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By Sarah Newman, Author of the blog Neesh Noosh: A Jewish Woman’s Year Long Journey to Find Faith in Food

With Terra Madre Day just two days away, we celebrate those who are bringing the Slow Food message to their own community with this article from one of the USA delegates to Terra Madre 2014. Sarah Newman elegantly positions her experience within the landscape of the wider food system and her own faith.

Was Noah the first seed saver? The first protector of biodiversity? This week we read that humans’ lawlessness and corruption incensed God enough to cause him to flood and destroy all creatures on the planet. “I am about to bring the Flood — waters upon the earth — to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish.” Noah was tasked by God with saving pairs of every species on his ark and repopulating the planet once the flood waters receded.

After the flood ended, a rainbow in the sky became a covenant between God and man. It “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.” We are challenged every day to live by this covenant, especially when we look at the impacts of climate change–including rising sea levels–on our planet. Modern agriculture today is contributing to climate change, from water usage for livestock to fertilizers to land management. And, climate change is, and will continue to be, a major factor in future food production due to flooding and droughts, desertification and habitat loss.

The Slow Food movement’s biannual gathering begins this evening in Turin, Italy with tens of thousands of people from more than 120 countries in attendance. One part of the conference is Salone del Gusto-the largest food and wine conference in the world. The other part, Terra Madre, is a gathering to give a voice, resources and organizing to small-scale agricultural producers worldwide. Indeed, there are 500 million family farmers worldwide who are each growing food on less than two hectares of land. Terra Madre advocates that “eating is an agricultural act and producing is a gastronomic act.” This is the antithesis of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, ConAgra and Monsanto.

Slow Food is about protecting heirloom foods, culinary traditions, small-scale farmers and fishing and farming practices that tread more lightly on the planet than industrial agriculture and fishing. Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar, in writing week about the Tower of Babel asserts that, “neither can we ever accept enforced uniformity, the coupling of unanimity and anonymity that is the hallmark of totalitarian movements.” Industrial agriculture is uniformity: it is not healthy for ourselves or the planet.

The extinctions that so many species–including foods–are experiencing on our planet are because of humans. Many of the farmers, vintners (Noah was the first one), cheesemongers, bakers, chefs, ranchers, picklers, fisherman and butchers, are practicing agricultural and food production techniques that are threatened by industrial agricultural (GMO seeds, mono-cropping, elimination of local food traditions, pesticides, etc).

{{ image(3149, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}But, through our food choices, we can each try to contribute and sustain a Noah’s Ark for the 21st century. Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste” program has over 2000 products from more than 125 countries that are “small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet.” Slow Food plans to have 10,000 products in the Ark of Taste within four years. And, many of these 2000 items will be at Terra Madre.

{{ image(3150, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “200”, “height”: “300”}) }}Millions of small-scale farmers and producers–including the thousands who will be at Terra Madre–are on the front lines in the movement against industrial agriculture. They are growing, harvesting and making foods that enable each of us to support local, culturally relevant food systems in the most delicious way possible-through eating!

Shmita is another way we can each play a role in protecting local food systems. As I’ve written previously, this is the final year in the seven year Shmita cycle, where the land is to lie fallow in Israel. For those of us living outside of Israel, it is a time to think about and act upon values and ideas of Shmita that we can incorporate into our lives in the diaspora. What can and should we be doing to let the land rest, grow more perennials and implement more long-term sustainable agriculture practices?

We each play a role in the delicate ecological balance of our planet. Biodiversity “is life itself and it is the diversity of life, on many levels, from the smallest (genes, the building blocks of life) to plant and animal species, up to the most complex levels (ecosystems). All these levels intersect, influence each other and evolve.”

Like the rainbow covenant between God and man, we can have a sustainable food covenant. This might include eating more locally grown foods, supporting local food purveyors, choosing sustainable fish, growing foods or herbs at home, connecting with a farmer in your area, and thinking more about the impacts of your food choices.

{{ image(3151, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “200”, “height”: “300”}) }}I spent the past week in Rome, Italy–the country where the Slow Food movement started. During this time, I ate many Roman culinary treats and visited farmers markets. I also enjoyed some Jewish-Roman food specialties at a Shabbat meal, restaurants and bakery and picked up a cookbook on the topic (I look forward to sharing recipes from it once I figure out how to easily translate it from Italian!). The Great Synagogue in Rome has a gorgeous rainbow ceiling, symbolizing the covenant between God and humans.

Alas due to my travels, I do not have a recipe to offer this week but I will add one when I’m home next week that will involve a rainbow of colors, perhaps a boat shaped vegetable and/or liquid. In the meantime, think about incorporating a rainbow of locally grown colors and flavors at your next meal.

{{ image(3152, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}I am back and was able to get to the Culver City farmers market today to prepare the Noah’s Ark dish. It is a recipe with eggplant as the “boat,” stuffed with a mix of colorful vegetables, covered with zucchini and sitting in a bit of liquid.

Noah’s Ark

{{ image(3153, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}4 small or 2 large globe eggplants
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 celery root, trimmed and chopped (if not available, a few stalks of celery will suffice)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 shucked ear of corn
1 handful of fresh basil (I grow my own in great raised beds from Greenes)
1 green zucchini
1 tbsp olive oil

{{ image(3154, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash all ingredients. Trim celery root. Chop onion, tomatoes, garlic, red pepper finely and shuck ear of corn. Cut zucchini into long strips. Score eggplants and place on parchment paper lined tray in oven. Cook eggplants until soft inside, approximately 45 minutes. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to sauce pan over medium heat and cook until translucent. Add celery root and pepper cook for 5 minutes. Then add tomatoes, corn and garlic. It should become more liquified. If not, add a bit of water so that it doesn’t dry out. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add freshly torn basil at end and add salt and pepper to taste. While the vegetables are cooking on the stove top, the eggplant will probably be finished. Remove from oven and let cool. Put the zucchini strips on the same tray and drizzle with a bit of olive oil Cook for about 7 minutes until soft and lighter in color but not crispy. Cut eggplant along top (though leave ends in tact) and squeeze ends together to create a roundish opening in middle. Add tomato mixture inside without liquid. Scoop tomato liquid out onto individual plates. Place eggplant with tomatoes on top. Then, take strips of zucchini and place on top of eggplant to cover. Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top and serve.