THE FOOD HERITAGE FOUNDATION
Captured by The Recipe Hunters in Lebanon
One of the most impressive and meaningful organizations we have come across on our culinary journey throughout the world, has been Lebanon’s Food Heritage Foundation.
What is the Food Heritage Foundation (FHF)?
Lebanon’s Food Heritage Foundation is “a Lebanese non-profit organization aiming at the conservation of Lebanon’s indigenous culinary knowledge through the preservation, documentation and revival of Lebanon’s traditional food heritage.”
FHF believes that local food heritage is a potent tool for economic development. It aims to increase consumers’ awareness and demand for healthy home-cooked local cuisine and produce by establishing permanent linkages between urban and rural communities through which small farmers and producers can inform about their culinary and agricultural traditions and directly sell their products. The foundation has created projects that allow people to have hands-on experiences in the food heritage of Lebanon, restoring and reviving these important cultural traditions.
How did we hear about the Food Heritage Foundation?
All good connections are made through friend of friends and in Lebanon it is no different. Through our friends at SOILS Lebanon (http://www.soils-permaculture-lebanon.com/) we met Mabelle Chedid and Zeinab Jeambey for coffee. Two days later, we were the first two guests on their food heritage trail!!!
Who is Mabelle?
Mabelle Chedid is the president and a founding member of the Food Heritage Foundation (FHF). She started the FHF with two colleagues, a dietician and another agricultural engineer. Mabelle is currently doing her PhD with Cirad, Montpelier, on the resilience indicators of integrated crop-livestock farming systems. Through her career, she came across a wealth of information and resources on food, agriculture and culture from villages around Lebanon. As a forward thinker, organizer, and doer, Mabelle wanted to combine her knowledge and passions to create a Lebanon that develops sustainably while preserving its food culture and traditions. In 2013, she did just that by creating the Food Heritage Foundation.
How did Zeinab become involved in The Food Heritage Foundation?
“My respect for age old tradition has its roots to a time when I was studying wild edible plants at AUB. I chose to study the medicinal benefits of eryngo. Rather than spend my time in the library, I ventured to 18 different villages and asked 27 people about eryngo; why they eat it and what it is good for. They all told me the same story of a turtle vs. a snake: During a fight, the venomous snake would bite the turtle and wait for it to die. Rather than fight, the turtle would search for and eat wild eryngo. The turtle would be saved from the venom and live on to fight again. I later found out that snake venom kills by making the red blood cells explode. However, the natural properties of eryngo bind to the poison and prevent the red blood cells from exploding. "Just as the knowledge is being lost for the uses of wild plants, so too is the knowledge being lost for the traditional ways food is processed, prepared, and cooked. I believe it is our duty to raise awareness about the origin of a food product or a traditional recipe.
"It was sad to see that the knowledge of medicinal uses of plants was being lost along with the traditional ways to prepare food. When I talked to Mabelle about the Food Heritage Foundation, I had to get involved.”
What is Akleh?
According to Zeinab, after a meal you can say, "mmm akleh" while giving a big smile which basically means "wow that was tasty." THe FHF team decided to use Akleh as the name of the foundation’s central community kitchen in Beirut. The kitchen is used to cater traditional meals for events highlighting regional culinary specialties. Akleh plays a role in
1. Preserving food heritage through documenting and maintaining a database of traditional recipes.
2. Creating jobs for rural ladies.
3. Supporting local farms though sourcing ingredients from local coops and small producers.
FHF, with its partners, established community kitchens in rural areas like Miniara-Akkar and Khiara-West Bekaa; these kitchens are currently linked to food aid programs for Syrian refugees and Lebanese hosting communities, they involve Lebanese and Syrian women cooking healthy recipes from local ingredients and enhancing food security of the vulnerable communities.
What is the food trail?
The food trail called “darb el karam” or “the Generosity trail,” invites a group of guests on a guided expedition in Lebanon through a network of 9 villages which are located in two separate, but close, regions of Lebanon: West Bekaa and the Higher Shouf. During the trail, the visitors are invited to take part in agro-food activities and taste local culinary specialties, like:
Hike with a local goat herder and learn about the milking production
Pick and cook wild edible plants
Cook a traditional meal and enjoy it with a local family
Enjoy fresh goat’s milk ice cream
Learn about the production of bulgur from harvest to “cracking”
Participate in the mulberry harvest and mulberry syrup making
Participate in the olive harvest and help produce extra virgin olive oil
Beekeep for a day
Collect figs and other seasonal fruits and make jams
How did The Recipe Hunters get involved?
We were fortunate enough to participate in a segment of the food trail as we ventured with Zeinab to Lina’s house in the West Bekaa Valley. We spent the day in Lina’s family home in the small hillside village of Kherbet Qanafar, learning three of Lina’s family’s traditional recipes and eating a late lunch of the recipes we made together with her and her family. During the cooking process, Lina walked us through each and every one of the ingredients, explaining their significance in Lebanese cooking culture. She lets us taste each ingredient before we add them to the recipes, a dollop of her homemade creamy lebneh which she strained earlier that week from raw milk, a pinch of her pungent tangy kishk, a cube of warm boiled pumpkin from her garden. Every step and product is entwined with tradition, a story of her mother and grandmother, of the women in her village gathering together to make the winter’s mouneh (pantry of preserves). When we finally sit down to eat, we are overwhelmed with the feeling of love, surrounded by Zeinab, Lina and her family. The main dish of kibbeh latin is wholesome and rich, you can taste each and every individual product as it is accentuated with new twists and bursts of flavors. We finish the meal with homemade milk cookies and a dessert of day-old markook (thin arabic saj bread) that has been boiled down in butter, water, cinnamon, vanilla. Our day on the food trail was one of our best in Lebanon. Most meaningful for us, was not just the delicious recipes, but the opportunity to spend a day in the life of a Lebanese mom, experiencing the home and heart of the Lebanese family. Thank you Lina, Zeinab, and Mabelle!