Carla Van Kampen decided to combine her love of food and experience as a journalist with her work at WFP's Rome headquarters to write a cook book of recipes from WFP’s field offices.
The result is "What the World Eats: A Collection of Everyday Recipes from the United Nations World Food Programme". Van Kampen is hoping to publish the book once it’s finished and will donate the proceeds to WFP.
1.You’ve said that “understanding how people eat is understanding how they live”. What exactly do you mean?
Food is anthropology. Through it you can understand the climate, region, religion and social class of people, plus how they cook. When you trace food to its origins, you see a whole different dimension.
For example, “soul food” which is eaten in the southern States of the US includes ingredients such as black-eyed peas and yams, which originate from Africa. Through soul food you can see the connection between African Americans in the Deep South and Africa, and all the history that goes with that.
Another example is the greens they eat in US which are the same as the ones they eat in Kenya. Many African Americans in the US don’t realise that they’re eating the same foods as people in Africa.
Test your culinary skills with some recipes from Carla Van Kampen's book: Kenyan spicy beef samosas, Cameroonian ndole and Madagascar vegetable soup.
2.What made you decide to write a recipe book?
I was already a journalist so it was just a natural evolution to tell this story that was crying out to be told. I suppose the turning point was at a St Patrick’s Day lunch organised by a group of women at WFP.
Those who went contributed some money to charity and took along some food that was green, in honour of Ireland’s patron saint.
Some of the dishes included Tunisian fava beans with harissa and potato mash from Kenya. They were simple home-made dishes that it would be difficult to find in restaurants but which were delicious. Some of the recipes used ingredients that could be found in countries where WFP has operations to feed hungry people. That got me thinking…
3.How did you go about writing it?
WFP has got operations in nearly 80 countries. An announcement was sent out to all WFP country offices. I got tons of recipes at the beginning and to date I now have more than 250 recipes from 65 country offices from both local and international staff.
I started off by standardising and fixing up the English. Then I wrote to some famous cooks to ask for their participation in the project by creating their interpretation of one of the traditional dishes.
Celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Todd English, Jacques Pepin and New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman all signed on eager to get involved in the book.
I am currently looking for a publisher/agent for the project.
4.Which recipes stood out?
The Djibouti ginger drink springs to mind. It’s very simple but it’s supposed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
Other recipes are just beautiful. In Syria and Lebanon there are intoxicating blends of fruits and spices in simple recipes. There’s a Syrian rice dish where the best bit is burnt rice.
There was nothing shy about the food in Ghana, where ingredients such as eggs, shrimp and ham seem to be thrown together, but work wonderfully.