Is culinary school sustainable?


Learning to cook produces a lot of waste. Questions of sustainability pushed forward in my thoughts last week as I gutted, prepped and cooked fish that I would ultimately throw out. The fact that so much food goes in the garbage while learning to cook runs counter to the frugal realities of professional kitchens. Your average restaurant cannot afford to throw out the pieces of meat, vegetables and other ingredients that are excess or that were not cut correctly. Perhaps this is why we pay so much for culinary education–the material costs are high. Yes, in learning we need to make inedible mistakes but we also need to understand that waste is not on the menu in the real world.

How could culinary schools promote sustainability? Shouldn’t frugality be programmed into the culinary student’s DNA? Using every little bit of each ingredient seems like an invaluable skill that should be part of any good culinary curriculum. When I asked about composting, the chef nearly began to laugh. What about planting a didactic vegetable garden in the sunny spot behind the school? These ideas met with looks of amazement. Well, I have always been an idealist.

If we aren’t going to learn to practice sustainability through minimizing waste, perhaps we could at least talk about it on a larger scale. Last week’s program was dedicated to seafood. Shockingly, we not once discussed issues of declining fish stocks, the fragilities of marine environments or the plus and minuses of aquaculture. Slyly, I tried to bring up these topics each time a new fish or mollusk was introduced.

It has always been my dream to incorporate hands-on culinary activities more fully into food studies classes. I think they both need each other. Chefs, especially aspiring chefs, need to be made aware of the larger political, economic and social issues surrounding food. Food activists, policy makers and intellectuals in training need to understand the labor and skill involved in farming and preparing food. True understanding comes from the development of personal relationships between actors in a food system and through honest engagement in each other’s work. In my mind, this marriage will some day lead to greater sustainability.

Food Policy and Sustainability Conference

Three days of study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo
September 11–13 , 2009

A unique opportunity to examine the themes of food production, sustainability, and ecology, open to all those working in the field—entrepreneurs, teachers, students, and other organizational representatives.

Friday, September 11 to Sunday, September 13, 2009

University of Gastronomic Sciences
9, piazza Vittorio Emanuele
12042 Pollenzo – Bra (CN)

15, via Alba
12050 Serralunga d’Alba (CN)

The Presenters
Andrea Bairati, Luigi Bistagnino, Gianluca Bocchi, Rachel Black, Valter Cantino, Raffaele De Lutio, Adriano Favole, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Tim Lang, Luca Mercalli, Carlo Modonesi, Loretta Napoleoni, Clara Nicholls, Raj Patel, Ezio Pellizzetti, Carlo Petrini, Andrea Pieroni, Claudia Ranaboldo, Vandana Shiva, Nancy Turner, Richard Wilk

The Structure:
Focusing on 8 disciplineseconomics, law, environment, social systems, production systems, traditional knowledge, evolution and co-evolution, and policy practice—the conference comprises 2 plenary sessions and 1 day of workshops centered on 8 key questions pertaining to each of the respective disciplines, all culminating in a round-table discussion aimed at providing multiple responses to each question.

The Participants
The conference is designed for entrepreneurs, teachers, students, institutions, and professionals operating within international cooperation—all those seeking to delve into the issues linked to the complexities within food policy.

The Fee: €800 per person, including:
– participation in the sessions
– 1 buffet dinner, 1 buffet lunch, 1 formal dinner (with show)
– shuttle service between Pollenzo and Fontanafredda
– conference proceedings
– English and Italian translation of all presenters

Click here for more information.