Discovering the singularity of high mountain products: an interview with Toni Massanés

by | Dec 13, 2022 | European stakeholders

Author: Miranda García (AEIDL)

Andorra Taste, the First International Meeting of High Mountain Cuisine, took place between the 14th and 18th of September 2022 in the town of Escaldes-Engordany, Andorra. The event gathered around one hundred professional experts from mountains all over the world in order to single out how these high-altitude ecosystems contribute to the world gastronomy through their authenticity, sustainability, territory and local products.

MOVING had the opportunity to interview Toni Massanés, director of Fundació Alicia and panellist of Andorra Taste. We talked with him to discover the singularity of high mountain products, but also the main challenges they face.

Q1. What are the main risks to preserving the singularity of high mountain products?

If we talk about the European context, the main problem in high mountain territories is clearly depopulation. The orography of these areas holds certain not-so-fast communications and infrastructures back like those in the urban areas, which almost generates a “stream” of depopulation. And obviously, to reverse it, there would have to be institutional support. But the problem, in this case, is not so much the budget, but the approach.

Territorial rebalancing has not been considered an important European need. It has always been one of those things that are known, that is even said, but that is not really taken into consideration. It is more of a cultural issue. We already see what this negligence entails not only for the high mountains but also for the mountain areas, especially as it fails to raise the issues of rural depopulation. We are going to have a much worse Europe, for sure, if we do not address territorial unbalances as it already seems that this is the prospect for our future.

Q2. What opportunities does the uniqueness of high mountain products represent? 

Regarding high mountain products, in an economy focused on high productivity and performance, neither the orography of the mountains nor its climate is the best place to produce. Therefore, it is with other qualities with which mountain products should be understood and valued, though this is hard to do. 

Even though high mountain products are key for the local economy and, thus, for the subsistence of the communities, valorisation strategies working with so little volume are not so productive. The benefits are minimal and citizens do not value a product of this type, they can not see the difference [with non-mountain products], or do not know the reality behind the production of mountain products. If we have to label all high mountain products, it is because in reality everything has been lost and we do not value it.

The truth is high mountain products entrench culture, nature, and agro diversity, and they also allow rural and mountain development. Without this, our future is in jeopardy, to the point of destroying the planet in which we live. 

Q3. What elements of innovation are necessary to strengthen the uniqueness of high mountain products?

This innovation would have to be more from a cultural approach, not only from the people living in high mountains but even more from the citizenry and policymakers as a whole. This culture already goes through a changing mentality. In the end, we all suffer from the idea that mountain and rural areas are authentic, but also old and non-dynamic

In these types of territories there are no young people left because they do not have opportunities to make a living from their work with the same or similar conditions to those they have in the city. There is no connectivity, and it seems there is no right to public transport. But the point is that there has not been innovation in this sense. There has not really been an approach to ask “how we are going to do so?”. Technology indeed exists, but there is no interest in making the most of it. Why? Interest has shifted to where there is more market, with this vision of earning quickly, burning everything, and leaving a beautiful corpse in the form of an exhausted world behind us. This has been the model and this still is. And it costs a lot to change it, obviously, but this social innovation could give us many discoveries and many joys.

Furthermore, I work in a centre where we make gastronomic and agri-food innovations with small producers, seeking to add value to their products so that small companies are more competitive. However, the food universe has been delocalized and devalued. So how do we bring these high-mountain products to consumers without losing their value? The format and the packaging of the product should tell us about its value and characteristics. The other way, much more effective, is by taking people in a sustainable way to see that natural, cultural, diverse agricultural environment, where they will enjoy their own pleasure when it comes to tasting.

In short, the main innovation challenge is, on the one hand, to raise awareness and, on the other hand, to change the cultural mentality so that everyone, wherever we are, understands that without territorial rebalancing, without a sustainable and harmonious life with the environment, and specifically also in high mountain territories, the future does not look flattering.