Chefs’ recipe for sustainable food system

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on June 05, 2021

Fine for food waste: Kedari Food Court caution customers that those leaving behind food would have to pay a fine of Rs 50 per plate.   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

Better food system for all is the focus of UNEP campaign on World Environment Day

Do chefs have a critical role in promoting sustainable food systems and bringing in behavioural changes in consumers which can contribute to addressing problems such as loss of biodiversity, environmental pollution and even climate change?

Participating in a round table organised to mark the occasion of World Environment Day, a group of four chefs – two from India and one each from Hong Kong and the US – said their community’s responsibility is much more than cooking what people like to eat and they have to shoulder the responsibility of influencing consumers to think about sustainable food systems which are important for the planet.

Sustainable food is the focus of the campaign initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) together with organisations like and Twitter India on the World Environment Day on Saturday.

Food wastes

A Food Waste Index released by UNEP in March this year showed that substantial amounts of food are produced but not eaten by humans, leading to significant negative impacts. It estimated that 8 to 10 per cent global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. As much as 931 million tonnes of food, or 17 per cent of the total 5.3 billion tonnes of food available for consumption globally, is wasted every year. UNEP estimates that a person on an average waste about 121 kg of food annually and much of this (74 kg) happens at household levels.

“As Food and Agriculture Organization defines, sustainable diet is one which has low environmental impact, contributes to healthy life of present and future generations, protects and respects biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable and supports natural and human resources,” said Tom Hunt, award-winning chef and author of the book Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet.

“We need to communicate good food values through our menus and on our restaurant walls with absolute transparency,” said Hunt, a signatory to Chef’s Manifesto, a global campaign that engages chefs as advocates for a better food system for all; one that is less wasteful, more nutritious and respects earth.

“There is a need to bring back the culinary heritage of India. We have always eaten right, eaten sustainably and preserved food. It is all bout bringing back that knowledge,” said Radhika Khandelwal, chef at Delhi-based restaurant Fig & Maple. Ethical sourcing of ingredients is very important, said Khandelwal who has been sourcing fresh produce and grains directly from farmers from different parts of the country for her restaurant. During Covid-19 pandemic, Khandewal has been buying more from farmers who have limited avenue to sell their produce to cook and feed Covid-19 patients and crematorium workers.

Anahita Dhondy, another Delhi-based chef, said excessive promotion of particular food products as often done by food companies is affecting environment adversely, citing the example of avocado fruit. She said there is a need to instill a thinking in people that they should eat food that is good for the planet as well as for people.

Peggy Chan, Hong Kong-based chef and TEDx speaker, also swears by Chef’s Manifesto like all others, said plant-based meat, which has become a big fad in Hong Kong, is being questioned by consumers for not being able to provide enough nutrition and also not being able to solve the problems associated with industrialised animal industry and not paying farmers fairly. Khandelwal also agreed that the plant-based keema which is being marketed in India is four to five times costlier than keema derived from natural meat.

According to Hunt, such alternatives are not a solution for real problems (of industrial animal agriculture) and, in fact, are creating additional issues.

Published on June 05, 2021

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