Sustainability is such a buzz word and so many people sigh and roll their eyes when we so much as mention the word. Realistically, though, each and every one of us is responsible for the world around us and unless we begin to take steps towards greening our planet there are going to be dire consequences, whether we want to believe it or not. Jodi-Ann Pearton explores the concept, and what it means.
I had the privilege of presenting at the International Greening Forum recently held at The Sandton Convention Center. The format of the programme was cleverly structured, with each presenter given just seven minutes and five slides to get one’s point across to an audience of hundreds, all of whom were highly educated in the field of sustainability and almost all in the hospitality sector. My topic was the The New Farm to Fork Revolution of the 21st Century.
The New Age Consumer
Who is the new age consumer? Is this an individual interested in being seen, being trendy and being aware? Perhaps in the higher echelons on society, yes, but we have to realise that the mass market falls into a society that is trying to survive. The mass market is just trying to feed their family and ensure that they are able to survive. It is up to those who are able to influence the market to make a difference and educate the masses to ensure that the youth who become the new age consumer understand the concept of traceability, sustainability and accountability. These are buzz words which are so loaded and yet so important. So many people say that they live sustainably yet do not care where or how their protein is produced. There are some truly incredible sustainable sources in South Africa that consumers are not even aware of, such as the Monarch prawn facility in Johannesburg which is 100% green. Being a New Age Consumer means consuming food which is traceable, knowing and understanding carbon trails and questioning suppliers about how far food has travelled to land up on your plate. It’s about asking why local communities have not been involved in producing food, and understanding seasonal eating and the benefits of it. The New Age Consumer is accountable for the choices he or she makes and understands the impact of every choice made.
The new age consumer across every sector of society is also becoming much more aware of food on a sensory level. Individuals want cuisine that smells, tastes, feels and looks good and that has impacted the industry as a whole. The awareness of ingredients and how ingredients are put together has changed.
Back to basics
For years now, international culinary trends have been pushing us to go back to finding the roots of cuisine. Both chefs and consumers have, for many reasons, been going back to dishes that are very familiar. Scandinavian cuisine is considered a leading gastronomy because it is all about simplicity and clean movements, localised ingredients, seasonal food and dishes that the locals care about and understand. Movements such as foraging, market purchasing, pop-up restaurants, rural dining and food trucks are all huge, partly because when the economy is down, consumers want to have the comfort of something that they know. It is goes even further, though – in our genetic makeup we are said to have memories from our ancestors and perhaps the root of our ancestral cuisine is kept in our genetic makeup. Going back to our roots creates comfort in un-restful times.
With the population growing exponentially and space running out, it is becoming clear that a solution needs to be made to address food production. The cost of living is increasing yet salaries remain the same and it is becoming more difficult to live. There are programmes emerging world-wide educating the public about the concept of urban farming, which is not only for chic city-dwellers in apartment blocks but for people from every walk of life. There is no excuse for not being able to grow your own no matter where you live. With vertical gardening on walls to small pots and intelligent use of small spaces and rooves, anything is possible. It gives tangible pride to people of all ages, passes on tradition and is a very healthy way to consume fresh produce.
Health is the biggest trend globally, one that is set for the foreseeable future. With endless health related illnesses and food related diseases, as well as statistics that indicate that up to 40% of the global community is considered to be overweight or obese, health should be a major concern. Other factors the consumer has come to consider as they have become more aware include GM foods, seed diversity and control, as well as the ‘Hollywood food movement’. This movement has seen factories and farmers trying to ensure that food looks perfect, leading to food that is genetically modified to look perfect but taste like nothing. There is also the commercial pest control debate and honourable farming practices – do farmers honour the practice of holding produce long enough before sending to market for pesticides not to be poisonous to consumers or do they just not care? Debatable.
One of the scariest yet most relevant topics in the discussion is always one of natural resources. Our planet tries so hard to take control over, yet us greedy humans keep demanding to destroy. The ever increasing pollution is affecting so many factors that it is hard to even begin to discuss it. The weather patterns have changed so much that farmers continuously have to relocate and rethink how they are going to feed this hungry planet. Farms are moving into territory that they never thought would be farmed and land that was once marsh is become desert. Water is become a scarce resource and what water we have is becoming so polluted that we need extreme filtering systems to utilise it. We have electricity shortages so can’t cook our food to eat it but in order to produce electricity we need to destroy our farm land with open cast mining to get to the coal. There is far too little grazing for our cattle due to over population, then the world blames the cattle for gas emission but wants to eat more meat. Fuel prices are sky rocketing as natural resources fail us and salaries don’t budge as the economy fails us. It all sounds so morbid but this is why being aware of doing your bit for a sustainable future is so important. Recycle, start growing your own and educating your staff. It is not too late but soon it is going to be.