What on Earth is Sustainable Gastronomy?

Sustainable gastronomy day has been observed internationally on June 18th every year since 2017. This day was designated by the UN General Assembly in light of the importance of preserving both our cultures and our resources through sustainable agricultural practices. But what exactly is sustainable gastronomy? In our current era where climate change forever looms over us, we hear the word ‘sustainable’ being attached to a multitude of things. However, gastronomy is not the first thing one thinks about when it comes to sustainability and climate change, so let’s break it down. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), sustainable gastronomy refers to cuisine that takes into account where the ingredients are from, how the food is grown and how it gets to our markets and eventually to our plates. A large part of this concept involves sustainability within our agricultural practices and food systems.

What does sustainability within our agricultural practices and food systems entail?

The FAO purports 5 key principles for sustainable food and agriculture. The first principle is to increase productivity, employment and value addition in food systems. This principle focuses on healthy growth within the agricultural sector. Instinctively, one may think that this suggests producing more food, however, it is not that simple. Growth within the agricultural sector must focus on increasing yields to support our current and future needs without harming our environment. In fact, we need to move the needle in the opposite direction and focus our energies not only on avoiding harm but also on reversing the harm that has already been done. 

This leads us to the second principle which is to protect and enhance natural resources. This principle encourages farmers, fishermen and the like to avoid harmful agricultural practices that can harm fragile ecosystems such as overgrazing, overfishing, monocropping, overuse of synthetic fertilizers etc. Instead practices like integrated crop/livestock systems, crop rotation, composting, cover cropping, proper water management, reduced fertilizer/pesticide use and reduced/no-till farming are encouraged..

The  remaining three principles are often overlooked but are core to actually fueling sustainable change within the sector. The third and fourth principles are to improve livelihoods and foster inclusive economic growth and to enhance the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems. In short, we need to feed the people who feed the world. Oftentimes, workers in the agricultural sector live in poverty and find it hard to make ends meet. These principles encourage systems that protect farmers, fishermen etc. against disenfranchisement from large corporations and reduce risks associated with civil unrest, weather and market volatility. This can also involve setting policies in place to ensure continuous demand for agricultural produce. 

Governments play a large role in shifting our agricultural practices to ones that are both sustainable and regenerative. In order to encourage farmers/fishermen to undertake sustainable practices, especially after having used harmful practices for years, governments may need to incentivise transition programs and enact policies/laws to suit, which brings us to the fifth and final principle - Adapt governance to new challenges.

All of these principles are also the focus of regenerative agriculture and other sustainable agricultural practices like permaculture and agroecology. These practices have the same goal: land management that is designed to restore soil, rejuvenate ecosystem health, address inequity, and leave the land, the water, and the climate in better shape for future generations (The Natural Resources Defense Council).

What initiatives are happening across the region?

Many institutes and organizations across the Caribbean and Latin America have undertaken initiatives towards overhauling the agricultural sector and transitioning to more sustainable practices.

  1. Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture:  Backyard Gardeners Network Initiative (BGNI) in Grenada
  2. German Agency for International Cooperation and the Government of Grenada: Grenada Permaculture Institute
  3. Walkers Institute for Regeneration Research Education and Design Inc. (WIRRED): Walkers Reserve: returning the Walkers quarry to ecological health.

But what about the gastronomy part?

Based on our tumultuous history and our ancestors’ penchant for survival, sustainability is built into our cuisine. Across the Caribbean, there exists many one pot meals that make use of animal/plant parts that may be thrown away in other parts of the world. Additionally, our Caribbean culture encourages the use of food as medicine. It is common practice to suck an orange and then dry the peels for tea. Practices like these limit food waste and preserve culture. 

Additionally, the cuisine of a certain region usually dictates what crops are grown and vice versa. Thus, gastronomy is an integral part of sustainable agriculture.

How can I help?

  1. Eat local! When you eat local, you are doing yourself and the world a big favor. Eating locally:
    1. Supports the livelihood of local farmers and fishermen.
    2. Limits greenhouse gasses as there is increasingly less demand for imported items.
    3. Discourages monocropping as foods are seasonally grown
  2. Support policies which encourage sustainable agricultural practices and support farmers/fishermen.
  3. Continue to educate yourself on regenerative agriculture.

Happy Sustainable Gastronomy Day!

Submitted by Sydney Robertson

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