As many people in the western world pay closer attention to what goes into their bodies, labels, nutrition facts, and wave-upon-wave of fashionable celebrity diets are here to stay. Many brands charge premiums for organic, fair trade, or free-range; and restaurants that celebrate artisanal goods now have the hottest tables in every city. This increasing food awareness is an important first step in making a connection between the urban and the rural—caring where our ingredients come from.
However, few of us take these concerns to next level: to ask the crucial question of what impact our food choices are having on the natural world and, in particular, the tropical forest ecosystems where more and more food supplies originate.
This important next step is the focus of this year’s Kooben Gastronomic Festival in Merida, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which kicked off on November 2nd. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with Kooben and five of Mexico’s top chefs to celebrate the country’s unique cuisine and the sustainable practices that go into making the best ingredients.
This collaboration highlights some of TNC’s work with rural communities across the Yucatan Peninsula to improve the way they produce food—increasing their incomes while protecting their forests.
Unfortunately, as in many places around the world, the current food production system in the Peninsula is not sustainable. The Yucatan Peninsula loses more than 80,000 hectares of forest each year—roughly equivalent to losing half of Mexico City annually—due to inefficient ranching and expansive agricultural practices. These practices, far from improving the lives of local people, actually deepen the cycle of poverty in the region by threatening food security, reducing access to clean water, and increasing vulnerability to drought and hurricanes. They also contribute to climate change by releasing the carbon stored in the Yucatan’s vast tropical forests into the atmosphere.