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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Top chefs issue future-facing manifesto

A group of chefs who jointly serve on the international board of the Basque Culinary Centre have adopted a vocal position with regards to the way they will carry out their profession in an 'Open letter to the chefs of tomorrow'. Meeting in Lima, Peru, the nine chefs issued the statement in the "hope that these reflections will serve as a reference and inspiration for the young people who will become tomorrow’s chefs". The Guardian reported on what it called the "starry-eyed manifesto" which it said was "a plan to save the planet, one dinner at a time". It's an attempt to lead from the front, and a welcome one at that. There could be plenty of followers, and not just those who call themselves chefs.

Cooking has never been so popular in the West. Lift-outs in magazaines and newspapers mix it in the public sphere with special cooking sections offering readers new recipes on a daily or weekly basis. High-end foodstuffs are more and more commonly found in even the most pedestrian supermarket as shoppers look for the ingredients they are told on TV and elsewhere are necessary to produce the dazzling and scrumptious concoctions they regularly behold. Stuff that is commonplace now in the fruit or cheese section was available only through specialty outlets only a few years ago. If we are what we eat, then we are to an increasing degree a sophisticated and discerning bunch. The Lima Declaration makes that sophistication a bit more understandable for everyone.

What could be more sophisticated than acknowledging "a responsibility to know and protect nature, to use our cooking and our voices as a tool for recovering heirloom and endangered varieties and species"? This type of language could help to further transform the way we think about where our food comes from. Ethical purchasing is a disputed area, with retailers and food producers gradually giving ground in the battles being fought over labelling and disclosure. If a group of top chefs manages to get the message out that buying only sustainable food is cool, then we can expect to see more and more transparency in labelling in future because shoppers will ask for it. This part of the 'Open letter' is just one of seven elements but it is also number one in the agenda and, as such, stands as a keystone of the chefs' statement. Ethical sourcing must be a factor in cooking and it will be part of a retailer's job, to an increasing degree, to ensure that shoppers are given the opportunity - through clear and unambiguous labelling - to make ethical choices when they go on their rounds in the store.

Watch for coverage of the Lima Declaration down the line, folks, and make sure that you always try to encourage biodiversity and sustainable production when you shop. Tomorrow's foodies will salute you. They are already high-signing the nine international chefs shown in the picture at the top of this post.

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