Chefs Fixing a Broken Food System.

A Modern Chef and Zero-Waste aficionado’s take on how Chefs can help fix our Broken Food System.

Food Safety and Sustainability expert Amy at Conscious Kitchens asked Chef and Zero-Waste aficionado Conor Spacey to share his point of view on how Chef’s can get involved in fixing our broken food system.

Chef Conor Spacey — guest writer for Conscious Kitchens

The responsibilities of chefs have changed over the years. This is something I have seen and encouraged during my 30 years as a chef.

Our food system is broken. We know that 1/3 of all the food on the planet is wasted and 1 billion people are hungry, also obesity is on the rise with millions dying from obese related illnesses every year. We know that a lot of how we grow our food is unsustainable for the planet and that people do not have access to good affordable nutritious food.

That is a very simple overview of where we are at this very moment in time and while it might seem overwhelming to us, we (as chefs) can help make changes to improve and repair our global food system.

A chefs role — let’s think about where chefs sit in the food system. We are the people in the middle, we make the choices about where we buy our ingredients and what we are going to cook and serve to our customers.

So what if we used that responsibility to make changes. Lots of people, places, companies talk about sustainability and today it has become a very overused word with very little meaning or changes behind it. But what if chefs started to think outside their comfort zone and in a lot of cases, think differently to what they were taught over the years. Let’s start at the beginning, our procurement systems. For me it no longer makes sense for a chef to want to create a dish because they like the idea of it or how it may look on a plate or if it’s a very popular dish that they don’t want to take off the menu.

Chefs need to think more about where their food is coming from, how was it grown/produced, how far did it travel and is it in season.

Making decisions and being creative with ingredients that are sustainable rather than ingredients you like to cook with is a start. Food that is local to you, seasonal and grown with care and that increases biodiversity is key.

In Ireland we are very lucky to have this throughout our island. We have fantastic farmers that grow sustainably and produce amazing food throughout the seasons. Chefs need to seek out these farmers and learn from them about when food is at its best and what to buy throughout the seasons. Chefs need to partner with farmers and exchange ideas and plans. But it doesn’t end there, while local, seasonal food is so important we must not forget that we are part of a global food system.

Food travels globally and always will. In Ireland we rely on foods such as exotic fruits, spices, teas, coffee, cocoa, legumes to name a few that are a very important part of our diet. What do we know about them and how they have been grown, farmed, harvested etc.? It is our responsibility to find out. We have seen over the years that ingredients that have become popular or “trendy” have had a huge effect on our climate, wild life, CO2 emissions and people because we think it’s cool. Learning about such foods is vital but also passing on the information to your teams and customers so that more people learn about our food system is essential.

In many cases, the choices we make here will have a bigger effect on the people that live cleaner carbon neutral lives in other areas of the planet. On the subject of carbon emissions, food waste is the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions on the planet and yes, chefs can help change this too.

As mentioned we know that 1/3 off all the food on the planet is wasted. But where does waste occur?

It happens right across the food chain, from farms to transport, supermarkets, restaurants and homes. It’s not impossible to have a zero waste kitchen, it can take time and training and a total different thought process to what chefs normally do. If all of your food is treated exactly as food, then you have started the journey. Every ingredient that arrives into your kitchen can be used, it’s a habit (and a bad one) to throw away any part of ingredients. Once you start thinking differently and tackling waste, your mindset changes and solutions become more apparent. The zero waste principles used in a chefs kitchen can be implemented in a home kitchen and again chefs can share knowledge and educate consumers.

Chefs are creative people and to me a modern chef is a person that uses their creative side and knowledge of food to change exactly what they’ve done previously and use their voices to encourage and show others how to do the same.

Written by chef Conor Spacey (@spacey_chef on Instagram) for Conscious Kitchens (IG handle @conscious_kitchens)

Food Safety Consultant & Sustainability Expert with more than 10 years of industry experience internationally.