When people think about Taiwanese food, a few popular exports will come to mind: bubble tea, xiao long bao (broth-filled steamed pork dumplings), and niu rou mian (Taiwanese beef noodle soup). But if you want a glimpse of a rural facet of Taiwan’s diverse gastronomic sphere, we suggest checking out this year’s TaiwanFest (September 1 to 3).
One of the culinary programs at the annual festival is Let’s Savour Taiwan, a small-scale exhibition that showcases the island nation’s eco-friendly and sustainable agriculture movement. Attendees will learn about how this traditional industry is making a comeback through unique stories collected by artist and curator Yen-Chun Lu.
In 2014, Taiwan went through a minor food-safety crisis known as the Taiwan food scandal. With the discovery of everything from tainted cooking oils (blended with recycled oil, grease, and leather cleaner) to adulterated dried preserved tofu (made with toxic industrial dye), Taiwanese people began to lose confidence in their homegrown products.
When these unfortunate incidents were unfolding, Lu was working on an art project in Taiwan’s Gongliao district. While she was there, she discovered a group of people living in the mountain villages who adapted environmentally friendly farming techniques. That’s when she realized there’s a close relationship between producing healthy food and protecting the environment, and decided to start a movement to promote the concept of sustainable agriculture.
At first, Lu didn’t think she would make a big difference. But after a few years of travelling through Taiwan meeting farmers and producers to share the stories behind their products, she can see that they appreciate her work and have become motivated to do even better.
“People are becoming more conscious of what they’re eating, and devoting more time to learning about these practices,” Lu explained to the Straight in a phone interview. “There is definitely a rise in the awareness of farmers and their products.”
Lu’s initiative is similar to Vancouver’s community-supported agriculture and farm-to-table concept. In Taiwan, there is increased interest in farmers and growers. Taiwanese folks are beginning to embrace the people and stories behind locally grown products, which shows that supporting local farmers extends beyond North America.
At Let’s Savour Taiwan, visitors will learn about Taiwanese farmers and chefs who have dedicated their lives and careers to keeping Taiwan sustainable. Lu has curated 11 stories that will be shared through visual displays at this exhibition, and a selection of products will be available for tasting and purchasing.
One example featured in Lu’s library of anecdotes is Sweet 365, a business that sells tasty preserves. Its founder, Shih-Fung Pan, is a farmer and chef who uses his culinary skills to salvage ugly fruits and veggies that never make it to the marketplace. He helped turn 2,400 kilograms of ugly oranges into delicious jams, creating a sought-after product and reducing food waste at the same time.
Another story revolves around Green Light Farm. Taiwan is known for its aromatic and flavourful teas, but farmer and owner Lu-ho Chen creates teas that are nowhere near as fragrant as his competitors’ award-winning counterparts.
His tea leaves are less flavourful only because he doesn’t use herbicides and artificial fertilizers. Although he doesn’t pocket huge revenues, Chen takes prides in growing natural and healthy products while protecting the environment.
Lu has amassed dozens of other stories that showcase Taiwan’s green-farming concept, and she believes that sharing them with others will directly benefit the nation’s steadily growing movement.
“What we’re trying to do here is to get these farmers in Taiwan excited. Their products are seldom seen outside of Taiwan,” Charlie Wu, managing director of TaiwanFest, told the Straight by phone. “With these collaborations and integrations with their products, we’re hoping to really give the movement another boost and allow these farmers to continue on with their journey in what they do.”
TaiwanFest runs from September 1 to 3 on Granville Street between West Pender and Robson streets, at the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza, and in the Orpheum Annex. For further information, visit the TAIWANfest website.