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Recipe for disaster: the CLIMAVORE diet

What is above is what is below cooking sections manifesta12 05

A radical new mindset is called for in food production and consumption to offset anthropogenic hazards

Tunnelling and terracing the Sicilian landscape – to channel and retain water – has led to one of the largest agricultural engines in Europe today. Being the bread basket for centuries, first under Spanish colonial rule and later under the Italian unified nation, the Sicilian economy was affected by the wheat boom in the US in the 19th century. The subsequent land struggles on the island, around less globally competitive grain, led to local tensions. Unsurprisingly, control over available water in Sicily gave rise to the first extortion structures to exploit its population. Much larger forces control local livelihood through access to water today, whether influenced by climatic alterations or man-induced events, such as periods of drought, rising temperatures or unexpected downpours. To ensure that the harvest is not affected, the architecture of plastic enclosures working as year-round productive greenhouses has made the terrain constantly fertile – ready to export fruit and vegetables to high-demanding northern European supermarkets at any given time. The same island that once exported thousands of job-seeking peasants across the Atlantic is now heavily dependent on migrant labour from southern or eastern European shores. However, the consumption of cheap ripe tomatoes, available from temperate countries such as Sicily, is sometimes accompanied by abusive conditions behind their production that currently entail widespread forced labour and sexual exploitation of thousands of Romanian women displaced to Sicily to work in those greenhouses.

Jardinu pantescu 2 pantelleria

Jardinu pantescu 2 pantelleria CLIMAVORE

Source: Cooking Sections

A traditional Jardinu Pantescu

As in many other territories, water and politics in Sicily have developed hand in hand. In Pantelleria – a volcanic enclave between the Tunisian and Sicilian coasts – circular dry-stone walls enclose single-tree gardens. Without that confinement for humidity and wind protection, the precious citrus trees inside would never fruit. This type of structure, known as Jardinu Pantescu, creates a microclimate, where the stone itself absorbs humidity from the air and provides moisture for the soil. Interestingly, the lack of water on the island of Pantelleria has generated a much more egalitarian society than in other surrounding territories where extortion around access to irrigation could be practised. Dry farming was common in Sicily, for centuries through stone structures at a smaller scale or on particular sites. But with the northward extension of the Sahara desert, what if the entire island could free itself from its strong reliance on water and test models for other water-scarce territories? What would it mean to ‘water without water’ as a form of emancipation from weather, whether there are water cuts, irrigated vineyards, appropriation of collective resources, increasing temperatures or recurrent droughts? The possibility to grow drought-resistant landscapes under water stress for climate adaptation could help to address the profits behind human enterprises that are constantly abusing the soil; it could also develop an architecture based on new cultural imaginaries of food production and consumption. 

Climavore recipes

Climavore recipes

Different from carnivore, omnivore, locavore, vegetarian, or vegan diets, CLIMAVORE is an alternative that follows the consequences of anthropogenic landscapes affected by intensive climatic, extractive and material alterations. It is not so much defined by the ingredients, but rather the infrastructural responses to human-induced climatic events. New seasons of food production and consumption have begun to appear. These non-absolute cycles of temperature variation are discontinuous, disjointed, disconnected, non-sequentially repetitive, and appear to follow random behavioural patterns. But do water levels justify digging deeper wells to exhaust even deeper aquifers? Or can we acclimatise our existence to flexible patterns beyond intensive water consumption? In response to centuries of agricultural and architectural development, What is Above is What is Below produced a sequence of microclimates throughout Palermo around citrus trees in the city to envision how to ‘water with stones’, and how to flourish in dry conditions and monitor the live performance of the trees. 


Salmon farming CLIMAVORE

Source: David Moore Travel / ALAMY

Open-net salmon farming

To explore how we might eat as climate changes is crucial, within a context of increasing water stress accelerated by human action and in collaboration with local food establishments, to deal with challenges to cultural perceptions of food. In Palermo, a network of restaurants offered a Secco al Sacco (a take-away meal using drought-resistant ingredients that have adapted to grow in local arid landscapes with limited water), which people collect and enjoy sitting under the trees of the installations. The drought dishes include tumminia grain pasta (an ancient Sicilian cereal that has historically evolved to cope with water scarcity but fell into disuse against more ‘efficient’ modern wheats), local varieties of capers, saffron, rosemary, almonds, sesame or small onions that require little or no irrigation, pomodoro siccagno (a Sicilian drought-resistant tomato variety), drinks made out of pomegranate and chinotto (myrtle-leaved orange tree), moringa-based pizza, and mulberry ice cream made with a base of carob flour. 

Climavore recipes2

Climavore recipes 2

The dry lands of Palermo are not the only areas that could benefit from a CLIMAVORE diet. At the Isle of Skye, Scotland, the ocean waters are becoming more and more polluted by intensive forms of open-net aquaculture. One example is farmed ‘Scottish salmon’, which lacks a natural salmon pink tone and is not original to that geography. Some 90 per cent of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) populating the planet’s seas is a domesticated species, dating back to the 1970s, that is farmed and distributed by Norwegian, Tasmanian or Chilean-based global corporations. It is heavily dependent on antibiotics and pork- and fish-based colouring food pellets. Grown in open-net cylinders containing about 1 million fish per farm, these chemicals are severely affecting both the body of the fish and the seabed. Hundreds of kilos of salmon excrement are deposited on the sea floor every minute, killing the existing ecosystem, while boosting outbreaks of disease and parasites, such as lethal sea lice. Removing salmon from local restaurant menus, and instead introducing a dish using aqua-cultures such as mussels, oysters and kelp, which filter the water by breathing, helps to nurture healthy ocean shores while providing an incredible source of easy-access protein without the need for irrigation or fertilisers. 

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Source: Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images

Sinking lands around the Dead Sea

Other iterations of CLIMAVORE have addressed soil exhaustion due to over-extraction of fertilisers. Since the early 2000s, landmasses have been collapsing around the Dead Sea. Directly linked to the depletion of water, the sea level has been rapidly dropping at around a metre a year. As a result, more than 6,000 documented sinkholes have appeared so far, some as large as 2 kilometres long and 25 metres deep. Three human actions are accountable for this radical transformation. First, a series of dams along the Jordan River Basin (the Dead Sea’s main source of water) in Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon that have dictated water politics, diplomacy and war in the area for decades. Second, the depletion of Palestinian underground water resources by Israel and its extensive irrigation of date palm plantations on Israeli settlements in occupied territories (to avoid sanctions by the EU and activist groups, they are often marketed as ‘Jordan Valley Dates’ in English and Arabic). The Israeli Water Authority has the right to dig deeper into the ground, whereas hundreds of shallower, ancient Palestinian wells are drying out. Each palm tree consumes around 1,000 litres of water a day. At the same time, Israel is selling Palestinian drinking water to Palestinians. Third and above all, the extraction of fertilisers from the evaporation ponds run by the Dead Sea Works in Israel and the Arab Potash Company in Jordan creates shallow salt lands where water evaporates more quickly (Palestinian use of the Jordan River has been prohibited since the creation of Israeli military zones along the river’s edge after the Six-Day War in 1967). In business terms, the Dead Sea is considered one of the top seven fertiliser sources in the world. Circulating fertilisers globally relies on the maximal extraction of agricultural value from the soil. But the remainder after the evaporation process is becoming less cohesive. Precipitation is not enough to replenish the receding sea, and the tensions around the underground aquifer below the ‘Middle East’ are becoming less confined.

Climavore recipes3

Climavore recipes 3

Rather than exponentially increasing mineral extraction to keep up with demand for food, we must explore new ways to reduce the need to aggregate nutrients in the soil, while feeding a growing population with equal access to sustenance. Be it depletion of aquifers for irrigation, salmon farm ocean pollution, or over-extraction of fertilisers, the production of food requires a new architecture for other soil-cultures. Deconstructing imaginaries, landscapes and infrastructures reveals a new set of clues for adapting our diet, anxieties and desires. Reframing our diets within a global financial landscape questions geopolitical implications and economic interests in respect of climate change and the pressure this puts on human and other-than-human inhabitants.

This piece is featured in the AR October issue on Food – click here to purchase your copy today