Discovery through food – life, traditions and change in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
We do pray to the angels, but we aren’t sure they are still here. Pamiri people are at an important point in their history. Old knowledge and traditions are valued, but it is unclear what their place will be in the modern world. Nowhere is this tension more clear than in the crops they grow and the food they eat.
This talk is about a five year journey into Pamiri food culture. Initially in an attempt to bring renewed relevance to old crop varieties, eventually also to record a mostly undocumented body of orally transmitted knowledge and traditions. Food is used as a lens to explore elements of daily life that are now changing – agriculture, spirituality, trade, medicine, migration – and to uncover narratives about identity and hopes about the future that have been remarkably absent from development efforts in the region. Speaking from our own experiences in attempting to return documented knowledge to the Pamiri people, I will reflect on the role that researchers might play in influencing trajectories of development.
Frederik van Oudenhoven is an ethnobiologist from the Netherlands. He works with indigenous and local farming communities around the defence of traditional food systems. Together with Jamila Haider, he wrote With our own hands, a celebration of food and life in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Published in three languages, the book was returned to over 1500 Pamiri communities. In 2016 it won the Gourmand Award for “world’s best cookbook”.