‘Food is alive, and gives life’
Changing the world
Our ambitions and ideals converge towards inspiring a bolder vision in gastronomy that combines great cooking with the cultural and ecological goals of humanity.
Given that the challenges we face today in terms of health, climate, environment, and even social justice, are inextricably entwined with the food we eat, then understanding how gastronomy has a tremendous bearing on diverse aspects of life deserves greater attention and sensitivity than splitting hairs over aromas or aesthetics.
By awakening and expanding our consciousness beyond the plate, a gastronomic experience can not only inform our sense of the world around us, but it can also become a powerful tool for rejuvenating people, nature, landscapes and communities.
Every day, while eating our meals, we define how the world is used.
As the largest consumer of natural resources, agriculture is driven by demand, so our food choices resonate far beyond the plate to profoundly shape land and marine ecologies as well as the livelihoods of the people who work and depend on them.
How can eating bread or cereal be linked to the devastation of soil on farmlands? How does soil degradation affect global warming and our ability to eat in the future? How does the corporate monopolisation of agriculture displace local food systems and create global hunger? These are key questions of our time.
All too often, we forget the immensity of life that gravitates around the production and consumption of food, and more importantly, how it is intertwined with our own.
Unfortunately, due to decades of unmindful daily fare, agriculture now takes up nearly half the earth’s land surface, mostly in the form of large industrial monocultures, where the result is not farming but, as acclaimed writer and farmer Wendell Berry describes, ‘a process closely akin to mining’.
Eating has become one of the greatest paradoxes of all time. The food we eat is eating us away – our health, our freedom, our resources, our planet and our very survival.
However, by giving greater consideration and taking personal responsibility for the food we eat, our food choices can become a powerful impetus for positive change to restoring our lives and our relationship with the world.
Thoughtful gastronomy breeds thoughtful culture.
How we put food on to the plate affects the way we interpret the world and thus our relationship with it. If all we care about is price or convenience, then we adopt a world view that’s inert, standardised and mechanical. But, when gastronomy is driven by a reverence for life, we can begin to see the world as dynamic, diverse and sentient.
Thus, a well prepared meal also has the potential to change both our bodies and our thinking. It can connect us to a meaningful story of stewardship, land regeneration, climate, community, social justice, culture, local diversity and native landscapes that bring beauty and meaning to our daily fare and to our existence.
Much of our work aims to build curiosity and help people to make connections between the food on our plates and the world we create, so that the act of eating can be imbued with deeper cultural and ecological significance.
Here are some examples of simple actions that can have significant effects.
Opting to eat less-celebrated species of fish can breathe life into small-scale fishing communities. Supporting diversity in crops and livestock at a local level can help restore ecological resiliency in agricultural landscapes. Choosing grass-fed rather than grain-fed meats can free up more of our farmlands and natural resources so they can be devoted to growing food for people rather than crops for animals.
With this newfound awareness and sensibility, the ways in which gastronomy can be used as a vehicle for liberation, empowerment and healing can be as numerous as the rich diversity of life that enlivens our planet.
Eating is so much more than just fuelling our bodies; it’s the most profound interaction we have with the world, and our greatest opportunity to build relationships that can greatly benefit the future of gastronomy and humanity.
‘Eating is an agricultural act.’
The sustainable movement in agriculture hinges on advancing new ways of thinking about cuisine that are attuned to the complexity and diversity of natural farming systems.
Despite the heightened sense of eco-consciousness in cuisine in recent years, a wide gap still exists between the demands of the table and the ethics of the farmer, because our consumption habits, and even tastes, have been so conditioned by the industrial system.
Decades of alienation from the land has cultivated a notion of food and eating based on monoculture farming, such as year-round availability, choice cuts or crops of food, and uniformity of size and taste – but this sort of consumption is no longer connected with the ecological reality of farming or with nature.
For example, restaurants looking to celebrate a farm-to-table cuisine but only having one cut of meat on offer is an oxymoron, as such behaviour requires the mass production of animals beyond the scale and capabilities of the family farm and ethical animal husbandry.
The same problem arises when menus supposedly based on sustainability only want marketable breeds. This ignores the great diversity of landscapes and climatic conditions in which local farmers farm, and thus the great diversity of livestock breeds, and also variety within those breeds, that have been specifically adapted to them that are valuable for building a resourceful and resilient food system.
We must realise the more we demand that the farm services the needs of the plate, the more we opt out of a sustainable food system. Instead, we need to convert to a cuisine that reverses this approach so that our way of eating fits in with the life processes of the farm.
Such a mindshift goes beyond purveying green labels or knowing farm provenance, to reconnecting the foods we put together on our plate with what a farm can truly support to grow, and the ways those foods are grown that ensures the land’s capacity to self-regenerate.
This means that recipes, menus and even diets need to be created in synergy with the geo-climatic conditions of a place, the carrying capacity of a farm, locally adapted seeds and breeds, wild biodiversity, and soil conservation practices such as cover cropping, companion planting and diversified grazing.
Integrating cuisine with the ecological principles of farming is not a fad or trend. It’s the key to eating healthier and tastier foods, as it supports how farmers work closely with the unique ecological conditions of their land to develop nutritional density and phenomenal flavours in their foods.
But there is a more fundamental reason for such integration; its to do with a way of eating that regenerates our land and natural resources, not exhaust or pollute them.
For example, rather than only eating mainstream crops, by diversifying what we put on our plates in tune with crop rotations on a farm we will support the way farmers use the synergy of different crop varieties to restore soil fertility, or control pests and blight instead of applying harmful chemicals.
Similarly, creating dynamic and resourceful menus that make use of the whole animal will create a economy of proper scale that is right for family farmers, who can only raise so many livestock responsibly and with minimal disruption to the ecological health of their farms.
While the idea of integrating our way of eating with the ecological principles of farming may seem new today, all the great heritage cuisines were based on proud agrarian ethics – because such affinity is what kept communities and nations well fed throughout the ages.
For an instance, ever wonder why the humble soybean is central to Chinese cuisine? Because it’s an ancient cover crop, and the same goes for black beans in Mexico. These plants have the special ability to return fertility to the soil, which has enabled farmers of the past to sustainably cultivate other staple crops like rice and corn that deplete fertility.
Engaging in conversation with family farmers provides valuable opportunities to gain an insight into the ecological relationships that compose their farms. This informs us not only how their foods will taste and how they will nourish our bodies, but also how they play a role in regenerating the land.
At the same time, family farmers depend on informed culinary arts and practices that knows how to support their particular choice of crop and livestock varieties, their method of husbandry, and their scale of production, because these aspects of farming are intimately linked with the health and longevity of their land.
By exchanging knowledge and being mindful of the impact that our food choices have on the viability of farming practices, we become aware that nourishing ourselves and nourishing the land go hand in hand.