Linking food and culture has been part of Chaa Creek’s DNA for years – and now a UNESCO forum agrees that we’ve been on the right track
Cultures, food and sustainable development.
Sure, you may think, business as usual at The Lodge at Chaa Creek.
But this time our favourite topics are being highlighted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who have enlisted the assistance and talents of a Belizean teacher to help show the world how it’s done here.
Our regular readers know how gratified we are that Belize is increasingly seen as a global model for cultures, food and sustainable development. Because, truth be told, these things have always been front and centre at Chaa Creek.
So when news that Belize was to be represented at the UNESCO World Forum on Culture and Food, held in Parma, Italy, 12 and 13 September 2019, we were all ears.
Back in the day, when promoting Belize’s multiculturalism while highlighting the individual contributions of the Maya, Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Asian and other ethnic groups that make Belize such a colourful, flavourful melting pot, we became interested in cooking as a way to further explore those cultures.
Along with music and art, we realised, food was another expression of cultural identity that was accessible to our international visitors.
Because really – who doesn’t like to eat?
The more we studied, the more we saw how culture was reflected in food. Check out the spicy vibrancy of Mexican meals, the solid meat and potatoes fare from the British Isles, the bon vivant sensual enjoyment of French cuisine, the fast paced fast food of the USA, and the way Italians celebrate life at mealtimes.
So, of course, Belizean cuisine is all about blending diverse cultural influences into a harmonious symphony – with a spicy kick.
Tamales from the Maya, Mestizo tortillas alongside Creole rice and beans, raw fish in coconut and lime from the Garifuna, the industrious Mennonites supplying chicken and diary across the nation…the list goes on.
Starting with the Maya Organic Farm supplying our restaurants’ genuine farm-to-table meals with fresh ingredients (and reducing food miles) while teaching visitors about traditional agriculture, we continued on our Belizean cultural cuisine journey. It’s something we’re interested in, and it’s great to see how much our guests appreciate it too.
We’re also happy to see that UNESCO shares Chaa Creek’s culinary vision.
Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, opened the Parma forum by stressing that “investing in cultural heritage and culture-related food practices strengthens social inclusion, economic development, and well-being.”
We couldn’t agree more, and would like to invite Mr Ottone R., to see culture-related food practices in action with a visit to Chaa Creek’s Open Hearth, where culture meets cooking classes in a representational classic Belizean village kitchen.
The Open Hearth is the brainchild of Bryony Fleming Bradley, who literally grew up at Chaa Creek with brother Piers while parents Mick and Lucy evolved their small farm into Belize’s first true eco-resort.
For years Bryony honed her own formidable cooking skills as Chaa Creek’s food and beverage manager, and now, as managing director, has combined her interests in culture and food to create the Open Hearth.
“Those of us living in Belize can easily see how Belizean cuisine celebrates our different cultures, and I wanted to give visitors an opportunity to appreciate this in the short amount of time they have here.
“What better way than to have cooking classes that begin with a short history of individual ethnic groups before having a member of that group guide them through cooking some of the culture’s most iconic meals,” Bryony explained.
After a week divided into Mestizo Mondays, East Indian Tuesdays, Creole Wednesdays, Garifuna Thursdays and Maya Fridays, guests will have a better understanding of Belize’s famous multiculturalism, as well an impressive stock of recipes and the skills to cook them, she said.
Chaa Creek also offers a variety of cultural tours, village visits, and a weeklong, immersive Belize Cultural Grand Tour that takes visitors from Belize’s inland villages, the Mennonite farming community of Spanish Lookout and on to the traditional Garifuna village of Hopkins on the Caribbean seacoast.
So you can understand why we’re excited to hear that Belize was represented by Florencia Castillo at the UNESCO World Forum on Culture and Food.
Ms Castillo explained that she has been teaching teaching Belizean students to “cook and prepare traditional cultural foods… that will help keep the intangible and tangible culture that we possess.”
This echoes the sentiments of Teresa Bellanova, Italy’s Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, who told the Forum that she has concerns about the globalisation of meals. “Moving towards universal food models and diets can threaten traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. That is why we need to ensure sustainable development by reinforcing the links between food and culture.”
Isn’t it great when you hear agreement with something you’re so passionate about? And from such influential people and organisations like the United Nations?
We’re fortunate that living in a small multicultural country like Belize allows us to see the links between food, culture and sustainable development. Many families in Belize still grow, raise and catch much of their own produce, livestock, game and seafood that is then turned into incredibly delicious and healthy meals using recipes handed down through generations.
And when these recipes blend together – just as Belizeans themselves are wont to do, the result is the Belizean Fusion or Nouveau Belizean Cuisine that is growing in popularity around the world.
Because what’s not to like about the creative, culturally-rich preparation of fresh ingredients?
But don’t take our word for it – come visit The Lodge at Chaa Creek and spend a day or entire week at The Open Hearth. If you like, you can even help gather some of the ingredients at the onsite Maya Organic Farm and learn about traditional agriculture that emphasises recycling, natural fertilisers and pest control, companion planting and other techniques that have been used in the region for thousands of years.
As another Forum speaker, Italian chef Massimo Bottura, said, we all have a social responsibility to raise awareness about making sustainable consumption choices, supporting healthy diets, and fighting food waste.
“Cooking is a call to act” he said.
We invite travellers to answer that call during a great vacation in a pristine rainforest setting that’s guaranteed to stimulate your appetite.