We’re here today to start a new conversation about the world of chefs and cooks, between the world of chefs and cooks, and you the delegates and influencers and people here at the World Bank. The reason we’re here is to find ways to work together to build a food system that feeds everyone, every day, everywhere.
I represent today a small organization called MAD, named after the Danish word for food. We’re based in Copenhagen. We were started by René Redzepi as an annual gathering of chefs, cooks, farmers, and scientists, as a forum for knowledge exchange. But we have now also committed ourselves to using the knowledge we’ve gained to improve food, not just at restaurants but every meal cooked and served.
What the world of chefs and cooks has to offer is a deep respect and care for food. They bring to the table their passion for flavor, for good and responsible sourcing, getting their own hands in it and on it. And not only making up the metaphorical link between producers and suppliers, they live alongside them, speak to them continuously, work with them, help each other to get better. They also [?] and possess the commitment, spirit, and discipline to continuously make things better.
Focusing on the joys of eating, of creating the communality of the meal, on feeding people, is what they do three times a day, every single day. In cooking, you use what you have and you use what you can get. These limitations spark enormous creativity, showing us how creativity and human ingenuity can be part of the solution to the things we are here to discuss today. We imagine the meal as the symbol and the manifestation of the entire food system. And that craft is knowledge, and knowledge is what inspires and empowers people to do things better, and leave this place better off than when we found it.
Chefs and cooks form food culture, a powerful concept that can transcend and create social bonds, and eventually empower people to lead better lives. In this way cuisine is not only food, it is food transcended. Nature transformed into a social product, a backbone of creating culture. Its role in creating culture is what makes cooking so powerful. Like all forms of culture, food culture is transformational in its very nature. And it changes every day, everywhere, all the time, through cultural interactions on every level of human life. Food culture defines habit, discussed and ultimately determines what and how we eat.
To feed everyone in the future, the culture of cooking and eating must also change to become part of this new food system, a system that is ultimately a function of cooking, a food culture for the future. Today, consumption defines our culture. This consumer culture is equally prevalent across economies and it provides a path to understanding who we are today. As economies in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America develop, and purchasing power increases, consumers across these cultures are adopting Western dietary patterns that [are] heavily focused on animal proteins, and a food system where 60% of all calorie intake is covered by only five crops, and 95% of our calorie intake is covered by only thirty crops.
Furthermore, every year between a quarter and half of all food is discarded, most of it even before reaching its intended market, and yet eight hundred million people go to bed every night hungry. Globally, we waste 1.3 billion tons of food every year, and much of this food is perfectly good to eat but lacks the aesthetic a particular market decides. For instance, in the US, UK, and Kenya, this amounts to up to 40% of all food production, and this only [due] to cosmetic reasons. According to numbers published by the FAO, this equals to a lost income of an estimated one trillion US dollars, seven hundred billion dollars in environmental costs, and nine hundred billion dollars in social costs.
From the perspective of a cook or a chef, the loss of biodiversity and the lose of perfectly edible food means less ingredients to cook with, and simply ingredients for making a good meal. And a good meal is what they want. It would be unfortunate to spread this culture of eating. A food culture for the future, that incorporates things like wild food, fermented products, and insects into the Western diet will not only have benefits in the West. In fact it may very well have the largest impact in these other regions where it will also reverse the perception of traditional ways of eating as inferior, and thus save a rich and important culinary tradition, and preserve biodiversity through cultivation.
Chefs and cooks can help with this. We want to use cooking as a tool to shape the food culture of the future. Let’s consider for a moment what we really mean when we say something is inedible. On many occasions, such statements are determined by cultural boundaries only. Lobsters were once considered inedible in this part of the world, and blood used to make up the main part of the diet in the part of the world I’m from. In delineating the edible and inedible, we explore notions of edibility and deliciousness, and apply them to an ever-expanding library of taste.
To live and cook responsibly, we need to work across all disciplines, work with all forms of products, wild foods, insects, fermented products, and work on rescuing the food that currently goes to waste. Take cuts of meat, or stalks of plants, which would otherwise be discarded and turn them into food that is not only edible but also delicious.
At MAD, we’re currently seeing this picking up pace in the industry. The good news is that what we are discovering is that the world around us is edible, and that the delineation between the edible and inedible is deliciousness itself. This is the food culture of the future.
Overview page for the MAD at the World Bank: “The Future of Food” event.