Malan is a senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Johannesburg. He is also the convener of the multi-stakeholder engagement project Izindaba Zokudla that aims to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system in Soweto.

Through his dedicated work he has seen gardens take root in unlikely places, partnerships formed between unlikely people and humans connecting with food in unlikely ways. It’s these things we celebrate on World Food Day, on the date of the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945.

But the day is also connected to the global economy, says Naudé (“after crude oil, food is the most traded commodity”) and deep moral issues like the right to eat, hunger and famine.

Chef Amanda Manyatshe adds to Malan’s sentiments and says that World Food Day presents the unique opportunity for the world to celebrate its “oneness”.

“It is a perfect way for people to connect with regard to where they come from. You don’t even need to know each other: food is a space for people to… communicate with each other without having to use words.”

Amanda Manyatshe, a chef discovering her identity through Mzansi’s food flavours and sharing it with the world. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Nourishing body and soul

This year the day will be commemorated under the theme “Our actions are our future. Better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and better life.” 

“There is no othering when it comes to food,” says Manuatshe. “There are threads that connect Americans and Africans, like okra. It is a staple in African American households, but it actually comes from Africa. It is a food that connects us to them.”

Manyatshe is on a mission to share Mzansi flavours with the world through a business she calls For The Foodie in Me. Hers is a business centred around her identity as an African and is an ode to her journey of self-discovery.

The founder of Abundance Wholesome Foods, a wellness blog and organic vegetable box delivery service, Siyabonga Mngoma, says that we live in a connected world and believes that what we eat is our tether.

“As Africans we have a rich culture of food that we have forgotten. We have a rich culture of food that is medicinal; food that is healing. It may not just heal our bodies, but it may also heal our souls or our hearts.”

Healing the planet

Our relationship with what we eat has the potential not only to unlock wellness in individuals but also some healing for the planet if we return to simpler ways.

Says Mngoma, “When you pick your food from a garden, it is not packaged and plucked. It has not been transported for days to get to your supermarket and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It is fresh and it is in season.”

If you cannot grow your own, you can always support a local farmer, says Manyatshe. “Organic doesn’t mean it always has to be expensive. There are organic produce growers in Khayelitsha.

“Being able to support small, local farmers and urban farmers who are trying to make a difference to improve our footprint on the earth, also helps me with reducing my carbon footprint.”

Both Malan and Manyatshe encourage global citizens to get biodegradable waste back into their gardens.

“I like to plant. I save a lot of peels, I compost things. All my biodegradable things always end up back in my garden, or they feed the rabbits when leafy greens and micros are about to go off.

“I always find a way of using it: either returning it to nature or feeding it to animals rather than just throwing it away.”

Siyabonga Mngoma, owner of Abundance Wholesome Foods, selling organic fresh produce in Gauteng. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Malan echoes this and says we should also think about our food waste differently. “It is not so much about growing your own food but [about] making sure that your food waste goes back into the ground. It is really about our impact and not really [about] our consumption.”

Recipe: Chef Amanda Manyatshe’s African risotto

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