Eat­ing for sus­tain­abil­ity

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

AS AN in­fre­quent shop­per I have to con­fess I am not as morally con­sci­en­tious in my se­lec­tion of food prod­ucts as I should be. My shop­ping tends to be al­most ex­clu­sively steered by con­ve­nience; I go where food can be found fresh with the least amount of ef­fort.

Most peo­ple’s food pur­chases are still price-driven, but there has been a grad­ual in­crease in con­scious­ness re­gard­ing the ori­gin of food over the past 10 years, with al­most ev­ery food prod­uct hav­ing an al­ter­na­tive or­ganic, free range, fair trade, lo­cal, low or no car­bon miles op­tion. Ex­ten­sive re­search is con­ducted re­gard­ing global food se­cu­rity and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able liv­ing. We are con­stantly re­minded of our im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment, and re­quested to re­cy­cle and re­duce our car­bon emis­sions. The ethos has shifted from more to one that es­pouses less — use less, live gen­tler, soften your im­pact, grow your own, col­lect water, green ev­ery­thing from light­ing to your ve­hi­cle and upcycling used things.

This fo­cus on green­ing and be­ing kinder to the en­vi­ron­ment means that for­ag­ing is now the word du jour in the food world. For­ag­ing has be­come such a hot new trend that even the world’s top chef for 2011, René Redzepi of Dan­ish res­tau­rant Noma, has been in­vited to share his views on lo­cally sourced food at the 2012 De­sign Ind­aba.

Lo­cally, there has also been re­newed in­ter­est in food from nat­u­ral sources, as ev­i­denced by a new hik­ing trail on the Gar­den Route’s oys­ter-catcher route ex­plor­ing lo­cal foods from the en­vi­ron­ment.

SA’S doyenne of an­thro­po­log­i­cal food writ­ing, Renata Coet­zee, pub­lished an amaz­ing work on the veld-food of the Khoi and San peo­ple called Koeke­makranka (pub­lished by Lapa). From a book writ­ten by Fran­cis W Fox and Mar­ion Emma Nor­wood Young: Food from the veld: ed­i­ble wild plants of South­ern Africa (1982) which con­tained re­search from the ’60s on­wards, I learnt that even the aga­pan­thus and arum lilies grow­ing in most sub­ur­ban gar­dens have on oc­ca­sion been used as nour­ish­ment from the veld.

Most peo­ple are not aware that fa­mil­iar plants are also ed­i­ble, such as the water-berry tree and num-nums — plump bright red juicy fruit that can be eaten as is or used to cook jam.

Although liv­ing in a way that lessens one’s im­pact on mother earth is not so dif­fi­cult at home, it is cer­tainly much more dif­fi­cult in a com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment like a res­tau­rant. An­other fas­ci­nat­ing new book writ­ten by Aus­tralian Red Lan­tern res­tau­rant chef Mark Jensen (Mur­doch Books, 2011), called The Ur­ban Cook, gives us a glimpse of how this is pos­si­ble.

Chef Jensen says that he wants peo­ple to con­sider the ethics of food pro­duc­tion, our car­bon foot­print and whether or not the way we pro­duce our food is sus­tain­able when it comes to day-to-day food con­sump­tion.

He main­tains that most ur­ban chefs do not know the prove­nance of their pro­duce, even though good pro­duce gen­er­ally forms the foun­da­tion of their suc­cess, and that most chefs do all their pur­chas­ing over the phone with­out ever con­tem­plat­ing the ori­gins of the meal and with most pur­chases be­ing purely price-driven.

Two Gaut­eng restau­ra­teurs that I spoke to and that are fully geared to fight the sus­tain­abil­ity cause are Philippe Wa­gen­führer of Gray res­tau­rant in Boks­burg and chef Maryna Fred­erik­sen of Lucit res­tau­rant in Pre­to­ria.

Wa­gen­führer is an old hand at rak­ing in top South African res­tau­rant awards and in his lat­est res­tau­rant the limited wine choices are jus­ti­fied along moral and eth­i­cal lines. There are five or six wines on of­fer, each in­di­vid­u­ally and per­son­ally sourced to rep­re­sent the best avail­able wine in the par­tic­u­lar style and within the price range. Gray serves only grass-fed beef, aged for 18 to 24 days, and the cheese board con­sists of cheese from West Rand Ital­ian cheese-maker Giovanni Scar­cella, while the beer on of­fer is from an ar­ti­sanal brew­ery in Parys called Dog & Fig.

But it is Wa­gen­führer and staff’s abil­ity to of­fer food made from care­fully sourced pro­duce at af­ford­able prices that makes one won­der why food stores claim­ing to sell eth­i­cal or morally ver­i­fi­able foods gen­er­ally charge such a high pre­mium for their prod­ucts.

Chef Fred­erik­sen, orig­i­nally a Pre­to­ria girl and now a sea­soned Amer­i­can chef, has re­turned to SA af­ter 20 years, af­ter cook­ing her way through San Fran­cisco, Seat­tle, Washington and Florida.

She adamantly be­lieves in know­ing where and by whom her pro­duce is grown and will hop on her scooter to visit a lo­cal herb farm, hand-pick­ing pro­duce for the Pre­to­ria eatery where she cooks.

If at home you are un­able to plant pota­toes, pump­kins and mielies, or keep a cow and a sheep, at least plant a few ed­i­ble flow­ers, grow your own herbs and trail the odd but­ter­nut up a tree. Apart from un­der­stand­ing that what we do now will af­fect Mother Earth for those that come af­ter us, it is im­por­tant to know that the food we eat should be healthy, grown with­out chem­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, and should not have trav­elled far­ther than we ever have to end up in our Mon­day night meal.

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