Every June 18, the international community marks the Sustainable Gastronomy Day under the auspices of both the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and UNESCO. This is a day marked out and observed to enlighten us on the need to practice sustainability in relation to what we eat and drink. It is a long time the globe entered the decade of sustainability. Sustainability is the current watchword that humanity has to embrace as a categorical imperative or face extinction. We are challenged by the quest and caveat on sustainability from all angles. Sustainable gastronomy calls for the analyses of food from the farms to the plates. It is a clarion call to ‘eat green’. This implies eating and patronising foods that their stages from the the farms (production) to the tables or plates (pro are environmentally friendly.
According to the FAO, the globe is challenged by hunger and starvation amidst climate change. Food production has equally been challenged by natural climatic situations, though mostly anthropogenic. However there are current challenges which are being perpetrated by groups and individuals. These worsen some of the efforts at sustainability. In essence, any food production that adversely affects the production of others should not be encouraged. The production of food or other agricultural practices that disrupt and destroy other food and agricultural sources is anathema to sustainable gastronomy. Nigeria is a case in point. That of Nigeria has become a pandemically political, if not ethnic issue, rather than an enlightenment issue. Most states in Nigeria depend on subsistence farming. For such farms to be destroyed by other agricultural interests is a serious challenge to gastronomic sustainability.
The case of Nigeria has reached to a point of a campaign for green consumerism. Nigerians should begin to analyse and scrutinise what comes to their tables and plates based on the principles of sustainable gastronomy. If this is not done, we may be promoting environmentally unfriendly consumption and gastronomy. If it is not done we may embolden the antithesis to sustainable gastronomy. This approach should be adopted in several other nations and societies where there are lax and lacunae to take care of such environmental nuisance.
The FAO issued principles for proper sustainable agricultural practices in relation to the quest for sustainable gastronomy. Some of the guidelines include: a).Protect and enhance natural resources, b).Improve livelihoods and foster inclusive economic growth c).Enhance the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems, and d).Adapt governance to new challenges. It appears that Nigeria is not harkening to these principles more especially the protection, enhancement of both natural resources and the resilience of people and their ecosystems. People’s agricultural resources and other ecosystems that contribute to the success of their subsistence farming are being destroyed and the government doesn’t want to adapt to this security challenge. With this situation on ground, sustainable gastronomy becomes endangered in some sectors. The government and other relevant international organisations need to critically look at the situation to find lasting solutions to this type of situation threatening the quest for gastronomic sustainability.
The increase in prices of foodstuffs is a pointer to the average citizen that sustainable gastronomy is threatened. The FAO in its 2019 report had pointed out that the globe has lost several species of food sources and is left with around nine crop species. Unfortunately out of the remaining nine, only three can count as global source of dietary energy supply. These are: maize, rice and wheat. This is a pointer to the fact that biodiversity is one of the means towards achieving sustainable gastronomy. Manna no longer falls from the heavens; we have to be proactively rational in order to achieve sustainable gastronomy. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us opportunities to reflect on our relationships with nature and how nature can contribute to our survival and protection on planet earth. In some cases it has made us to realize our levels of disrespect and disregard for sustainability in almost all areas that are strategic to the survival of humanity. At a point food availability became a problem, at other points the prices skyrocket. In most cases these are due to overdependence on technology and its abilities. We think that technology will always take care of our shortfalls and the lacunae we created with regards to the environment. Our ecological footprints have impacted on biodiversity that our food sources have depleted to the extent that we have to resort to junk foods. These have seriously affected our natural ability to raise our immunity levels through natural foods.
The pandemic made us to realise and remember some of our forgotten natural food remedies, especially spices and other ingredients. Many were challenged to ensure their preservation, propagation and reintroduction into our tables and plates. This is an aspect of sustainable gastronomy. Most of the alleged solutions to the novel coronavirus have been natural food resources. This is where and how biodiversity remains strategic to human survival. Africans and Nigerians should take the call for sustainable gastronomy serious. It is one of the keys to poverty and hunger reduction and elimination across the continent. Hunger and poverty involve a sort of intricate loop with respect to the environment. Sustainability of the environment is strategic to the fight against hunger and poverty. Environmental pollution and degradation widen the poverty margins in the society and invariably affect food production. Thus one of the cogencies and preconditions for sustainable gastronomy is environmental protection.
To be proactive towards sustainable gastronomy, we need to emphasize the respect for the environment in the process of food production. The consumers should equally be wary of this. There is need to do a cursory assessment of the level of environmental impacts of the foods we buy. Did the food production endanger or adversely affect the production of other foods? This is crucial.
We need also to assess how the food was processed. Does the process respect the sustainability of the environment? We should be wary of food processing that pollute the ecosystems.
The media houses, environmentalists and others in the movement and quest for sustainability have contributory roles to play. They can organise programmes and shows to reflect sustainable gastronomy. They can enlighten the public on how some food productions and processing respect or abuse the principles of sustainable gastronomy. There is equally need to enlighten the public on food production and processes that adversely impact on our environments and endanger our chances of sustainable gastronomy.
One of the sure ways of driving home the message of sustainable gastronomy is to approach it from a multidimensional and multi-sectoral perspective. One of such is to see the quest as a movement. Those who can make it successful include food vendors, hoteliers, individuals, etc. These need to eat and patronize foods that their production and processing respect the principles of sustainable gastronomy. Many who complain about the destruction of their means of subsistence farming and livelihoods go about empowering the culprits who endanger them. This is culpable ignorance and one of the major challenges that the sustainable gastronomy day observance is meant to address. Every Nigerian consumer should be circumspect of the process and production of the food that come to our tables and plates.
The International sustainable gastronomy day observance is a wake-up call and a challenge to all. We cannot embark and support the quest for sustainable gastronomy and at the same time empower and patronize those and every processes that endanger the principles of sustainability.
We have long ago entered the era of sustainability. However many are yet to understand the roles they are expected to play. We can simply get involved by ‘not eating’ to empower those who are clogs to the quest for sustainable gastronomy. Today, we all can contribute by asking how environmentally friendly the processes the food before us went through. This is sustainable eating. This is one step in the right direction in the quest for sustainable gastronomy. Happy Sustainable Gastronomy Day!!!
Dr. Nneji writes from Department of Educational Foundation, Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri