Coalition of disruptive chefs are key to ensuring Good Food for All

Sustainability and Climate Action Leaders Series Through our Sustainability and Climate Action Leaders Series, we're exploring how changemakers are navigating systems to build communities committed to sustainability and climate action.

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. If these goals are achieved, they have the power to create a better world by 2030 by ending poverty, fighting inequality and addressing the urgency of climate change. We are now five years into working towards achieving the SDGs, but we are not on track to achieving SDG2 – Zero Hunger – and many other connected goals. With competing priorities and increasingly technical and siloed conversations, we believe we will not be positioned to achieve the desired results. The current approach must be disrupted and redirected, or we are unlikely to be successful.

Close collaboration with disruptive and unconventional actors, giving them a platform to speak and to be listened to, is essential.

In today’s world, it feels no longer sufficient to just present a strong policy and scientific argument. What is becoming ever more important is how we communicate: concisely, and in a way that is accessible and easily digestible for everyone. And, to get back on track with the sustainable development agenda set in 2015, governments need to break from traditional policy and ideological debates. To do this, close collaboration with disruptive and unconventional actors, giving them a platform to speak and to be listened to, is essential. We believe this can help us bring more people to the table and make SDG2 a priority in the goals to drive action.

One group of disruptive voices we have been working with are chefs, through a network called the Chefs’ Manifesto. This chef-led project brings together 800+ chefs from around the world, exploring together how they can help deliver sustainable food systems. Chefs bridge the gap between farm and fork – we empower them with a framework that is accessible to them and tied to the SDGs. Through networks such as the Chefs’ Manifesto, which help to foster trust and human relationships, and enable knowledge sharing, chefs can speak to sustainability in a more efficient and accessible way than governments can through their traditional approach.

New Zealand-based celebrity Chef Robert Oliver is one such disruptive voice driving progress on the Global Goals. Together with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, Chef Robert founded the Pacific Island Food Revolution. The project uses the power of reality TV, radio and social media to change people’s eating behaviour. Covering four countries – Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu – in 12 episodes, the Pacific Island Food Revolution activates local cuisine knowledge and holds a mirror to the Pacific itself, highlighting the power of fresh, local, indigenous foods for good health.

In the Pacific particularly, it is important for governments to collaborate with chefs on sustainability, as chefs, alongside the hotel management, control the food component of the tourism industry, by far the largest contributor to GDP in the region.

With a unique and fresh approach, Pacific Island Food Revolution is filled with stories of heritage and humour. The TV competition aims to provide solutions to factors that people have identified as barriers to healthy eating such as convenience, taste and affordability. In the Pacific particularly, it is important for governments to collaborate with chefs on sustainability, as chefs, alongside the hotel management, control the food component of the tourism industry, by far the largest contributor to GDP in the region. It is estimated that up to 80% of food is imported for tourism, mainly because menus do not champion local ingredients. Local cuisine also requires local agriculture, so it is vital to put local Pacific chefs into decision-making positions in the tourism industry. The voices of chefs in everyone’s living rooms – through a TV show co-produced with governments and including sustainability messaging – have the power to influence communities, foster public will and drive change.

Meanwhile, when COVID-19 hit in early 2020, Chef Conor Spacey from Ireland – a founding member of the Chefs’ Manifesto – started working with various government departments both on the management of their everyday food programmes and on events. In the early stages of the pandemic, the hospitality industry had to act quickly to ensure that teams and customers were safe. Chef Conor therefore collaborated with government departments to smoothly adapt and change work patterns where required. In this process, Chef Conor brought in a perspective of sustainability, as all his work is based on showcasing Irish food, directly working with local farmers and ensuring that no food is wasted. 

According to Chef Conor, ‘Chefs are at the end of the food chain and responsible to implement changes that fix our broken food system. By talking to governments, we are able to design and implement plans that showcase in practice how this can be done’. He believes that by involving actors such as chefs, Ireland can position itself as a leader of change towards a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive food system.

Chefs are at the end of the food chain and responsible to implement changes that fix our broken food system. By talking to governments, we are able to design and implement plans that showcase in practice how this can be done.

2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with additional, multiple challenges. A side effect has been that the curtain hiding the many issues within our food systems has been lifted. Looking ahead at 2021, a year with important advocacy moments including the UN Food Systems Summit, we will have the opportunity to take the lessons learned and drive the much-needed progress towards the Global Goals. Partnerships with chefs and other disruptive voices will allow us to see the breakthrough we believe everyone desperately needs.

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