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Food Fashion 2: Climate-Smart Consumption

Last week, I proposed an idea that food is fashionable. I am fascinated with this notion that what we eat, where it comes from, how it is prepared, the nutritional value and how sustainable it is, is emerging alongside the art, design, techniques and ingredients that culinary designers and chefs around the world are introducing. I refer to this as the emergence of Food Fashion.

The next phase in Food Fashion is less about the culinary trends, new ingredients, cooking methods, etc. The big question that Food Fashion asks is: 

How climate-smart are we about the food we eat

In the same way that shoppers are increasingly looking for apparel designers and manufacturers who produce “eco-friendly” clothing (i.e., “sustainable fashion”), so too, people around the world are increasingly demanding that the food we consume is “climate-friendly.”

A few weeks ago, I took time out to have a “climate-friendly” lunch with climate expert, Rashmi Vittal. I asked Rashmi, Chief Commercial Officer at eevie, a climate engagement company, to share her insights on some of the food trends she envisions in the near future.

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Climate-friendly lunch with Rashmi Vittal.
Climate-Friendly Lunch

“People are more inclined to try creative, healthy plant-based recipes that are delicious. Going vegan may not be for everyone, but people are definitely making a conscious journey towards adding more veggies or sustainably raised meat into their diet. A climate-friendly lunch is definitely on trend as this is something big brand names are adding to their weekly menus.”

Ok, some of you might be wondering “climate-what?!” What does it mean exactly to be “climate-smart” or “climate-friendly?”

Each of us have a responsibility to fashion the food of our choice. Most of us will think about the nutritional value of our daily meals: “is my family getting the right nutrition from our meals?” We all have some level of consciousness about and attention to what we eat.

We eat with our eyes first!

But what about the source of the food? What about the impact of what we eat (and don’t eat) on the planet? The easiest way to think about it is by asking how “sustainable” food is.

Sustainability is a societal design to foster the needs of our generations and preserve for posterity. One of the four pillars of this is environmental protection.

Sustainability is the approach of designing, producing and consuming foods that cause little to no damage to the planet, which allows the environment to flourish.

Climate-smart consumption is an understanding and awareness about where and how our food is being grown. Purchasing, preparing and eating foods that are friendly to the environment, and promote sustainability.

Personally, I needed a different perspective to help me become climate-smarter. It can be very difficult to connect how what I eat impacts our earth. I am just one person. The planet is much too large for me to grasp.

Design before Production!
Diversity of Food

When I started my food and catering business in Hong Kong, and later after my move to California, I took greater notice of consumption habits. In particular, during my 17 year food services career at a major hospital, I saw firsthand how the food we buy, prepare and consume impacts all of us (on a much larger scale).

This radically changed my outlook. I took the positive things I learned – procurement, portion-control, tracking wastage, re-purposing ingredients – and began applying them in every aspect of my life. We don’t have to be in a large corporation or government organization to effect change.

My climate-friendly journey also included re-orienting my approach to “staple foods”  from the big three crops: wheat, rice, and maize. I steadily embraced and introduced alternatives: farro, quinoa, bulgur, millet, and barley.

Fashion forward, think superfoods such as ancient grains, pulses, and legumes: teff, spelt, sorghum, amaranth, kamut, freekeh, beluga lentils, buckwheat, triticale, durum, emmer, horse gram and dew gram.

“Why?”, you might ask. Because when we eat diversity, we are essentially promoting a healthier response to the soil. Choices such as these have a direct impact on agriculture.

One of Rome’s largest Farmers Market.

And the impact we can have also extends to where we chose to eat and the types of foods we consume, outside of our home. Here are some of my ideas about what to look for:

Prebiotic-Rich Foods; oats, barley, wheat, chicory root, dandelion greens, walnuts, legumes, onions, jicama root, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, seaweed, leeks, apples, and bananas.

Probiotics; yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickling vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, kombucha.

Mediterranean Cuisine: is predominantly made up of plant food and minimally processed staples where herbs and spices are essential ingredients.

Eat local: value for money, promotes safety and freshness, reduces your carbon footprint. Support farmers markets.

Eat Seasonally: sweet, ripe produce that will enhance the taste of your meals.

Not surprisingly, the impact of this trend is producing a new generation of climate-smart chefs. Culinary leaders are crucial in building a new culture of food, which puts sustainability at the centre, with benefits for people and the planet.

Home-grown herbs tantalize our palates!.
Waste Not

Chef Orlando Ribeiro of Scott’s Pub in Luxembourg stands behind his commitment: “In order to reduce carbon emissions and support local producers, we work on maintaining a seasonal menu. Our ceps from local forests, our herbs are home-grown. Eco-responsible means recycling, we use herbs to infuse oils, pickling and fermenting vegetables, we have a zero-waste policy.”

Acting in a climate-smart way means controlling the things you can control. And one of the most impactful ways to be aware is to control food waste.

Sadly, the scale of the wastage problem is enormous. Each year, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption – enough to feed those going hungry worldwide – is thrown away. Not only are people who need the food, not receiving it in the quantities required, but the carbon emissions released in the production of 1.3 billion tonnes of food means that the climate is in worse condition.

The cycle of food loss and wastage. (Photo: United Nations)
Climate Aware

There are many ways that we can reduce unnecessary waste, such as extending the shelf life of certain vegetables by fermentation/pickling. (My grandmother’s mango pickles – aam ka achar – are a household favorite, which I write about in Seva: The Art of Hospitality.)

Make a shopping list and stick to it. Plan meals. Plate only what you will eat. Re-purpose foods that are left over. Start a small garden. For those of you who garden, think about composting from your left-overs. And of course, donate surplus to those in need.

Being “climate-smart” is basically understanding where and how our food is being grown and consumed. It only matters that we are conscious of what we are eating, where it is coming from and how it impacts our collective wellbeing. It is less about becoming extreme (i.e., you don’t have to become a vegan) and more about becoming actively aware.

We all tend to follow the latest trends, in one way or another. Food Fashion is certainly subject to all sorts of fads. But what is it that makes us want to try something new? Something we’re not used to? What is it that pushes us out of our comfort zone?

I believe that it is all about design. We are naturally drawn to those things that are new and unique – things that are designed to appeal to our senses.

So, next time I’ll consider the fascinating world of Food Fashion design.  

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