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ENVIRONMENT: From ‘Akkar to Amel’ Lebanon’s Slow Food Trail
Lebanon is located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, with fertile land and traditions. The crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe have helped shape Lebanon’s unique heritage.
American University of Beirut’s book Professor Rami Zurayk’s ‘Akkar to Amel’ Lebanon’s Slow Food trail, provides a comprehensive and vivid picture of Lebanese people and countries interested in learning about the place, ancestors and the importance of preserving traditional food and cooking. as a means of preserving one’s heritage. Traditionally, Lebanese cuisine is linked to its place of origin. Interactions between people, their customs and habits have a significant impact on local produce. From planting seeds to harvesting crops to making dishes all involve these traditional customs and traditions, which are passed down from generation to generation.
Zurayk takes the reader on a journey through the countryside of Lebanon and provides a history of the land, production practices, understanding of biodiversity, Lebanon’s climate, culinary habits and customs of the people. One of the aims of the book was to resolve the differences between the Lebanese, who are often divided, and that is why he called the book from ‘Akkar to Amel.’ The book was also created to bring traditional food back to the changing Lebanese society.
According to Mr. Zurayk, “Lebanon, located between the desert and the sea, the home of coastal traders and nomadic Bedouin, has had a turbulent history. Over the years, it has been repeatedly invaded and conquered. wheat, barley, lentil and vetch, where their cultivation dates back more than 5,000 years; making it the epitome of plant life.”
“Books should not be coffee table items but should be guides in life,” adds Zurayk.
The community always participates in Lebanese cuisine through the ‘mezze’ meal where everyone eats from the same plate and the table offers a variety of options. Even the process of planting seeds to harvest requires human effort.
Everything in this book has never been scientifically written and it was Zurayk’s mission to use his position as a researcher and writer to create products that are more relevant to the Lebanese people and to bring justice to small producers and natural products.
“The idea was also to encourage readers to visit these small producers and share with them the resources of the world from which they make their products,” adds Zurayk.
One such person is Nabeel el Ayyas who produces ‘Asal al’arz (cedar honey), which is honey made from cedar forests in Lebanon. The production of this honey depends on three important insects: aphids, ants and bees, all of which live in cedar forests. Based in Jahiliyyeh, a village in the center of Shuf, El Ayyas produces hundreds of kilos of cedar honey a year, which it sells to visitors walking through the museum.
Many small producers like El Ayyas still use electric machines to extract their honey.
Lebanese food takes time to prepare but the process is what binds and sustains the community. Food preparation is very important for human health because preparation is responsible for the energy that is distributed after the food is consumed.
In this era of globalization and the rise of the ‘fast food’ culture consumers are able to use the wealth of the poor, which creates an abusive relationship with the environment due to consumer consumption.
Globalization is encouraging more cultivation of exotic foods so that the products can be shipped to the West so that consumers can enjoy the passion fruit in the middle of winter.
The American University of Beirut’s Nature Conservation Center for Sustainable Futures (IBSAR) published the book with support from the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, which supports projects that protect biodiversity in agriculture and food traditions.
The mission of the Slow Food Foundation is to help people rediscover the joy of eating and understand the importance of caring about where their food comes from, who produces it and how it is produced.
“The term slow food is not translated into many languages and the concept is a western concept where like in Lebanon and developing countries slow food is natural because it is different from our culture and traditions and way of life, ” says Zurayk. “This is a social, ecological and cultural approach that is closely related to people who are still in harmony with nature.”
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