More than 100 people attended the event in São Paulo to discuss quilombola culture and its nuances
Bel Moherdaui, Letícia Rocha e Rafaela Polo – Photos: Ricardo Toscani”
The 1st Fórum Brasil a Gosto: Saber para Resistir, Resistir para Preservar (knowledge to resist, resist to preserve) took place on May 14th, 2019, at the headquarters of Instituto Brasil a Gosto, inside the FMU’s gastronomy course building. More than 100 people attended the eight discussion panels about different subjects that affect quilombos in Brazil (quilombo is the name given to Brazilian traditional rural communities whose members descend from former slaves). The Forum is one of the results from the first expedition made by Instituto Brasil a Gosto to a quilombo, which happened in February 2019, when we took chefs, cooks, and journalists to visit quilombos at Vale do Ribeira. The director of the Instituto, Fabio Roldan talked about that in his welcome message: “During that immersive experience we understood that we, in the position of Instituto Brasil a gosto, need to do something to help safeguard the quilombola culture”. One of the ways we found out was to organize this forum, idealized by the researcher and chef Max Jaques, who was in the expedition group and is now also part of the Institute’s team. “In some ways, the antagonism of privilege is neglect and we need to stop neglecting fundamental debates to understand our cuisine, our culture. It takes knowledge to resist, and you have to resist to preserve”, says Max.
The public packed the room and participated in all discussions. Member of one of the panels, chef Tanea Romão praised the initiative and said that “it is strong and beautiful to see all these black women talking on the microphone and on the stage today! We rarely have a voice or the power of speech”. The biologist Raquel Pasinato, who has worked at Instituto Socioambiental with quilombos from Vale do Ribeira for over 10 years, said: “We historically neglect quilombola culture. It is our responsibility to resist, insist and fight for public policies and effective actions to reframe our culture. It is a long way”. Let’s all fight together for quilombola cuisine? #pelacozinhaquilombola
The event was opened by chef Bel Coelho, Patty Durães, director of operations, and Wlisses Reis, subchef, all part of the team from Clandestino Restaurant. Bel said that her first contact with quilombola culture was also at Vale do Ribeira, when the entrepreneur Ederon Marques, from Araribá Turismo, brought her attention to the importance of preserving quilombola culture. “After that, I haven’t put this theme aside anymore, this is covered with indifference and can result in cultural extinction of a people. If this happened, not only would they lose, but we would all lose as people and as a nation. Although I am part of the rich white population, I know my origins and I know we historically own them a lot. We can’t, once more, steal or neglect black people’s culture and tradition”, said Bel.
Patty and Wlisses, who were in the Instituto Brasil a Gosto expedition in February, have emphasized how the experience has changed their point of view. “Being in a quilombo was like opening my eyes and my heart. It Was an important renovation for me. Getting to know this culture of union, circular economy, resistance, revealed a huge wealth. I came back wanting to study and get involved with this subject, I told stories about those days to friends, neighbours, work colleagues, and made a lecture at my daughter’s school. And I keep doing this kind of micro policy whenever and wherever I can”, declared Patty. “I’m black, was born in Bahia and had never been to a quilombo until then. In 20 years working in the gastronomy business, I had never heard about quilombola cuisine. What most impressed me was how they help each other and how they take care of the land. I am wealthier now, culturally speaking”, told Wlisses.
From where we stand: quilombo as a resistance mechanism
The second panel was with sociologist and researcher Walessandra Rodrigues, who gave us some historical perspective about quilombos and talked about her personal relationship with those places. “As a social scientist, I analyze the society and I see that the quilombos have their culture erased. I am a black woman from Cuiabá (Mato Grosso state), a region with many quilombos. I experienced this in my childhood but, at some point, that connection between me and those people was lost. It is usual to see people eating grated papaya candy, Maria Isabel rice or mortar paçoca without realizing that this is from quilombolas. The quilombo is us. And that’s why we need to “aquilombar” (turn ourselves into a quilombo community), create cultural movements, events, experiences for everyone – either black or white – to get involved everywhere, because a quilombo is not only the territory: is history, culture, people, it has no boundaries ”, she suggests.
Every woman that cooks is a benzedeira (healer)
The third panel was the most interactive one. Patty Durães mediated the conversation between the chef Tanea Romão, from Kitanda Brasil restaurant, and Elvira da Silva, cook and leader from Quilombo Ivaporunduva, who came from Vale do Ribeira especially to participate in the Forum. “To heal is to bless, it is good will, it is to show affection. A similar purpose to the gastronomy’s, said Patty opening the discussion while healing as well as cooking herbs such as rue, carqueja, palma and santa maria were scattered around the stage. “The black people play a strong part in it. The wisdom of getting into the forest and finding out which plants were good to heal or to eat came from our ancestors, who left this for us”, said Elvira. “I’ve learned a lot from my grandmother, who was the benzedeira (healer) in our community, and we have more than 300 species of plants and herbs there”, she completed.
Tanea started by telling a very personal story: “ten years ago I found myself black: I have a white father, a black mother, I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in São Paulo, Vila Romana, I studied in a public school, but a good one. I had little contact with other black people. It was a process of recognizing myself, better saying, knowing myself for real”. After that, she spoke about her relations with herbs in her cuisine and for healing: “the people who explore the forest have a huge knowledge in tune with cooking. All the herbs Elvira said are used to heal can be used in the kitchen: carqueja, indicated for postpartum women is great for caipirinha; rue, famous for repealing envy, is used in a Italian salad from Piemonte region; lavender relaxes and is an ingredient in Mediterranean recipes of cakes, candies and ice-cream; aloe vera heals burns and is used in a Peruvian stew”. She added: “I applied the ‘backyard culture’ to my cuisine. There are people who cry when they eat rice and beans! But I needed to become a famous and awarded chef and to have my hair straightened to be allowed to cook this.Only after meeting the highest standards , enjoying autonomy, credibility, would I be able to do this simple food, take over my kitchen, my hair. ” Elvira made a point of adding that “Being a quilombola is being resilient. Our culture has been erased from history”.
Cultivating is what feeds us: the Roça de Coivara
It is obvious, but not simple: people from the quilombos need to grow their own food. Rosana de Almeida, from Quilombo de Nhunguara, warned that there are many difficulties to grow food, especially because there is a government control over the land they can use to cultivate. “When it is time to seed we don’t have the place to do it. When we have the authorization, and this is not very usual, it is sometimes too late to start growing and we lose the season. We need this to live and we know where and when it is best to do it. We depend on the goodwill of people, projects, NGOs and public policies which keep getting canceled one after another. My father raised us at the “roça”, growing our food, and we are trying to do the same with our kids, but how will it be in the future? We don’t know!”, she said, worried about the situation. All of this is a consequence of a lack of knowledge about the process of “roça de coivara” (in which the land is divided in parts, a small area is burned to be seeded and then left to rest and regenerate in the next cicles, when another part of the land is then burned) said Raquel Pasinato, who for 12 years has been advising the quilombola community of Vale do Ribeira. “Little by little we are proving that quilombola culture is a Brazilian cultural heritage and that they are exactly the opposite of what they are blamed for. The “coivara” is a process that protects the biome, helps to protect the Rainforest, generates work, money, food and maintains families and their habits”, explain the biologist. Chef Ieda Matos, from Casa de Ieda restaurant, brought statistics that showed how worrying the situation is. “At Chapada Diamantina region, where I came from, there are 747 quilombola communities,but only three of them have the legal papers of their land”, said the chef, who was raised in “roça”.
Black gastronomic entrepreneurship in the city
Let’s start this part of our review by remembering statistics that came up during this panel: 54% of the Brazilian population is black, but they are still the poorest ones, the marginalized ones and suffer from prejudice. “When they see you are black, there is a depreciation: you are underestimated and they want to bargain, lower your price. I lost track of how many times I’ve listened: ‘who is the boss, the owner?’. It doesn’t cross their minds that I am the owner, being a black woman. You can be a great cook, but don’t you dare cross the line and become a chef, an entrepreneur”, said Larissa Januário, journalist and cook that owns the website Sem Medida and runs the project Jantar Secreto. With her, chefs Aline Chermoula, from Chermoula Gastronomia, and Priscila Novaes, from Kitanda das Minas, talked about the importance of black money in afro business. “It’s not easy to run an afro business, you need patience, dedication and attention. Because it is not only about hiring. You might need more time to train that person, who can cook divinely, but need guidance on rules and practices of food safety and professional cooking. You might need to treat your employee as your offspring, which at the end of the day is rewarding, because you see the evolution, the income generation, the boost in self-esteem, the professionalization. There are new professionals being formed: cooks, waitresses, managers… this can change their lives at the same time it changes our lives “, said Aline. “It is our responsibility as a group. Each one of us practicing afro business in our own small bubbles, making the market spin and Brazil (re)connect with our origins and ancestrality. And my message to all of you is: hire one black person, give one black person an opportunity and change people’s lives”, ended Aline.
Study in the city or stay in the “roça”? Quilombo’s new generations challenge
“Our role as citizens, entrepreneurs and customers is to choose from whom we buy and who we hire”, said the nutricionist Priscila Sabará, CEO from FoodPass, who mediated this conversation between the quilombolas Elvira and Rosana about a very worrying situation:
The abandonment of quilombos by new generations. “We used to sell bananas for supermarkets, nurseries, municipalities. But most of the contracts with governments are being canceled. Young people want to keep the family knowledge, but have no work opportunities! Some of them leave to study, but living in the city is too hard: different pace of life, habits and there is the cost of living… Just a few have come back from the city with a degree and now we have a lawyer, an agronomist and they are the ones who help us find ways to keep going on”, said Elvira. Rosana, who lives in another quilombo in the same region, showed the same concern. “Honestly, I don’t know what to do. Places to cultivate(roças) are ending, the authorizations always arrive late and government projects are being canceled. What are our kids gonna do? My community, differently from the one Elvira lives in, doesn’t have anyone who achieved a degree, we don’t have a tourism project to receive tourists, like they do. When we manage to have some food production, we don’t know how to sell it. We need help. This event is helping us to expose these issues, that’s why even feeling ashamed and afraid I came here today”, she said.
Gastronomia Periférica: is the aquilombamento (to form a quilombo) over?
Edson Leite, chef and founder of Gastronomia Periferica (a social business dedicated to developing gastronomy related initiatives to people who live in the poor outskirts – of the cities and society), said that the outskirts, like they are in big Brazilian cities, could be considered some sort of quilombo. This leads us to think if the need to form a quilombo is really over. “In the outskirts we can grow organics, but they can’t be part of our food routine for lots of reasons that go from high prices to lack of time. It is easier to buy instant noodles and ready tomato sauce. We sell health, but eat poison!”, said Edson. This talk was mediated by the chef Monica Rangel and had the participation of Adélia Rodrigues, also a founder and partner of Gastronomia Periférica. All of them pointed out questions about prejudice and lack of financial resources for those who live in the outskirts and want quality food. “I’ve heard here lots of things that we, as citizens and professionals of the gastronomy industry, need to think and start practicing. I am moved by and get involved with indigenous communities, I just came back from a retreat in one of those communities and it was really transformative. I’ve learned a lot, but I can see that the indigenous people have the security of their land, they have or at least used to have, the Funai (Brazilian governmental protection agency for Indian interests and culture). What about the quilombolas? They have never been supported like that!”, said Monica. “We need to understand that we are the top of the pyramid, not its base. At Gastronomia Periférica we form more than cooks, we form human beings. We show them that they can thrive in the outskirts being black”, added Adélia.
The last one to take the stage at Fórum Brasil a Gosto was the chef and now ambassador of the Instituto, Guga Rocha. He has been researching quilombos for over 10 years and knows, like few people do, the adversities quilombolas face. “We don’t value who we are. And yes, it is possible that we can change a country in one or two generations, but this movement starts with education and food is a way to help this happen. But we need to create a movement that takes effective measures. Why are there tourists that travel to do birdwatching, the ones who want to see historical trees and not the ones who want to experience living in a quilombo? We value what is different from us! We need to build a new vision of the quilombos, reframe it, maybe in a more popular way, to sell it and make money, because we need this!”, he said.
Tasting quilombo recipes from Vale do Ribeira cooked by Brasil a Gosto chefs
At the end of the Forum, 30 people who had bought the tickets in advance, took part in a tasting of typical recipes from the quilombos. The menu was:
Pupunha hearts of palm salad with maná fruit
Taioba (leaf) farofa
Mixed pumpkins quibebe (puree)
This forum was only possible with the partnership of FMU – which houses the kitchen of the Institute and opened its doors to our guests, as well as lots of partners and supporters such as Araribá Turismo & Cultura, Foodpass, Instituto Sociambiental, Espaço Zym, Revista CLAUDIA, Feira Preta, Gastronomia Periférica, Chermoula Gastronomia, Kitanda das Minas, Food Forum, Sem Medida, Mídia Ninja, Gosto com Gosto, Kitanda Brasil, Casa da Ieda and Bel Coelho Gastronomia.