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. 

Further Reference

Overview page for the MAD at the World Bank: “The Future of Food” event.


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