What is Sustainable Cuisine? – Part One
Green is the new black!
So much has been written yet so much is misunderstood. Everything from culinary publications, to monthly magazines, to daily newspapers, to blogs are hoping on the Green Cuisine bandwagon. I’m not saying this bad and not saying this is good. I am saying that in general, the more people that are exposed to sustainable, eco-friendly, green cuisine (or whatever you what to call it), is good.
Not knowing what it means, too many labels, confusing names, so called “experts” and even worse, “Green Washing“, is bad.
Ok, so what is Sustainable Cuisine? What does it mean to be sustainable? My definition of sustainability is “a way of growing, shipping, processing preparing and eating foodstuff that doesn’t deplete the natural systems that create that product.”
First, sustainability is a long-term goal. Gene Kahn, Vice President, Global Sustainability Officer for General Mills, said in his keynote speech at the Cooking for Solutions seminar at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “sustainability is not a specific goal, but a work in process.” It isn’t black and white. It’s not about something being sustainable or not sustainable. Kahn doesn’t see any product as sustainable – he sees everything as “more sustainable or less sustainable.”
Second, sustainable cuisine isn’t just organic, local, only seafood oriented, only for the Pacific Northwest or upstate New York or is expensive. It’s more than all that. It is about combining the factors that go into our food: type or variety of products, method of growing or raising those products, knowing when and how foodstuff is harvested, slaughtered or caught, and how it is packaged and delivered. Sustainable cuisine comes from working with nature within the principles of the natural world.
Sustainable and seasonal cuisine brings many benefits, not the least of which is great taste. It is also great fun to know that you are cooking and eating great food grown or harvested by local people. Just as chefs have developed relationships with artisans, I believe all consumers must develop relationships with the people who are growing, farming and raising the products they eat and enjoy. Artisans are the people who should be driving our diet and what’s on our dinner table. Think “outside the box” and be open to the moment when you go to the market, even if it’s the neighborhood supermarket.
For my own cooking guidelines, I believe in “polyculture,” a system long practiced in China and Japan. Becky Goldburg, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense, a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving urgent environmental problems, states that “polyculture is the farming of many species of plants and animals together in one system in order to make optimum use of water and nutrients and to minimize farm wastes.” When both the restaurateur and the home cook begins to question the food chain and demand appropriate answers, then we will all be on the way to preserving and protecting the food supply for future generations. That responsibility encompasses environmental, economic and social consequences.
In What is Sustainable Cuisine – Part Two, I’ll explore what exactly is meant by the triad of sustainability.