Back to search

Chefs advocating for a change in our food systems to improve soil health

Sources

Paul Newhham

Paul Newnham is the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub, an initiative bringing together different stakeholders to coordinate global campaigning and advocacy to achieve SDG2. This includes Chefs Manifesto, a network of 700 chefs from 70 countries as powerful advocates for a better food future. Paul has been working in the non-profit sector in communities throughout the world, particularly at World Vision for 15 years. Working strategically alongside actors from all aspects of the food, agriculture and nutrition industries, Paul seeks to generate change that will impact our food system and planet. 

When populations experience economic growth, their appetite for more food and more resource intensive food grows. While this is welcomed in many parts of the world in which communities suffer malnutrition and hunger, the gap between the haves and have nots is growing.  

However, converting more land to bridge the food gap is an unviable option because there is only a fixed amount of land available which is in competition with other purposes. To date, about 70 percent of the land is affected by human use, mostly for agriculture, which could rise to 90 percent in just 30 years. What’s more, the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are extremely high, topping all countries except the United States and China which emit more. 

Thus, it is not only imperative to shift our diets, to free up land and promote healthier ecosystems, but also to ensure a more equitable distribution of food and to reduce the incidences of diseases from unhealthy diets.  

chefs manifesto logo

As people look to chefs for inspiration on what to cook and eat, the Chefs’ Manifesto is championing a better food future, inspiring people to make changes in their kitchens and communities and empowering them to call on governments and companies to also play their part on the topics chefs are most passionate about. These are 8 thematic areas, written by chefs, for chefs on the topics chefs are most passionate about:  

 

  1. Ingredients grown with respect for the earth and its oceans 
  2. Protection of biodiversity and improved animal welfare 
  3. Investment in livelihoods 
  4. Value natural resources and reduce waste 
  5. Celebration of local and seasonal food  
  6. A focus on plant-based ingredients  
  7. Education on food safety and healthy diets 
  8. Nutritious food that is accessible and affordable for all  

In June last year, The Chefs’ Manifesto London Action Hub (OmVed Gardens) held a deep-dive on soil and seeds. We partnered with the EAT-Lancet Commission and Soil Association, inviting them to showcase the credible science and provide understanding on the importance of healthy soil. This has informed chefs on the importance of a shift in our food practices and empowered them to work towards a food system that serves the people and the planet.  

Ben Raskin, head of horticulture at Soil Association, said: “Everything we do to soil has an effect, we need to understand this. As Chefs, you can visit suppliers and buy ingredients from farms building soil.”  

The EAT-Lancet report, a full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy and sustainable diet, proves we can feed a future population of 10 billion people within the planetary boundaries. Sharing the report's findings, Fabrice DeClerck from EAT, identified chefs as key actors in bringing about this food transformation through their work, by demonstrating the possibilities of a tasty, sustainable diet. A few of his suggestions for ways in which chefs can deliver on the EAT-Lancet were:

  • Be creative with new dishes 
  • Educate consumers at a young age 
  • Source ingredients carefully  
  • Support affordability and accessibility of healthy food  

Below we have featured the work of 4 chefs within our network, going above and beyond to transform the health of our soil, the planet and the people.    

Chantelle Nicholson – plant-based eating 

This is exactly what Chef Chantelle Nicholson is championing with four key actions that promote plant-based cooking.  First, she is making plant-based cooking the core of her menus in her high-profile restaurants. Second, she is educating trainee chefs on sustainability and plant-based cooking. Third, she welcomes school children into her kitchen at Tredwells to engage and inspire them on sustainability and plant-based cooking. And fourth, she promotes seasonal eating.   

The expert has three easy food swaps that could help to lower the individual land footprints of the food we eat.  

  • Try and eat what is in season, that is, don't buy fresh berries in winter.  
  • Add more pulses, grains and legumes to your diet. A lot of these are rich in protein and vitamins and are great for biodiversity. Better still, you can get those grown in your country, and support the local industry too. 
  • Minimise your food waste. Buy only what you need and be creative to use leftovers or other things, such as cauliflower leaves, that you would normally throw away.  

Arthur Potts Dawson and Anthony Myint – soil health  

Chef Arthur Potts Dawson, Head Chef at OmVed Gardens and a climate campaigner, promotes the sustainable restaurant business model. He is currently residing in the countryside (due to COVID-19), and is busy nurturing his soil, growing his own vegetables and embracing the mental benefits of doing so.  

His theme of interest is, Ingredients Grown with Respect for the Earth and its Oceans; and in particular soil; or as he puts it, ‘Black Gold’. The interest in soil health was sparked by a trip to Ethiopia as a World Food Programme Advocate Chef.  

He witnessed the vast deforestation in Ethiopia for corn to feed a growing population. A monoculture farming style focused on quantity over quality had stripped the soil of its nutrients. Its impacted negatively on nutrition, water retention, the economic fragility of rural livelihoods that rely on the soil and the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. Chef Arthur became a soil fanatic. 

When the soil quality is depleted the potential for the people that rely on it is also bleak,” he says. Chef Arthur’s mission now is to get soil at the forefront of every discussion. From climate change and desertification, to economic growth and human health, he believes the future of food relies on the health of our soil. “We cannot continue to expect the soil to keep giving, if we do not give back to the soil,” he warns. 

This vision is shared by Chef Anthony Myint, a restaurateur and the founder of ZeroFoodprint. He believes restaurants “need to look at how ingredients are produced and its impact on soil and the planet.” In light of the huge cultural capital they have within the food system, he encourages chefs to be game-changers in promoting and supporting farmers to improve soil health, helping reverse climate change and making restaurants carbon neutral through carbon sequestration.  

Justin Horne – food waste 

The whole journey of a food, from the planting of its seed to the gastrointestinal process, is resource intensive. There’s the energy, water, time, effort or money, which adds up to as much 37 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent IPCC Report All food is an abundance of natural resources. Most chefs always knew that waste is a financial burden.  That is why food waste requires everyone’s action to reduce and mitigate climate change.  

Reducing food waste can go further than just composting your food scraps. Many food cuts that are commonly viewed as inedible are, in fact, delicious and often highly nutritious. Justin Horne, a British Eco-Chef, Food Waste Activist and Sustainability Lecturer, shares his 6 favourite edible ‘food scraps’:  

  • Roasting the skins of onion and garlic to then blend with salt to create garlic and onion salt. 
  • Lemon rind can be candied, creating a delicious, healthy, nutritious lemon sweet.  
  • Harvesting the seeds of bramble fruit, when it has gone past the point of eating, can then be planted to create a bramble fruit tree.  
  • Overripe bananas are great for banana bread or frozen to be used in smoothies. The skins can be candied too.  
  • Any old bread, cake or pastry can easily be made into a delicious bread and butter pudding.  
  • Disposing your apple cores in white wine vinegar, rather than a bin, create an amazing apple infused vinegar – great for salad dressings.  

Justin is also working hard to change the restaurant environment to show they too can be part of a circular food economy. In 2015, he opened Tiny Leaf – London’s first Zero Waste, Organic and Vegetarian restaurant that works with farmers, whole­salers and retailers to utilise their surplus and wonky vegetables. Recently, he launched a circular economy vertical farm restaurant called S A T I V A at London’s Kings Cross. It will grow its own fresh produce, generate its own energy and turn its waste back into energy. He appeared on the Chef’s Manifesto podcast, which you can listen to here, to learn more about his work.  

Conclusion 

SDG hub

Healthy regenerative food systems can go a long way in saving our planet. Chefs can bridge the gap between the farm and the fork by transforming raw ingredients into delicious, nutritious meals. They influence what we grow, what we put on our plates and how we think and talk about food. Therefore, chefs work by engaging eaters – that is everyone – to adopt diet and consumption patterns that allow the soil and planet to prosper. This is critical in gaining the momentum needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.