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05/24/2013

Learn from traditional culture to save food: UN

Sushi

A chef hands a plate of sushi to a customer at a sushi bar in the Ximending shopping district of Taipei on Friday. (REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)

It’s true: traditional cultures can teach the “wasteful” developed world how to preserve and conserve one of our most-precious resources: food.

So says a United Nations Environment Programme report.

From condensing the meat of an entire cow into the size of a human fist to preserving seabirds in sealskins, there are a lot of ways in which traditional cultures save and conserve food, says the report.

UNEP asked people to submit examples of traditional ways in which food is preserved. Sure, the report notes that some of the delicacies may not tickle taste buds but they demonstrate how people once valued food far more than they do now.

Here are some examples:

  • Genghis Khan, the Mongolian general, and his troops used a traditional food called borts to gallop across Asia. Borts is concentrated beef equal to the protein of an entire cow condensed and ground down to the size of a human fist. This remarkable method of food preservation, without refrigeration, produced a meal equivalent to several steaks.
  • Greenland Inuits, dine on a dish called Kiviak — a wintertime food made from Auks, a small bird. Hundreds of whole birds are wrapped in a seal skin, which then has the air removed before being sewn up. The skin is placed in the permafrost under a stone. The birds then ferment for around seven months before they are dug up and eaten. 
  • The Turkish horsemen of Central Asia preserved meat by placing it in pockets on their saddles to be compressed by their legs as they rode. This meat was a direct ancestor of pastirma, a term which means ‘being pressed’ in Turkish.

Of course, it is ironic that in an era where technology makes it so easy to store food for longer, most of us make less effort to conserve food.

The UNEP report says that every year about one third of all food produced —  .3 billion tonnes, worth around $1 trillion (U.S.)— ends up in garbage bins due to poor transportation and harvesting practises.

In a world where almost 900 million people go hungry every day, that's criminal.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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