Our chef and researcher Max Jaques wrote about this important journey
The Instituto Brasil a Gosto made, throughout the year of 2019, a series of actions guided by the conversations about quilombola culture and, more specifically its the cuisine. The different actions and activities of this workforce were registered and published using the hashtag #pelacozinhaquilombola.
Our actions were guided by the challenge of registering and disclosing the elements of Brazilian cuisine with special caution: the understanding, from the start, innovation walks hand in hand with tradition. What we mean is that whatever we understand today as traditional was, at some point in history, an innovation, either, cooking, agriculture, technology or culture wise.
When we talk about quilombola cuisine, not only are we are talking about the technology developed over three centuries by slaves on the run but also about those who survived slavery and all the generations following the abolition. We need to say this because many people don’t know that quilombos still exist in Brazil.
The Fundação Zumbi dos Palmares registers that there are currently 3.386 communities that descend from quilombos spread all over the country, but most intensely present in the states of Maranhão and Bahia. Quilombos are also found in Caribbean countries such as Santo Domingo, which, like Brazil, had African slaves to work in coffee farms. These data are important to understand the process that formed the quilombos as a strategy to survive freely and happened in different territories. Quilombos are still active, with new technologies based in ancestral knowledge.
The first action of the workforce #pelacozinhaquilombola was a trip to the region of Vale do Rio Ribeira do Iguape with a team of researchers, cooks and journalists. This was the formal beginning of the activities and was essential to list and develop ideas that came from the communities themselves.
This first trip resulted in a feature about quilombola women written by the journalist Marina Marques and published at Revista Claudia in March of 2019 (it is the country’s biggest magazine for women, with around 500 thousand readers).
Feeling the need to broaden the debate on quilombola cuisine, we organized the Fórum Brasil a Gosto: Saber para Resistir, Resistir para Preservar during April and May. Around 100 people attended the event and more than 6.000 followed it online. We had the participation of leaders from quilombos of Vale do Ribeira and other actors that brought urban perspectives about how to think and live the quilombo. We were sociologists, cooks, chefs and researchers debating the process of living in quilombos as a resistance strategy. The knowledge of benzedeiras (women that use their knowledge of herbs and nature to assist in the well being of the communities)was also on the table as a valuable technology and resource. The discussion included the challenge of keeping new generations engaged in fighting for their land and the perspectives of a suburban gastronomy and black entrepreneurship in the cities.
From that point on, some institutional partnerships were made, like the one with ISA – Instituto Socioambiental, which invited us to take part in the meetings of the GT da Roça, a space and workforce to articulate the quilombola communities at Vale do Ribeira that is resposible for, for example, a fair to exchange seeds and seedlings. This fair is already in its 12th edition.
In June we promoted a course at our headquarters in the gastronomy college of FMU, partner of Instituto Brasil a gosto. The course taught by chef Guga Rocha was about quilombola cuisine and its importance as a component of Brazilian cuisine with a tasting of recipes and ingredients. The classes approached soil management and food production as well as cooking and tastings.
The process of creating and going through these actions shows us how urgent it is to think food as a cultural heritage for its people. We understand that the practical wisdom that emerges from traditional cooking processes is a reflection from the ability to survive and thrive and are, at least, a collection of social technologies that could guide us through lots of food dilemmas of our days. The knowledge comes from the earth and has fed usfor centuries.
In November, we published quilombolas’ recipes and knowledge at the Sabores do Brasil section in Claudia magazine, signed by chef Ana Luiza Trajano. We stressed, once again, the relevance of studying and publicising the knowledge from our traditional people.
Also in November – the black consciousness month in Brazil – we made a partnership with Instituto de Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional, SESC, Instituto Socioambiental, FMU and Instituto Atá, and promoted a meeting to talk about the Brazillian agrifood heritage. During two days there were lectures, fair, workshops and circle talks with representatives of Sistema Agrícola Tradicional from Alto Rio Negro, cheese producers from Minas Gerais, baianas do Acarajé and representatives of Sistema Agrícola Tradicional Quilombola do Vale do Ribeira.
O percurso até aqui tem nos indicado diferentes caminhos possíveis. Um deles é iniciar uma pesquisa que compile os saberes e aprofunde as compreensões da cozinha quilombola como célula-mater daquilo que entendemos hoje como cozinha brasileira, como sugere o chef Guga Rocha. Outro caminho necessário, e paralelo, é permanecer em articulação com instituições públicas e privadas que, nas suas ações, manifestem sensibilidade ao tema da cultura e cozinha quilombola.
The path we came through is showing us there are lots of different ways to keep walking. One of them is to start a research that combines all the quilombola’s knowledge and go deeper in the idea that the quilombola cuisine is the foundation stone of what we know today as the Brazilian cuisine, as chef Guga Rocha suggests. Another simultaneous path is to keep the articulations with public and private institutions that, in its actions, prove to be open to the discussion of quilombola’s culture and cuisine.
We also need to keep an open mind towards of comprehending and supporting the cuisine as a heritage, not only because of its historical importance, but mainly because it is a tool to grant sovereignty and food security.
It is a cliché to say that our food is a result of a melting pot – the pre existing culture and the ones that were brought here. A dangerous cliché, because it subdues the decimation of indigenous cultures and the slavery of black people. However, although the mix was not made in a harmonical way, it happened in fact. When we talk about food in Brazil we always need to have this in mind for us not to generalize diverse knowledge with a superficial concept. As a simple example, it is possible to assure that the quilombola cuisine from Vale do Ribeira is totally different from the ones in Alagoas, because they come from different backgrounds and the origins of the enslaved people are not the same. We need to acknowledge and value this diversity.
Thanks to the hard work of many people, the Brazilian cuisine and our ingredients are being treated with more respect and distinction in the last few years. We hope to keep contributing to this valorisation in a more incisive way and in an enjoyable and democratic journey through the Brazilian cuisine. We know that the process of understanding this knowledge has just started and that’s why we will keep working to celebrate our ancestors’ cuisine not only historically but mainly because it is an engine that will bring us solutions – and pleasures – in the future.