27 Dec Modern Cuisine in the Anthropocene Part 2
1.relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
We are the first generation to question whether we are the last generation to inhabit this planet, the outcome is entirely in our own hands. A decade ago, for most people, environmental awareness meant a pity vote for the green party, throwing a packet of rain forest friendly coffee in your shopping basket or skipping meat once a fortnight. Today, we are meeting the anthropocene for breakfast every morning, whether we are trying to stick our heads in the sand or not. It’s the concoction of agricultural chemicals one ingests with every sip of tap water, it’s the first bite of our sandwich which is genetically different from the bread our grandparents ate. It’s the flowers blooming a month earlier than last year. Curious thumbs sliding over ancient earth minerals in our smartphone screens. It’s the stark realization, consciously or not, that the planet we inhabit has been changed forever due to the actions of our species.
What does it mean to be alive in the anthropocene? As a chef, I’ve dedicated my journey to exploring this question and how it relates to the way we eat. For the last 4 years I’ve been growing and cooking food in a way that addresses this topic. The food philosophy born out of this I coined ‘New Earth Cooking’ a way of living based around more questions than answers, which divides our areas of planetary impact into 5 ‘P’s’ namely, Place, Product, Price, People and Planet. This week we explore the P for Product.
A century ago the P for product was pretty much irrelevant, simply identifying an ingredient would have been sufficient in order to understand it. Today, an average supermarket offers an array of thousands of shiny wrapped, sleek packaged mystery products boldly displaying exciting phrases like ‘free range’, ‘dolphin friendly’, ‘raw vegan’, ‘paleo’, or ‘sugar free’ For most of us, these phrases dictate our purpose decision without questioning, ‘what does this really mean?’ Is this image of a happy, free ranging rooster roaming the green hills of an imaginary farm really overrule guilt around consuming domesticated poultry? Is grain free granola really going to make my morning magical, like the smiling yogini on the front of the recycled carton box suggests? Are ‘super foods’ and healthy supplements really the antidote to 5 decades of plastic wrapped empty calories or are they just a smarter version?
Knowledge is power. To truly understand where our consumer power lies, let’s consider the food trail of modern supermarket food. The oil industry sits on top, fueling the major industries like agrochemical and pharmaceutical which in turn supply seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and drugs to industrial farms. These multi million acre operations pump ingredients, mostly grains into huge food factories which can miraculously turn the major crops of wheat, soy, corn and rice into thousands of different products. No matter what aisle you choose, from the confectionary section dreaded by parents to the health food section dreaded by children, your food is laced in one major ingredients that no company lists in their ingredients: ‘crude oil’.
Simply questioning your food trail is impactful and easy to understand for anyone. I once compared Bali’s modern favourite ‘pot noodles’ (instant noodles in Styrofoam cup) to an old favourite of ‘pisang rai’ (steamed banana, rolled in coconut served on a banana leaf)
Whilst the former involves Chinese wheat farmers, mystery flavorings from a Shanghai chemical factory, container shipping, warehouses in Jakarta, a trail of 3 more suppliers before it reaches the shelves at the local ‘warung’. The traditional snack of choice involves a piece of land around the corner where banana and coconut share the same space and packaging grows on the same tree, This afternoon both banana leaf and pot noodle cup will float around the same river, and we all know that only one of them will eventually make their way down to Kuta beach.
Understand that we vote with every dollar and rupiah we spend. What are you voting for today?
‘I want to buy better food but I can’t afford it’ is the question that often follows the P for Product. In the next article we will explore the P for price and address this issue.
For today, I invite you to connect deeper to the island of Bali by embracing the very products that were born here, and can find their way back into the land through the magical waste management that Mother Nature provides which humans now refer to as composting.
Taste New Earth Cooking in action at its home called Bali Silent retreat or at WAMM café in Ubud. Follow New Earth Cooking on Facebook to learn more.
By Simon Jongenotter