Updated: Sep 26, 2021
I travelled to Vietnam in early 2019 to learn more about the cuisine and food culture. In Hoi An I met a lovely home stay mother and daughter pair, who taught me many things about the history and farming in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a country who, in the not so distant past, has witnessed many atrocities and much violence. When I travelled through the country in early 2019, I witnessed the desperation of city people struggling to get back on their feet and do the simple thing many of us take for granted - feed their families.
Growing up in Colombia, I witnessed poor and struggling families heading to the capital city in droves and adding to the congestion of street vendors selling the same cheap products, benefiting only the big companies, and rarely the sellers themselves. This was the same thing I saw in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Many of the street vendors were looking to tourists to sell cheap sweets, cakes, trinkets and gadgets to try to make enough money to feed their families. The problem with this is that as tourists, we walk past the same thing 100 times and eventually lose interest in what is being sold altogether.
As tourists in the country, it was easy to ask ourselves "Why don't they do something different?". I found myself questioning why people can't try something new or just slightly different to set themselves apart. I also realised that this was an easy question to ask, from our privileged position as tourists in the country.
When I headed to Hoi An I found people working together as a community to improve their lives and livelihoods.
Nhi, our homestay host told me that after the agent orange attacks in 1991, those affected were given land to build homes on, in order to access medical attention in Hoi An. In addition, families were provided land to build an organic vegetable farm on the edge of the city and other farmers who grew rice weren't required to pay any tax.
I stayed in Hoi An for 1 week and in this time were able to see the impact these initiatives had on the community. The farmers had real work to commit to and an income to support their families. The vendors sold the organic produce at the local market and to surrounding villages, improving the towns economy and supporting yet again more families. Finally, the food businesses in town were able to use the freshest, healthiest produce to create food that was healthy, fresh, delicious food with a local history.
As a chef I immediately recognised these last points are all things that excite people to invest their money in their food. People look for healthy, fresh and delicious food, but mostly we all love to hear a story about where our food has come from.
It was great to finally see people working towards a common goal to benefit and grow a whole community, rather than desperately looking for the simplest option to make money. Of course, it is not as easy to look ahead when you are worried about how to feed your children their next meal, but this certainly is a start.