The True Spirit Of Our Food

I’ve felt a bit of an internal shift happening in the last month, and I’ve noticed some new and spirited thoughts & questions appearing in my mind. Actually there are two trains of thoughts chugging through, seemingly diametrically opposed, but somehow offering balance.

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the first subject – it’s to do with learning, and to with sustainability and the environment. Because, hello people!, we are running out of time.

It seems uncanny now that I look back, that 2 years ago NZ’s Hospitality Business Magazine ran a 3-page article on me, the Riverside Cafe where I was head chef, and the S.O.L.E principles that I / we werehb_nov_2014_p26-29-copy practising. When they first telephoned me to inform me that they wanted to do the article, embarrassingly I had to ask the editor what SOLE stood for (sustainable, organic, local and ethical I soon found out!) I had never heard of that acronym before, even though apparently it was the year’s zeitgeist. I, and the community that owned Riverside Cafe and worked with me, were just managing the cafe according to what we felt were common sense ideas mixed in with our own personal sets of values. We weren’t trying to be trendy. It’s seems that article came from the future, to point me towards something that I hadn’t at the time fully grasped.

Ironically, since leaving Riverside I coasted somewhat with regards to these issues. Maybe because I had previously been labelled something of a SOLE pioneer, I rested on my laurels. But lately, the reality of climate change and environmental apocalypse feels very close-to-home and very real. What am I doing to help / hinder the situation, now, really? There are currently more questions than answers in my mind. As ever, it’s not straight forward.

So, to touch briefly on the four SOLE principles and my current thoughts:

At work, as at home, I still do not cook with wholly organic foods. Although I am without doubt in favour of organics, organic foods are not widely available locally and can be very expensive, whereas pretty much all of the fresh foods I eat are seasonal, uber-fresh, unpackaged, and locally grown. Hence, as far as veg are concerned, I find this subject to be one of the more complex ones. (I couldn’t say the same for non-organic meat or dairy, which are not part of my diet.)corp-id-for-website

On the other hand, I can’t find ANY  good reason to not choose ethical foods and in particular Fairtrade, especially when the alternative is often so harmful.

This article and short documentary reveals the painful truth about how non-Fairtrade bananas are grown. (New Zealand imports more bananas per capita than any other developed country, and we are the second-largest importers globally – this is why our choices make a BIG difference).

There have been several well publicised investigations into child trafficking and slave labour in the cocoa industry, mainly centred on regions in Ghana and the Ivory Coast (70% of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa). These uncomfortable yet tradeairdchocundeniable reports have shown me the human suffering that exists just so I can have cheap fruit and yummy chocolate.

It’s just not worth it. Its the kind  of info that once you know it, you can never un-know it. And by the way, have you even tried Trade Aid’s Dark Chocolate With Salted Toffee Crisp?!! Haha, nirvana!!!

At work it’s also not so easy – our wholesale fresh food supplier offers precious little organics or Fairtrade. I go out of my way to buy Fairtrade bananas as much as I can, but our guests moan when we don’t have plentiful bananas in the fruit bowl so often I reluctantly succumb to the alternative. After I switched our coffee brand to a Fairtrade product, some people claimed it wasn’t as nice and requested the old version back. Maybe if they knew the full picture, it wouldn’t taste so palatable. I read this on a packet of coffee recently; it made my day, and my coffee (which was absolutely excellent), taste even sweeter:

Every time you choose to buy Fairtrade coffee there’s a line of people stretching back to the coffee field who’d like to say thank-you.

Another area that I’ve been looking at is waste. At home and at work I recycle and compost as much as possible, WAY more than ever before. But I am still shocked by the amount that ends up in bags ready for landfill. I’ve just learnt that 4.3million soft plastic bags and wrappers are thrown away every DAY in NZ. Our council here in Tasman doesn’t recycle plastic bags or ‘soft plastic’ of any kind.

I also can’t recycle Tetra Paks; the kind of thing that soy and rice milk come in. But our guests expect it. Similarly, although I bake hand-made bread most days, many guests request a gluten free option – not because any of them are coeliac but because of course GLUTEN IS EVIL. The favoured gf brand is  Vogels – it’s made in Auckland, driven by road (1,000km) to our local supermarket and packaged in non-recyclable plastic. In the same way that I took a stand against cooking meat some time ago as I didn’t want that negative karma, should I (can I?) refuse to buy these unethical and un-environmental food products?

And more! (Who knew rubbish could be so interesting!!) I didn’t know until recently that baking paper is non compostable, and aluminium foil is non recyclable (in our district at least). How could I not have known this?! I use lots of both in the kitchen, and am researching alternatives. This brand, If You Care, looks like a good place to start. But there are cost implications – I can make these changes at home, but will guests pay a premium to know their lunch has truly had minimal negative effect on the planet? Are there other ways to generate income so that I contribute a smaller footprint?

The questions are endless…. How can we reduce our electricity consumption? How can we raise money to install solar? Instead of using sprinklers in our organic garden (where, on a hot day, up to 80% of the water is lost to evaporation), are we willing to invest in drip irrigation? Which projects should be prioritised?

I believe that there are very many ways I can make positive, conscious contributions to the causes I care about. Yes, there is GREAT benefit to sitting on the meditation cushion and practising acceptance and equanimity, and it’s been good for me to spend much of 2016 ‘just cooking lunch’ and minding my own business. But as 2017 dawns I am very strongly feeling my connection to the world, and time for only inward reflection is, for now, in need of balance.


Recent lunch – local, ethical, and mostly organic vegan salad niçoise!

So, my New Year’s resolution is to wise up, step up, and make better choices. As Margaret Mead, the famous American anthropologist said,

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

Next post will look at the ying to all this questioning yang – the importance of simply sitting still and practise zazen!

Good luck in this confusing world, and happy new year from me and Mudita XXX


*the fantastic heading photo of the chocolate & almond cookies, credited to etringita



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