~ An entry by Chef Nam ~

Have you considered the effects of what you eat on the planet, and made changes that will protect not only the Earth but also your health and the well-being of generations to come?

I suspect most of you already do many things to help preserve the viability of the planet we all call home. Perhaps you can recycle glass, plastic and paper, shop with reusable bags; rely heavily on public transportation or bicycles or, failing that, at least drive fuel-efficient cars.

But have you thought about how your diet affects the future of the planet? The question is complicated for many people.

What is sustainable food production exactly? It is the use of processes and systems to lower the environmental impact of food production and to protect workers, communities and consumers, while not compromising the needs of future generations? Eating more local food, minimising meat consumption and choosing responsibly sourced seafood options are all ways to eat more sustainably, aren’t they?

Can I eat well without sinking the planet? I think about this question a lot.

Is there a cuisine somewhere in the world that is healthy both for us and for the planet we live in? and if one exists, would we even want to eat it?

I realized that there is no magic cuisine to save the earth, but we can eat more sustainably. They’re built into many traditional cuisines around the world, and we can learn from them.

In any case, we don’t have much choice. To prevent the most severe effects of climate change, scientists say, we have to very quickly transform the way we eat. Food production accounts for between 21 per cent and 26 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, depending on how you slice the data: food waste accounts for an additional 8 per cent, considering that worldwide, we waste a third of the food we produce. Tragic, isn’t it?

Eating well doesn’t have to mean eating weirdly or depriving ourselves or even breaking the bank.

Take for example the hearty Vietnamese pho. I realized that pho can deliver happiness eating at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The soul of the pho is the broth, and the genius of the broth is that a bit of meat, not even the best meat, goes a long way. I like the version of pho, beef and chicken. Simmered for hours with charred onions, gingers, toasted spices and the essence of all Vietnamese cooking, fish sauce. I enjoyed the vegetarian version, which is delicious too.

For me, the lesson of pho is a lesson embodied in many traditional cuisines. Meat can discreetly be the star of the meal. It can be used in small quantities to enrich grains and vegetables.

No questions, some of us must eat less meat. North Americans eat six times as much red meat as they should, according to a recent report in the medical journal The Lancet. Whereas, the average Vietnamese eats about a third as much beef as the average American.

Another thing we need to learn to eat more is legumes. Whether fava in the Middle East, flor de mayo in Mexico, cowpeas in Ghana or mung beans in Vietnam. Nowhere have I seen legumes as many variations as I have in India. Pigeon peas become breakfast pancakes known as dosa. Chickpea flour, steamed and topped with oil-popped mustard seeds, turn into a fluffy yellow dhokla. Mung beans are repurposed into sweet halwa, swollen with ghee and cardamom. And then there’s dal, the savoury lentil stew without which no Indian meal is complete.

The legumes are high in protein and fiber, low in fat. They are good for the planet, too. The Food and Agriculture Organization calls the “climate-smart,” because they can adapt to rough weather, restore degraded soils and even make cattle feed more digestible.

Lastly, it’s very important to choose a meal meant to be eaten with others, to passed around and discussed. A meal designed to slow down, even if just for an afternoon. I tell you about this meal because it embodies the final and most basic principle of eating well, both for our health and the health of the planet: eating together.

Sharing a meal can be a good way to avoid food waste and overconsumption. There’s usually someone in the group who will pop the last piece of the chicken wing into her mouth (my kids) or scrape the last bits of cheese from the wooden tray (me). Not least, eating together makes eating more pleasurable.