By Jessica Pag-iwayan
Images by Majoy Siason
“Sustainability” is one of the most used, if not overused words in English. We encounter it when talking about fashion, transportation, and even infrastructure. This comes as no surprise. The world is in an alarming state due to climate change and global warming. More than some casual utterance, it’s a cry for change. Do not allow yourself to be silenced.
Another field where sustainability is needed is the food and beverage sector. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN), “roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted.” When estimated, this is equivalent to $680 billion in industrialized countries, and around $310 billion in developing countries.
To combat this, different organizations across the globe advocate for farm-to-table dining, as well as vegetarian and vegan diets. Chefs are encouraged to join the movement and to champion sustainability.
During the Asian Culinary Exchange 2019 mounted at Discovery Primea, Makati, respected local and international chefs attended the event and shared their take about this advocacy.
The new roles of chefs in environmental sustainability
One of the event’s forums was graced by chefs Peggy Chan, owner of Hong Kong-based vegetarian restaurant Nectar, Myke Sarthou or Tatung of Talisay Garden Café, and Nowie Potenciano of the Sunny Side Cafe Group. They discussed the important roles of the chefs in promoting environmental sustainability.
According to them, aside from providing palatable food choices, chefs have the responsibility to innovate and to introduce sustainable recipes. Tatung encouraged chefs, especially the local ones, to go around the country and discover new ingredients they can use as new alternatives. “When we go around the different regions in the Philippines, we’ll find different ingredients,” he said. “It made me realize that if you just scan around the country, especially with the biodiversity we have, and acknowledge and discover the potential of what is around, we will be able to feed a lot more people.”
Myke Sarthou, Peggy Chan, and Nowie Potenciano
He thinks that restaurants these days create menus based on what is already popular rather than to introduce something new, or create a new trend or new recipes. “Sometimes, that’s the easiest thing to do, but I believe that it is very important for us to be able to innovate and to introduce these recipes and ingredients, so a lot of people will adopt them,” he explained.
Peggy, meanwhile, emphasized the important roles of the farmers. “We should give the power back to the people on the ground—the farmers who are the stewards of our soil, of our land, and of our water waste. They are giving back the power to our chefs who should be the stewards of our health,” she said. “Chefs do have a very, very powerful role— to be the prime examples in doing good for the world rather than just creating good food.”
Nowie chimed in, “Our chefs should be the ones innovating, pushing for flavors and textures by the use of ingredients that people haven’t seen yet.”
More than just the kitchen rock stars
Former Asia’s Best Female Chef and honorary knight of the Order of the Star of Italy, Margarita Forés of Cibo believes that chefs are the new rock stars as they have so much power to influence people to be more aware of the world’s situation, and to encourage them to choose sustainability on their everyday food choices.
“To be chefs today, I think we can’t close our eyes to what the situation is and what’s going on in our world,” she said. “For us to be in this industry where we are trying to be not just people that feed you, but who try to do it in a most creative way, we cannot turn a blind eye to what’s going on in the world.”
Based on the UN’s report, “food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, and energy.” These produce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. The data also shows that in Asia, China alone wastes 50 million tons of grain annually. This is enough food to feed 200 million people.
“We have such a huge voice, we have such a huge platform because what we work with is what keeps us alive,” she continued. “It’s inevitable that whatever we do needs to reflect what the situation is, and at the same time, we need to do it in a responsible, sustainable way.”
Chef Kirk Westaway of Jaan agreed, “Recently, the world becomes foodie. Everybody’s a critic and knowledgeable about the food. I believe chefs have been recognized to be more in control and to have a louder voice. People pay attention to what we have to say.”
Chef Margarita ended the talk by inviting all chefs to heed the call of sustainability and to take action. “Chefs are the new rock stars, and we need to use that power to make the world a better place.”
Asian Culinary Exchange 2019 was co-presented by Nespresso Philippines and Discovery Primea. The Singapore Tourism Board and Sommelier Selection were minor sponsors.