Sustainable Gastronomy

Sustainability, whether one is discussing food or water or agriculture, is without question, one of the key issues going forward into the coming decades. It is of vital importance to anyone who aspires to develop a career within professional cookery, culinary arts and / or food production. An essential component of this career is now the ability to recognise and appreciate the consequences of what, where and how they purchase raw materials and ingredients and utilise them thereafter. It is incumbent upon everyone within the food industry – local, national or international – to educate themselves with the key knowledge, skills and applied elements that can assist in an individual or a business becoming more sustainable.

With these key themes in mind the approach in designing and creating materials for the Sustainable Gastronomy module as part of the Core: Cooking for the Future Project was to ensure simple, plain explanations of what Climate Change, Environmental Indicators, Food Waste, Healthier Food Choices and Organic Foods and Organic Farm Labelling actually mean in an applied context. The current Global Food System is at a cross-roads; however, if contemporary chefs, cooks and food product developers are developing dishes, menus and products, it is vitally important that they now consider aspects of climate and environmental change by utilising the environmental indicators as they pertain to their region.

These are the cornerstone foundations and frameworks of a long-term sustainable food future within the student’s locality initially, but also within a wider global context afterwards.

One of the first steps in assessing which information was most important was to deconstruct the overall purpose of the module and review the learning outcomes i.e. which are the most applicable and which are the most achievable in an applied context. Introducing the concepts of the broader Global Food System and the associated carbon footprints as they relate to ingredient usage was deemed an important first step – the educational philosophy employed has it’s basis in the concept of if the idea can be ‘planted’ early, it can ‘grow’ in line with the other components of the module.

Following on from this initial introduction to Sustainable Gastronomy several module components were created which concentrated on the earlier mentioned headings, with particular emphasis placed on provenance, seasonality, healthier food choices and eating options and food wastage (including water and energy wastage), which if understood and applied by the student throughout their career will go a long way into ensuring a sustainable food future for all.

Attaining knowledge is the first element of education, with understanding and application following closely afterwards, thus, many PowerPoint presentations were created with lots of visual imagery and short, specific definitions and concepts included – succinct and clear. These were produced to coincide with the learning outcomes and are adaptable across both the cooking competition and pop-up event. Video clips, websites and e-magazines were also included, and were designed to facilitate self-directed learning and research skills. Work-sheets and interactive web-links were created to help in reinforcing learning and assist in the development of dishes and menus, not only for the actual programme, but also for their future career.

Finally, as preparation for the teaching component, a concise and specific presentation allows for plenty in-class discussion and debate, as well as facilitating questions and answers.

 Maurice J. O’Brien, MTU