We are what we eat
Thais have every reason to celebrate with regard to a new culinary milestone, phanaeng, which has been awarded the No.1 stew ranking by TasteAtlas, a global food mapping site.
Coming second and third on the TasteAtlas chart, compiled based on reviews by food professionals and critics worldwide, are kare, a Japanese-style curry, and sichuan mala, a spicy Chinese soup.
By making the ranking, phanaeng has effectively joined other world-famous dishes such as tomyam kung and tom kha gai chicken soup, green and massaman curry.
The red massaman curry, in particular, topped CNN Travel World's 50 Best Foods list in 2021.
Food is a vital element in exerting soft power. Thai delicacies are a magnet for tourism, and cultural exports can bring revenue to the country.
It's well known that fragrant herbs with medical benefits, like lemon grass, galangal and kaffir-lime, play a central role in Thai cuisine, which, similar to others in Southeast Asia, is largely based on the region's biodiversity.
Therefore, food activists are correct in highlighting the need to nurture Thailand's natural advantage: the environment.
The government's agro-development policy has failed to adequately address this important issue. While profiting from Thailand's culinary reputation, the authorities have focused on monocrop farming, aimed at exports, over the past few decades.
Take, for instance, the issue of rice -- the country's staple food. The government's export-oriented development policy has made some unique strains vanish, leading to a market limited to Hom Mali jasmine and Hom Pathum rice strains.
Only a few high-value strains, like Khao Sang Yod of Phatthalung, Khao Hang Sakonthawapi of Sakon Nakhon and Lueng Patew of Chumphon, have been brought back over the past few years.
Each of these strains has unique textures and comes with various health benefits. Some are known for their drought- or disease-resistant traits.
Although these special strains, with quite a few earning the geographical indication tag, may not give massive yields compared to those planted using the monocrop farming system, they should still be internationally promoted, albeit for niche markets, as part of Thailand's cultural foods.
Equally important is food safety. Thai authorities must pay more attention to this issue and ensure stringent market checks, particularly on street food, because of its popularity among foreign tourists.
Those in the food industry, meanwhile, should be aware of the importance of hygiene and the dangers of certain substances, such as food additives.
It would be better if the authorities stepped up the promotion of organic farming, or at least safe chemical systems.
Education and awareness campaigns should be carried out for farmers so they can learn about the effects of chemicals on their crops because it affects not only human health but also ecology.
Incentives, like subsidies and technical assistance, that enable farmers to adjust and better embrace organic farming would be helpful.
With great taste, Thai food can earn global recognition. Yet, there is no place for complacency and compromise. On the contrary, those involved should pitch in and make sure that Thai cuisine is of good quality, perfect for health.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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