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Inside Kendall

Missing from the great food debate: sustainability. Why it matters.

By Christopher Koetke, CEC, CHE, MBA
Dean, Kendall College School of Culinary Arts
Vice President, Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts

My great passion is food. It’s something I share with billions of people worldwide. Whether the pinnacle of fine cuisine, tonight’s family dinner, or an on-the-go meal, we all want our food to be safe to eat. So, while I am glad leaders in the U.S. are taking a close look at how we can continue to find ways to ensure the food we eat is safe, I am disappointed that the same attention and sense of urgency is also not being focused on the broader issue of sustainability.

Certainly, food safety is one important component of sustainability. Many people think of sustainability as it relates to the environment but it’s that and so much more. The United Nations Conference on Environment & Development defines sustainability as “the capacity to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It sounds simple, but its meaning is profound. Sustainability impacts a nation’s health and wellness, social equity and responsibility, fair trade and its role in a global society. Preserving the environment is indeed central, as sustainability incorporates many important facets: water use, energy production, proper management of waste streams, and food production. All of those elements converge in foodservice as it takes energy and water to grow, transport, and cook food.  How we impact the land that produces our food – whether on a farm, in our backyard garden, or in a restaurant—it is all part of sustainability.  But all of this must also be undertaken in a way that is economically sustainable, providing living wages to workers, supporting local communities and operating in a way that business, too, can be sustainable.

As a chef, educator and father of three, I know firsthand that these issues are at the very core of our global society. In my role as the Dean of Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, and Vice President of Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts, I have enjoyed chorizo verde and huitlacoche quesadillas in Toluca, Mexico; mansaf in Amman, Jordan; Nasi lemak in Malaysia; and Sancocho in Quito, Ecuador.  I’ve met and worked with chefs from the world’s best restaurants, educators in the some of the world’s finest culinary arts programs, and students around the globe who are passionate about sharing the traditional cuisines of their countries with the world. What I have learned is that the global community of “foodies” is deeply dedicated to sustainability.

Based on my travels and experience, I know that we in the foodservice world have made some progress in sustainability. It is a global concern and a global problem. For example, during my visit to Universidad de Las Americas in Quito, Ecuador, I watched as students learned firsthand about their region’s great diversity of truly unique food products and the challenges associated with preserving them for future generations.  At the Universidad del Valle de Mexico, I watched as students learned about waste and how to responsibly deal with the large amounts of waste generated by the foodservice industry. Across many campuses, whether in Latin America, Asia, or the Middle East, students are increasingly aware of the issues surrounding sustainability and are often the catalyzing force behind change. At Kendall College, sustainability is core to our curriculum and our operations. From our garden to our kitchens, from reducing water consumption to reducing energy consumption, and from recycling to composting, we are training tomorrow’s chefs to develop a sustainability mindset in the same way that we teach them to be vigilant about food safety. Kendall’s School of Hospitality Management also emphasizes sustainability with a number of required courses such as sustainable tourism and environmental science.

Governments worldwide are addressing this important issue. Some countries like those in Western Europe are further down the path than the U.S. in many areas, while others are lagging behind, but virtually everyone now agrees that we must take immediate and substantive action if we are to preserve the planet for future generations.

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