On the 24th September Botanic Garden Meise celebrated the opening of the renovated part of the glasshouses, dedicated to tropical plants. The BigPicnic team contributed to this event in a major way, by presenting a Nigerian kola nut ceremony during the official opening, a small exhibition and tasting of roots, tubers and bananas, an exhibition and tasting of edible insects, tastings of bissap and Mongozo beer, and a film about people of African heritage’s food memories. Apart from the kola nut ceremony, all activities will be repeated over the next 9 weeks.
The Frietkot serving tropical root vegetable fries as part of the BigPicnic exhibition. Photo credit: Botanic Garden Meise
The official opening and kola nut ceremony, provided as a special welcome, were attended by around 500 VIPs including Minister Muyters (Flemish Minister of Work, Economy, Innovation and Sports) and Minister Weyts (Flemish Minister of Tourism). After the official ceremony, everyone visited the glasshouses where they could see the exhibitions on roots, tubers and bananas and on edible insects.
In the afternoon, approx. 1700 visitors came to the glasshouses. Apart from looking at the BigPicnic exhibitions, they could:
- Taste fried yam, cocoyam, sweet potato, plantain and cassava. The main purpose of this tasting was to draw the attention of our public to staple crops that are important in certain parts of the world. The exhibition shows the crops and highlights their importance for food security in tropical Africa.
- Taste some snacks with edible insects. The main purpose of this tasting was to draw people’s attention to the exhibition that explains about insect eating in our culture and in tropical countries, the importance of insects for food security and sustainable food patterns. Also, the public were invited to express their attitude towards eating insects in a visual way by drawing pictures on feedback cards.
Sampling African drinks. Photo credit: Botanic Garden Meise
The kola nut ceremony drew the attention of our visitors to the importance of certain plants in African cultures. For the Nigerians involved in the ceremony, it was their first contact with the garden. They were extremely honoured to do the ceremony for our ministers. They came on one of the guided tours and expressed their admiration for the glasshouses. In particular the older men were sharing information about the plants they saw, and expressed their regret that the young people in their community don’t know much about plants and are in general not very interested.
The exhibition and especially the tasting of roots, tubers and bananas attracted many visitors. Apart from appreciating the food and exchange of information on the plants and crops, the people who served the food (people from the African community and botanic garden colleagues) were able to collect a few stories from people who had anecdotes about these crops. Visitors with South-American backgrounds talked about their way of preparing them, Belgians who had lived in Africa before had memories of the smell of chikwange on the Congolese markets, etc.
The insect tasting attracted a lot of interest too. Here, the fact that we asked people to leave a reaction to the question ‘eating insects, yes or no?’ provided us with a lot of information about appreciation, beliefs, attitudes, etc. towards edible insects.
The drink tasting (Senegalese bissap and Mongozo beer with banana, mango and coconut) were successful, but we’re not sure if the public was aware of the story behind it. With the bissap, we wanted to draw their attention to the fact that people of African heritage set up projects in their country of origin and turn these into businesses. With the Mongozo beer, we wanted to tell the story about an Angolese man who came to Belgium in the eighties as a refugee, and shared his traditional beer recipes with Flemish brewers, thus kick-starting Mongozo beer production.
Finally, the film ‘The Face behind the Food’ drew less attention than we had expected. This is, probably, due to its location: somewhat off the beaten track.
Panel about bananas and tubers. Photo credit: Botanic Garden Meise
Most activities will be repeated in the same way during the next 8 special events until 26 November: 29 October (WWF National Familyday) and 26 November (Flemish Science Day) will be special editions on which we expect a lot of visitors. The film ‘The Face behind the Food’ will travel and people will be invited to share their own food memories. The first occasion on which it will be shown outside the Garden will be the ‘Africana flavours’ festival on the 21st of October.