Food justice is when communities exercise their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food such that the food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate. At the heart of food justice is respect and regard for the land, animals and people who grow food sustainably.
Julia Smiskal is a food justice advocate and she operates and co-owns the Yalta Restaurant. Located in Vilnius, the Yalta is what Julia calls “a sustainable food restaurant” where “nature decides the menu” (only local, seasonal, foods are used and bought direct from local farmers).
Growing up in rural Lithuania, Julia recognizes how large-scale farming is destroying village economy and autonomy. “My conviction is that small farmers can provide us with all the food we need.” 90% of farmers in Lithuania are small-scale, with the average size of approximately 3-4 hectares, yet the government and large agri-businesses perceives them as a primitive, inefficient form of agriculture. Throughout her life, Julia has eaten from her parent’s small farm. “This is the kind of food I eat therefore this is what I prepare for my customers.” After studying social development in Bordeaux, Julia found her niche in food preparation. “I love it. For me to be in the kitchen, to have a restaurant, is very concrete. My hands give a result everyday.”
Woven into the management of the Yalta are social, economical, and ecological constructs. The Yalta supports ecologically responsible farmers and acts as a conduit for restaurant patrons, in which many are seeking quality food. Furthermore, neighboring denizens of the Zverynas district can find a social community-based space where art, music, and film abound. The ambiance inside this 100 year-old historically-registered house is welcoming, where the furniture is recycled, the water is free and served from the tap. In addition, next to the restaurant sits a large greenhouse which provides the Yalta’s summer kitchen with veggies such as lettuce, spinach, chard, carrots, and several types of herbs.
Patrons can peruse a notebook which provides information about the dozen or so farmers who are responsible for the food they are eating. At the local farmers’ market, Julia purchased for the upcoming week: bread, apples, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, potatoes, beef, chicken and butter. Seasonal foods are prepared according to traditional recipes. “Traditionally, during Lithuanian summers, very little meat was consumed maybe small portions of smoked meats. Summer heat could spoil fresh meats. Vegetables, greens and cold soups were ideal for long hours working in the fields.”
For early December, the Yalta was serving fried fish from local lakes, pumpkin soup, beet root salad, and apple pie. Uninviting was the snow and bitter wind outside but inside the Yalta, there radiates a warmth and aroma found only in those kitchens and dining spaces where care and love reside.