Should chefs educate the public on sustainable food? Too right and so should we all!
A network connecting all players in global food production from the private, charity and public sectors have been specifically targeting chefs with the mantra:
‘Cook your food without cooking the planet’
The Advocacy Hub has created a Chef Manifesto which identifies goals and practices for sustainable food prep which is sympathetic to the planet. The head of the Hub, Paul Newnham, believes that chefs have an ability, perhaps a duty, to educate the public, and “by bringing chefs together they can learn from each other.”
The Hub has created a network (which all chefs are welcome to join) across 60 countries, where chefs can access resources, pool information and plan their actions.
As a Ballymaloe Cookery School- trained chef, with a passion for traditional, local, seasonal food raised, grown and produced time honoured ways, this deeply resonates with me, when I read Elizabeth Winkler’s article for the Sustainable Food Trust “Changing the world one meal at a time: How chefs can make eating out more sustainable” I wanted to share it with you.
It’s all to do with the The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Key among the 17 goals is a commitment to end hunger by 2030 and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round. And this includes the UK.
“the [SDGs are a] blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030.”
In relation to food systems, the aim of the SDGs is to double the agricultural productivity and income of small-scale food producers, as well as ensuring sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices which will increase productivity and production, maintain ecosystems, strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and which will improve land and soil quality. These are noble aims to be sure.
But tackling food system challenges - such as undernutrition, food waste and soil degradation… and their ultimate impact on human health is hugely complex, and success relies on everyone rolling up their sleeves and getting involved.
Indeed, I wrote my book Once Upon a Cook- Food Wisdom, Better Living to encourage people to become a much more aware, much more conscious and much healthier consumers.
8 ways to straddle farm to fork
Chefs bridge the gap between the farm and the fork – transforming raw ingredients into delicious, nutritious meals. In doing so, they influence what we grow, what we put on our plates and how we think and talk about food.
The Manifesto comprises eight chef-identified behaviours which professional cooks can follow in order to improve and maintain the optimum possible food sustainability, from field to fork. But let’s not side-step our individual responsibility and leave it to the chefs and cooks… each and every one of us needs to play our part too:
Use ingredients grown with respect for the earth and its oceans
To achieve this, chefs (and home cooks) are invited to quiz their suppliers:
- Where are the ingredients from?
- How are they produced and reared?
- What are the animals fed and how are they cared for?
- What about the sustainability of the fish you are buying?
Ask how the soil is fertilised or whether harmful pesticides are used? Where the producers/suppliers are local, site or farm visits are encouraged.
Protect biodiversity and improve animal welfare
- Use small, local producers as much as possible.
- With meat, use every part of the animal rather than just the choice cuts - for instance, use shin or shoulder of beef for slow-cooked unctuousness, and use the bones for stocks and broths.
- Try using naturally drought-resistant heritage grains, such as wild sorghum and be inventive with plant varieties – there are dozens of edible plants that we currently ignore and fail to make use of.
Invest in livelihoods
- Examine the supply chain and opt for fairly-priced produce - look to enable a workable and sustainable livelihood for farmers and suppliers.
- Is the produce coming from a “just-in-time”, centralised distribution warehouse which may be operating questionable working practices... or even modern-day slave labour? According to the food journalist Felicity Lawrence: “Migrant labour is not coincidental but structural to the just-in-time model, which needs the extreme flexibility of a class of desperate workers to function.”
Reduce waste and value natural resources
Globally, we throw away nearly 33% of all food produced, an amount costing the global economy an estimated $940 billion, while more importantly, one in nine people go without food or are undernourished. This demonstrates an appalling lack of respect for food, farmers and the planet.
- Use sustainable, seasonal local produce.
- Consider what people leave on their plates and remove unnecessary ‘fillers’ or garnishes which will just go to waste.
- Freeze fish trimmings until you have enough to make fish cakes, or meat trimmings to make meatballs. And as mentioned, use the whole animal to make stocks, etc.
- Use bits you might normally discard. For instance, onion skin can be dried out and ground into powder for flavouring (works brilliantly), or cauliflower leaves can be roasted till crisp for the same use.
Celebrate local, seasonal food
It’s not rocket science is it? Locally-grown produce, in season, will be fresher (and better quality) than produce which has travelled thousands of miles, not to mention the ‘air miles’ cost, financially and environmentally.
- Buying local supports the local economy: the shorter the food chain, the more the money remains in your own local area.
- Create a ‘kitchen garden’ - tomatoes, chillies, potatoes, courgettes and lettuce are easy to grow, and window pots with herbs are space-saving (and MUCH cheaper!) than shop-bought packets you rarely make complete use of. Does food get any fresher or more nutritious than being harvested from your own garden?! Nope!
Focus on plant-based ingredients
- More and more chefs are making vegetables the centrepiece of their dishes, why not do the same?
- What grows best, or is special to, where you live? Harness regionality for extra freshness, taste and, most importantly, sustainability and micro-nutrition.
- Make that grass-fed and finished meat go much further with flavoursome and healing slow-cooked stews.
Educate diners about food safety, healthy diets and nutritious cooking
Chefs can educate their customers by championing food quality – the better taste, flavour and much better nutrition found in traditional foods and organic, heritage and sustainably sourced produce.
See food as medicine: what we eat is key to our good health - this is the important message woven throughout my book.
There is also a huge renaissance in the use of traditional fermentation of raw foods to promote a healthy gut - sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented foods such as kombucha and kefir.
Chefs and home cooks can educate the palate, mind and the gut microbiome (the seat of every aspect of our health) of their diners… I’ve devoted a chapter to explaining the science and techniques as well as sharing some delicious recipes.
Choose nutritious food that is accessible and affordable for all
- Be canny about sourcing and keep to a budget.
- Cook everything from scratch to cut costs.
- Choose cheap cuts of meat and embrace slow cooking.
- Why not learn about wild food foraging?
What more can YOU do?
Your home-cooked dishes can inspire others to cook healthily and inventively on a budget.
Yep.. right there is the BIG takeaway, if you’ll pardon the expression: this can (and must!) be implemented at home.
All of the principles above can easily be adopted in your home kitchen. You just need to be honest and critical of your current shopping and cooking habits to find a better, more sustainable and ultimately more healthy approach to food for you and your family and ultimately… our planet.
Want to learn more? Read my book!