There is now growing acknowledgement of the fact that we urgently need to transform the way we produce and consume food worldwide, so that people can enjoy equitable access to healthy, nutritious food affordably, in a way that’s good for the planet. This is the very goal that the Chefs’ Manifesto works towards. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted this need by bringing public attention to the existing inequalities and sustainability challenges inherent to the way our current food systems operates.
By the nature of their job, chefs have major potential to catalyse the shift to a future-fit food system, by shaping and influencing both the food industry and global food culture. Also, as restaurants and caterers embark on the difficult journey of building back from the COVID-19 crisis, there is a strong desire for an environmentally and socially responsible recovery. But there is currently a skills gap between mainstream culinary education today, against workplace expectations of sustainable food production, and the pathway towards a better food future for all. To fulfil their potential, chefs across the sector - from food service, to retail, to high-end establishments - need to be able to create healthy, nutritious meals that have a better balance of plant and animal protein, and have a strong grounding in the broad sustainability issues that are facing the culinary and catering industries today.
This formed the basis of the Future Plates initiative. Part of the Protein Challenge 2040, an industry-wide collaboration that works to create a sustainable protein sector, the initiative focuses on equipping future chefs at all levels of the food industry with the skills and knowledge needed to create a positive future for food, by going beyond standalone courses to integrating sustainable food and protein into the mainstream of culinary education.
Led by the University of West London and sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, and with support and input from the Chefs’ Manifesto team (SDG2 Advocacy Hub), the Future Plates initiative piloted and trialled eight new sustainability focused lessons from September 2019 – May 2020 with culinary arts students. These teaching resources - including tips, structures, lesson plans and powerpoint presentations - are easily adaptable and designed to be integrated into almost any mainstream culinary education course, and have been collated into a free-to-use Future Plates Handbook. It is accompanied by an Insights Report, which distils learnings from the pilot, as well as multiple industry stakeholder roundtables, discussions and a chefs survey.
The Future Plates team is now calling for culinary institutes, schools and colleges around the world, and even chefs who train junior staff on the job, to take up these resources and begin to build them into their training courses. The hope is that this will help bring forward a much-needed skills transition across the food industry, that enables operators to prioritise sustainable nutrition as a goal, alongside taste and commercial drivers.