Food is an identity to our civilization. Safeguarding our indigenous practices of agriculture, ingredients, roots and heritage is a pivotal role for every generation to follow. It is right now that we need to document and follow the practices and keep the tradition alive.
After studying and working in various reputed hotels in the UK, Chef Joel returned to his hometown of Nagaland in India, with the goal of opening a restaurant that promotes Naga food culture. He is currently running Saucy Joe’s a Food Processing Unit . Through his meetings with Slow Food, he has come to see himself not only as a chef, but also as an entrepreneur, community facilitator, and inheritor of food culture, facing the community from various perspectives and accompanying the youth of the region.
Name ： Joel Basumatari Community /Country ： Nagaland / India Whrere I currently live ： Dimapur, Nagaland Age： 38 (born in 1983) Current Initiatives/Title： Chef, Founder of Slow Food Community Nagaland for Biodiversity & Heritage Preservation
Nagaland, located in northeastern India, is one of the smaller states of the country and bounded by other states and the country of Myanmar on the east. 80% of the total population consist of indigenous people, and there are 16 major tribes and 55 minor tribes. It is said that there are more than 630 tribes in the whole of India, but only 461 are officially recognized by the Indian government. (Indigenous people account for about 8% of India’s total population).
The Protection of Biodiversity by Slow Food Communities
In Nagaland, 80% of the population is indigenous, and I myself belong to three tribes (Kachari, Sema, Angami), and the food culture is very diverse. One food item can be smoked in a day, or it can take a week depending on the tribe.
The “Slow Food Community Nagaland for Biodiversity and Heritage Preservation “ was launched in September 2018 by a like-minded group, and we are working as a facilitator for the farmers and indigenous communities. Here, the snail logo is interwoven with patterns from various tribal shawls.
The community holds a variety of events to achieve independence from any government funding. One of these events is a cooking showdown, where instead of using modern cooking equipment, the participants used an old-fashioned wood fire that is difficult to adjust, prepared traditional plates, and held a fundraising event by serving a full-course dinner with all the ingredients locally sourced.
To try other cuisines, we drove six hours to a coastal town to buy the fish for an event with a sushi chef, which attracted many people and made it possible for us to host a youth training program in Nagaland using the funds raised during the event.
The youth training program teaches various cooking methods, such as “how to make a nice breakfast with only eggs and local ingredients”. Slow Food Youth Network is also active, and as an opportunity to think about the issue of food waste in the community, young people organized “Disco Soup*1” to persuade local grocers not to throw away vegetables.
There are many universities in Nagaland. Most of the students are indigenous, and many of them want to contribute, giving something back to the community but do not know how. By signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the universities and promoting cooperation, the young people are able to obtain information, currently about 10 people from each university are participating in the project. I also think it would be interesting to hold a vegetable cooking competition between the universities.
*1 Disco Soup
Disco Soup is an opportunity to learn about food loss by using vegetables that are discarded because of their shape or flaws, or food ingredients that are left unused at home, and participants work together to make soup and enjoy eating it as if they were in a disco party.
A Permaculture Community Garden Created from Scratch
Our community garden was built from scratch. It is located in mountainous terrain with no easy access from the town. It was like a jungle without even sidewalks, but with the support of the local people, we started by preparing the soil for about a month. In this village, the technique of slash-and-burn is usually used, but we decided not to apply the method because we thought that burning would emit carbon dioxide and have a negative impact on the soil. Instead, together with members of the Slow Food community and local people, we prepared the land to become a field by using vermicompost.
We use permaculture farming methods to grow a variety of vegetables. We grow garlic and onions next to leafy greens, to protect the latter from being easily eaten by insects. We also use banana leaves for nursery beds and pots, as we are trying to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated during cultivation.
There are nine beehives in the garden. There, the stingless bee, a very rare species, helps pollinate the crops. There is also a kitchen in the center of the garden where people can cook together and training can happen, and we also organize an “Earth Market” to sell vegetables and where a buffet is served. Visitors pay a fee to participate and are served meals by the villagers, which also generates a small income.
We haven’t been able to visit the garden for about a year and a half after the lockdown due to the pandemic, but we would like to continue to build community gardens like this one. However, we would like to spend five to six years deepening in one community first.
“Entomophagy” as the Food of the Future
Since 2015, when the Indigenous Terra Madre was held in Shillong, India, insect eating has become a major theme for the Slow Food movement as a whole, and for us as well. In our community, we are working to promote and educate people about the benefits and traditions of insect eating.
Originally, insect eating was not uncommon in the indigenous world, it was traditionally consumed as a valuable nutrient. I believe it is important to respect the wisdom of our ancestors and to relearn and share their knowledge and culture with the next generation.
It is said that there will be an era of starvation by 2050, and insect diets will be the food of the future, providing a valuable source of protein. Insect diets are very important in my opinion, and many scholars are studying this.
In London, they say that mealworms are being raised. Silkworms can be “bred”, but grasshoppers and other insects are seasonal and difficult to keep, and the Carpenter’s worm is a very valuable insect, with some costing as much as 10,000 rupees (15,000 yen) per kilogram.
Restoring Nagaland’s Food Culture and Species Diversity: The Ark of Taste and Seed Bank
There are a lot of unique food items in Nagaland and we need to urgently document the information and preserve them.
For example, mithun is the state animal of Nagaland and their meat is very important for our celebratory dishes. They are kept in a semi-wild state, with a caretaker appointed by the village to watch over the herd. There is a horn to call the jungle dwelling mithun, and when the caretaker uses it, they make sounds in response. They also like salt, so when the caretakers put salt on their hands, they come to lick it.
Also, I am now trying to register our native black beans in the Ark of Taste. We are making a cooking video about the beans and pitching them to farmers to grow them.
Also, since I was inspired by the work of Sean, an indigenous chef from The Sioux Chef in Minnesota, whom I met through Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Network, I have also started a project to restore the diversity of corn. In Nagaland, industrial corn hybrids are mainly grown now, but we are trying to bring back the diversity by listing indigenous varieties.
Toward a Community that Earns its Own Money
and Creates a Sustainable Sycle
Before I came into contact with Slow Food for the first time back in 2013, I had no knowledge about it and was always thinking only about myself. However, after my first encounter with Slow Food, I started to think about the community and to take initiatives, both large and small.
Just as I was about to close my restaurant and focus on processing food, the pandemic struck. All of my processed foods will be sourced from local farmers, and I hope to provide value-added services, while helping generate sustainable income for them.
In addition, the new processing plant we are planning will process crops into something that can be sold on a long-term basis, and we are looking at building market linkages for farmers and producers, including packaging education.
The purpose of the community garden is to be a place for learning and exchange. It is a place to learn about culture, to regain identity, and to learn about traditional farming methods. In addition to making the garden more sustainable by introducing worm composting and companion plants instead of slash-and-burn methods, we also provide capacity-building training for SHGs (Self Help Groups).
In communities and businesses, the idea of “relying on the public” is rampant, and people are too lazy to earn their own money. It takes money to run a community. But instead of relying on the public, it is important to hold events and fundraisers to keep the money circulating. It’s always difficult, but I’m a known face in Nagaland, so my presence sometimes makes people feel like they’re meeting a celebrity. It may seem a bit silly, but I think it’s also important.
Joel’s Pride Food
My pride food has to be definitely fermented soybean. In Nagaland, there are 16 major tribes and that makes our state very diverse. Each tribe has its own food culture, and even a single ingredient can be prepared in many different ways depending on the tribe. Fermented soybean is made by every tribe in Nagaland but the techniques are different and the fermentation process is varied according to the tribes. Even though many people can’t take the smell, this ingredient has been there since our ancestors and generations.
Joel’s Personal Profile
1983 Born in Nagaland
2005 - 2007 Study at International Institute of Hotel Management, Kolkata
2007 - 2010 Study Hotel Management at Thames Valley University, London
2010 - 2012 Work at Crowne Plaza London Heathrow, London
2012 - 2017 Found Smokey Joe’s Restaurant and Grill
2015 Participate in Indigenous Terra Madre in Shillong, India
2018 Establish Slow Food Community Nagaland for Biodiversity and Heritage Preservation
2018 Become a member of Indigenous Chef Alliance.
2019 Winner of North East Food Show Chef Wars at Meghalaya, Shillong, India
2018 Found Saucy Joe’s Food Processing Unit