Chewing the ecological cud
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates there are approximately half a billion smallholder farmers across the planet – these farmers provide us with 80% of the food in our food system. 80%. This is an extraordinary number when you think of the big business contenders. Chefs, consumers and industry would do well to engage in conversation with these vital small producers to understand their challenges and see how we can work together to create a better food system. Changes across agriculture, politics, health and consumer diets will need to shift together to create the global change we need to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Patrick Holden (Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust) kicked off an energetic day two with his keynote speech emphasising soil health and regenerative agriculture, all of which he practices on his farm in Wales. He compares his farming principles to the principles of a circular economy – harvesting without degrading the natural capital and minimising use of inputs.
‘For me, the message I’d like to send to chefs is, start a new story about what ingredients you’re cooking with. These ingredients are from a sustainably managed farm, supporting a community and they are supporting the move towards a zero emission target, perhaps. Tell these stories and get people excited about them. Align our diets and menus to the productive output of sustainable farming systems as near as possible to where we live is the simplest and imperative solution. This includes, not just what these farms produce, but also considering how much they produce, too, and supporting their glut of carrots or cabbages if you can.
In communicating all of this, we should emphasise that the message is all about what we should be doing not what we shouldn’t be doing”
Fabrice DeClerck (EAT Forum) was around to discuss some of Patrick’s values: “Essentially, the way Patrick farms is exactly what we support at EAT. The way he manages his farm is the same way a creative chef manages his menu – with a load of ingenuity and multiple outputs. He places many sustainable practices together to create harmony. All too often we’re reducing the food service industry to minimum ownership of process, when we should be supporting them to take control and run with creative ideas… Small holding owners or small farmers and chefs can be viewed similarly in terms of how they implement.
Supporting independent thinkers and creativity stimulates exciting ideas and concepts in both spaces.
Recognising how successful chefs have been in becoming advocates for diversity, we’re still struggling to recognize that these are the same qualities we value in a farmer”.
The Savory Foundation looks at holistic management of grazing and pasture, recognizing that “ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation, is derived from the photosynthetic process - green plants growing on regenerating soil.”
A whole new kinda pick ‘n mix…
Encouraging the room to gather as many people from the many arms of the food industry in conversations, Fabrice was enthusiastic and positive about how communication can stimulate change. A great example of this being the Unilever ‘Future 50 Foods’– a document promoting 50 nutritious foods that are good for our health and for the planet.
“I believe the future 50 is a very proactive message,” says Fabrice, “It not only creates room for innovation, but sends out a positive message about new and novel scope – the tip of the iceberg in terms of new ingredients we can use – it creates a space for big business and small holders to co-exist which nourishes.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Chefs can bring their enthusiasm to these new ingredients and go wild – as Helena Dollimore from Unilever says – “go out and makes these ingredients famous. Lets incorporate them into everyday life”.
Claire Pritchard joined in the talks again this year, bringing along her report on the London Food Strategy. There have been massive strides recently in managing advertising. Transport For London (TFL), with the support of Mayor Sadiq Khan, has banned advertising from any HFSS (high fat, salt and sugar) food and drinks, in an effort to curb childhood obesity.
Education was as strong contender for many solutions within the food space – “People often ask me how they can make the food system better. I know how many challenges we face and so it can become overwhelming, so I always say, think about our babies. Think about every new life that starts: from plastic toys to suck on whilst they’re teething, to what we are feeding them. It would be great to see chefs and restaurants get involved in this thinking and help the public start their food journey in the right space.
Our message is simple but honest: we want to provide a better food culture. One of the big challenges in London is the correlation between poverty and unhealthy food choices. London is notable for this because so many people living in the city are being paid below the minimum London wage. Consider this carefully as chefs: if you are not paying London minimum wage, you are contributing to poverty.”
The difference between ‘almost the right ingredient’ and the right ingredient is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening, (with apologies to Mark Twain)
Better Buying Lab (part of the World Resources Institute) brought the word on street to the party. If we’re looking at increasing biodiversity and new ranges of ingredients in menus worldwide, the narrative that accompanies those new experiences will need to excite and engage a new audience.
Looking at increasing plant-based eating, the lab shared a report that aimed to “innovate, test and scale a new approach to shift people towards plant-based foods. It’s really clear that meat is always described in a really delicious way – 28-day matured, flame-grilled, barbecue-basted etc. We want to bring this language to the plant-based side of eating, and see what gets peoples attention. Language affects us psychologically and physiologically, therefore our buying habits”
After sharing a wide range of studies, the key points for naming were simple but powerful: don’t use: meat-free, vegan, vegetarian or health restrictive foods. Do use: provenance, flavour and, refer to the look and feel. When you talk about food in a positive way and especially a relationship to nature, or the sensory enjoyment, it proved dramatically more popular.
Play on the positive simulations of a food experience with people – that’s when you progress with success.
From biodiversity in the kitchen, to biodiversity and healthy growth in the Manifesto
While the Manifesto manifests across the globe, the team took a look at what growth looks like and how to practically implement more hubs across the world.
The aim is for chefs to take ownership and roll out hubs locally, to contextualize the Manifesto in a way that aligns with them. Cultivating a connected network, each hub acts as a support network; each individual, would then be, in a sense, their own hub.
How do we want to multiply, and what kind of spaces do we want to create?
As chefs take this journey worldwide, we look at mentorship and what that means to have a healthy work environment.
Touching on Chef Kamilla Seidler’s point on empathy in a kitchen environment, Keren Newnham rightly pointed out that “awareness is key when you’re creating a healthy work environment. What is your history, your story, and how has it contributed to the work setting you have created today? As a mentor, understand that everyone has his or her own story, and that needs to be heard. Actively listening is probably the most powerful thing you can do as a leader and mentor”.
All photos were taken by Diana Patient.
Big thanks to OmVed Gardens for their continued support and hosting of the Chefs' Manifesto London Action Hub.
“Thank you so much for making this happen. For sharing your experiences, knowledge and all contributions – great honoured to have been a part of this and there are definitely a lot of great expmples that I can take back with me and share with my circle”
Chef Brwa Ahmad