Food activist, seed librarian and community-driven leader, Zayaan Khan is changing the foodscape from the ground up. Written for Kululu’s inflight magazine, Khuluma, 21 June 2017
Food As Sustenance, Knowledge, Life
“Try this,” Capetonian Zayaan Khan (32) says, a headscarf draped loosely bandana-style over her cropped bob. It’s mushroom biltong, intense with the umami-like flavours of soya sauce, chilli, ginger and garlic. “We call it ‘sunstroke mushroom’. A friend has done a study that [shows] the skin of a mushroom can take UV light and convert it to vitamin D,” she explains. “I leave the mushrooms in the sun for at least four hours, maybe up to twelve hours so that they’re vitamin D-rich and that vitamin D will hold for up to a year. Then, I marinate them and I dehydrate them.” Zayaan is standing behind the counter of her current laboratory, the Ethical Co-op’s packaging room at Oude Molen Eco Village in Pinelands. Bottles of fermented vegetables like probiotic-rich kimchi and sauerkraut (“powerkraut because they give you superpowers,”) are steeping. Wonky quince and squash sit in large bowls. The sharp tang of vinegar and the sweet musky scent of dehydrated mushrooms fill the air.
“I make brinjal biltong too,” she adds about the surplus and waste produce she works on with the aim of creating edibles that don’t require any special ingredients like sugar or pectin or complicated preserving techniques. Her ultimate goal is to share the recipes with communities that can benefit from preserving food to fend off hunger. Here, she says, referring to the Ethical Co-op space, she often interacts with the farmers who drop off their produce. Zayaan lights up when we speak about fermentation and bacteria, what she terms “fermentation verskrik” [fear] and her delight at watching food change over time.