Blog / Opinion, Impact

Chefs and Sustainability on the World Stage

Paul Newnham

June 12, 2018

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The SDG2 Advocacy Hub Team
Paul Newnham (second from left in back) with the SDG2 Advocacy Hub team. (Photo: Thomas Broadhead)

In our ongoing op-ed series, we’re featuring voices from the culinary community to weigh in and express their personal positions on the food-system issues they’re most passionate about.  

Our latest piece comes from Paul Newnham, coordinator at the SDG2 Advocacy Hub, an initiative designed to bring together actors from the private and public sectors to engage in campaigns and advocacy around the goal of achieving a more sustainable global food system by 2030. Below, Newnham explains how chefs play a key role in the efforts to end hunger, attain food security, and promote sustainable agriculture worldwide.

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When I go to a restaurant, I like to talk to the team about their food. Food is personal, and I like to engage the team that prepared it whenever possible. My family rolls their eyes as I ask questions they think are ridiculous: is the food here any good? Would you eat here? What dish is your favorite? What do most people order on repeat visits? 

While there may seem to be little connection between my curiosity around food and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a set of 17 goals adopted by world leaders to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity for all—I can assure you there is. I decided to approach my work at the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) Advocacy Hub in the same way I approach dining out. I wondered, “What if chefs could direct me to something on their menu that not only tastes good, but also generates good for the farmer, the planet, and for me?”

Chefs Manifesto Onion
Photo: Max Delsid

Chefs know that what we eat matters on many levels. Not only are nutrition and taste paramount to their businesses, but access to sufficient food for all without compromising the health of our planet is also increasingly recognized as a responsibility of the food industry. As these factors become ever more intertwined within our food system, there must be an immediate global shift towards sustainable production of food to improve the health of all people and the planet.

Statistically, our current food systems, or the processes and actors from seed to plate and all that’s in between, are detrimental to a huge number of people. More than 2 billion people experience micronutrient deficiencies, while 815 million people experience hunger on a daily basis. Concurrently, there are unprecedented levels of overweight and obese people: approximately 1.9 billion and 600 million, respectively. These two phenomena are occurring simultaneously within similar food systems.

GNR 2017 figure
The Global Nutrition Report

Many modern food systems are also negatively impacting the planet. The global food system is the primary driver of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, accounting for one third of greenhouse gas emissions, and is the single greatest user of land (40 percent) and freshwater (70 percent). 

The Lancet

Although the current global food systems are immensely problematic, solutions for a sustainable future lie within them. Food can actually fix many of these problems. Planting “forgotten foods,” like nutrient-dense and climate-smart millet and sorghum, can deliver huge benefits for both people and the planet. 

A study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis suggests that greater production and consumption of “forgotten foods” can help India to tackle micronutrient deficiencies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to agriculture by 25 percent. This means we can tackle some of the largest global issues at once: poor diets (from malnutrition to obesity); environmental issues (climate change, water scarcity, and environmental degradation); and poverty.  

Chefs are driven by varying motivations, from personal and customer satisfaction, to profit, branding, creativity, and more. Every day, they bring people to their tables to experience something out of the ordinary—consumers trust chefs implicitly. And every day, chefs interact with food systems. They are an integral component of these processes as both users and contributors, and although many chefs discuss food sustainability, they may not know a lot about running a sustainable kitchen, creating a sustainable menu, or generating impact beyond their restaurant. The Hub recognized this, and established the Chefs’ Manifesto to unite them under a common goal: to contribute to a more sustainable planet through educating consumers about meals and ingredients.

The Chefs’ Manifesto is an action plan created by chefs for chefs that provides simple steps to build a better food system through each of the Manifesto’s eight areas: 

  • Ingredients grown with respect for the earth and its oceans
  • Protection of biodiversity and improved animal welfare
  • Investment in livelihoods
  • Value natural resources and reduction of waste
  • Celebration of local and seasonal food
  • A focus on plant-based ingredients
  • Education on food safety, healthy diets, and nutritious cooking
  • Nutritious food that is accessible and affordable for all

The Manifesto highlights individuals who are already sustainable leaders and links them with wider movements across the globe, revealing how all of this work feeds into the Global Goals that world governments have agreed to achieve by 2030. This creates a real, active network of like-minded chefs and partners, connecting those who are already making lasting, tangible changes to those seeking the resources and means to do so.

Chefs Manifesto squash
Photo: Thomas Broadhead

One example is William Dissen, who strongly champions the sustainable seafood movement and believes it is vital for chefs to find out how their seafood is sourced. As a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, Dissen advocates for sustainable seafood in and out of the kitchen; teaching people about the sustainable consumption of seafood, as well as championing improved federal fisheries management.

As this network for the Global Goals partners with the EAT Foundation, it works to provide chefs with simple suggestions informed by the latest science around sustainable diets. We hope this will kick-start action that drives outcomes and generates real change.

The Chefs’ Manifesto anchors the contributions of chefs made around the world to the SDGs, bringing chefs into a global UN agenda. This framework connects local action with a collective global narrative that together will have a huge global impact. Chefs influence what we grow, what we put on our plates and how we think and talk about food. If chefs take the lead on sustainability issues—such as tackling food waste and sustainable sourcing—diners, farmers, businesses, and even governments will follow. Chefs sit at the center of the food community, so for every new member of the Chefs’ Manifesto we also reach a wider network of customers and suppliers who are vital for delivering a better food future. 

Find out more at chefsmanifesto.com.

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Paul Newnham is SDG2 Advocacy Hub Coordinator. The SDG2 Advocacy Hub is an initiative that aims to bring together NGOs, agricultural networks, nutritionists, campaigners, civil society, the private sector, and UN agencies to coordinate campaigns and advocacy to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.