Food For the Future.

For years now I’ve been really conflicted on my loyalties towards food manufacturing.

I’ve been a chef for over 30 years, starting in Switzerland in 1979. Leysin ChaletI started working triple shifts everyday in the hotel where I also resided, starting at 6am, and finally ending up in the bar at 8:30 pm. And here, I have to admit, being 19 at the time, there were times where I would go straight from the same bar, or another in town, right back to the kitchen at 6am without sleeping. (I would fire any of my staff for doing this….)

But, there were times where I met the local baker, or the local dairy delivery man at the door of the kitchen at 5:30 am with their products hot and steaming right from the oven, or chilled in an aluminum milk cannister (16 liters) of the type you only see in cartoons. I can’t tell you how fantastic this was and how it left a lasting impression on me when it came to local foods and freshness.Grand Hotel

This is when my interest in local, fresh foods started. I had a hard time when I returned to Canada three years later and found just how over produced and industrial food production was here. When I landed in the Okanagan, we had fresh produce and local fruits, which was great. And later on in Vancouver and then the Comox Valley, I focused on finding the freshest foods around.

Then came the time when I started looking at the bigger picture. Working at larger, higher volume restaurants made me realize that we had to search farther for larger quantities and consistency.

When we started Union Street, it was the first time that I was totally responsible for the bottom line. Sure, being a Chef, I had budgets and the responsibility for maintaining an acceptable food cost, but to look at romaine from Mexico at .25 a head versus local at $2 a head, that’s another $1.75 in my pocket…. (not really, the local head lasts for a week and yields 4 times the Mexican, but you get the picture…)

So I was in a dilemna. I made the decision to put my money where my greedly, big mouth was and felt it was better for all of us. Also, at this time there was no talk about pesticides, herbicides, organic, transportation costs and definately no talk about Monsanto! (or more importantly – Anti Monsanto…)

MonstantoI have felt for awhile now that I have a few opinions about all of this. On one hand, I love the local organic, grassroots movement towards local growers, and I have committed to supporting this. On the other hand, the concept of modifying foods so that they might grow faster, bigger, produce larger crops and withstand disease and insects so that we may feed the world and our neighbours also makes sense and seems to be a necessity as well as eating whole and clean.

There, I’ve said it! I could even hear gasps coming from friends and colleagues, but it’s out. Now, let me explain.

Andrew Gower spoke at Ted Talks about our responsibility for our use of coal, and do we really have the right to refuse a production mine here in the Comox Valley. (more gasps!) I had a lot respect for Andrew for this. It is something we need to consider. His forthrightness inspired me.

And then I picked up the latest Nation Geographic and on it was “Feeding 9 Billion”. The Artical was questioning how we will feed 9 billion peopleNG Eat that they expect will be the population of the Earth by 2050. What a problem!

“When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet.”

What a statement! Food production is not only a necessity, it also creates its own series of issues.

“Farming is the thirstiest user of our precious water supplies and a major polluter, as runoff from fertilizers and manure disrupts fragile lakes, rivers, and coastal ecosystems across the globe. Agriculture also accelerates the loss of biodiversity. As we’ve cleared areas of grassland and forest for farms, we’ve lost crucial habitat, making agriculture a major driver of wildlife extinction.”

So what is the answer?  Local growers, organic farming, seasonal harvests. These are all important, but can they produce enough food for 9 billion. That number keeps coming up and I find it staggering.

“Unfortunately the debate over how to address the global food challenge has become polarized, pitting conventional agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and organic farms. The arguments can be fierce, and like our politics, we seem to be getting more divided rather than finding common ground. Those who favor conventional agriculture talk about how modern mechanization, irrigation, fertilizers, and improved genetics can increase yields to help meet demand. And they’re right. Meanwhile proponents of local and organic farms counter that the world’s small farmers could increase yields plenty—and help themselves out of poverty—by adopting techniques that improve fertility without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They’re right too.”

This is where it gets interesting. The article is based on a five step plan to satisfy both sides.

“It would be far easier to feed nine billion people by 2050 if more of the crops we grew ended up in human stomachs. Today only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36 percent) or turned into biofuels and industrial products (roughly 9 percent). Though many of us consume meat, dairy, and eggs from animals raised on feedlots, only a fraction of the calories in feed given to livestock make their way into the meat and milk that we consume. For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef. Finding more efficient ways to grow meat and shifting to less meat-intensive diets—even just switching from grain-fed beef to meats like chicken, pork, or pasture-raised beef—could free up substantial amounts of food across the world.”

Ok, that’s the last quote. (All quotes are from National Geographic) But even though I might walk away from reading this with the thought that we should all be vegetarians, (did you get that about only 55% of all the crops go towards feeding humans??) that’s not a reality, and I have to say not very exciting either… a world without meat or seafood? Tough to swallow (mind the pun!). But I get that we have to be smarter and more effective in how we grow things, how we consume them and probably most of all, how much we waste them. Read the article for yourself and read how much of a percentage is the food we and grocery stores throw away! I could talk about our experience here at Union Street about wastage, but that’s for another blog.

Comox Valley FarmThe controversy continues on – probably here moreso than in other parts of the country and the world. The Comox Valley is a bounty of foods, produce and products. We do so well at it and are so proud of it. Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. 9 Billion!! Mind boggling.

Thanks for reading.