The concept of ‘sustainability’ is a growing trend both in the world of agriculture and the world of food. Many of today’s farmers are doing away with the traditional methods of farming, which includes use of chemicals, machinery, and mass production of unhealthy and heavily genetically-modified foods, and are returning to producing natural and healthy nutrient rich produce. Since the 1930’s and 1940’s, we have lost thirty percent of the nutrients in our whole foods, and the ‘sustainability movement’ is trying to move back toward the ‘real’ food that existed prior to World War II. Many food manufacturers, as well as restaurants, supermarkets, and other food related establishments, have openly welcomed the concept of ‘sustainability’ and incorporated this philosophy as well.
It is not a rare occurrence these days that I run across a product in grocery store that boasts “sustainably raised” or “sustainably farmed”. One of the reasons that I think I am so fond of many of the markets past the Mason-Dixon line, especially around Upstate New York and New England, is their effort to be part of the ‘sustainable’ mindset. Many of these markets, from small individual owned grocery stores to large chain supermarkets, are now seen boasting their fine selections of only locally grown fruit, no-growth hormone chickens, cage-free eggs, and all grass-fed beef. ‘Sustainability’ in regards to the culinary world essentially means going away from all the engineered foods we have available today and back to the natural. It means growing natural, unadulterated produce and selling it in the local stores. ‘Sustainability’ means treating food animals humanely, not injecting them with growth-hormones, and feeding them properly (because ultimately what they eat ends up in our stomachs). Sustainability means being good to the earth, for it in turn will be good to us.
I officially entered the world of Culinary Sustainability this past January, when I began classes in my new major in Culinary Sustainability at Kennesaw State University, located 25 miles north of Atlanta. While I had always tended to think of food solely as an art, with the commencement of my classes I was brought to the realization that food is also a science( I guess that’s why this degree is a Bachelor’s of Science!)The best part: this new innovative program of study enables me to enter the world of culinary science while allowing me to keep one foot into the world of the culinary arts at the same time.
The Culinary Sustainability program in which I am enrolled is designed not only to give students the knowledge of how to prepare food and properly run a business in the culinary and hospitality field, but to educate us in where our food comes from, the nutritional value behind our food and the best ways to utilize that nutrition, the best sustainable (i.e. environmental and economic) practices, and when you get right down to it: to really know foods in its essence.
The program includes courses in basic and advanced culinary skills, a study of world cuisines and cultures, organic agriculture (we go out to farm and the whole nine yards), food science, nutrition, and viticulture & vinification. Many of the instructors are real professionals, not just college educated professors with a master degree enabling them to teach on a college level. The instructor for my Organic Agriculture and Apiary (beekeeping) class made it clear on the first day that he does not identify as a college professor, but as a professional farmer. My Foodservice Management instructor is a professional Certified Mastered Chef (CMC), one of only 163 in the world, who has over 23 years experience in the culinary and hospitality industry. From dishwasher, to head chef, to hotel manager, he has done it all (I wonder if he has enough qualifications to teach this class?) Classes are “hands-on” and I will be learning about agriculture by going out to different farms and farming, learning about where honey comes from by beekeeping, and of course learning how to cook in a profession kitchen- by cooking in a professional kitchen. This semester I will be learning all about plant-based cuisine, and how to cater to vegetarian and vegan diets.
Going into a culinary based degree program as a student who adheres to a strict kosher diet and who follows Jewish law with regards to cooking (i.e. not mixing meat and dairy, and other like restrictions) has been an interesting experience so far. Being that I had to discuss the obstacles that this could present and how to accommodate my religious beliefs with the culinary department, I have been given the opportunity to know the head of the department and my instructors on a more personal basis. The department has been very understanding of helping me find ways to adhere to the kosher regulations I must follow, while at the same time, allowing me to participate fully in classes. As of now, no real obstacles have presented themselves and all I have needed to do is buy my own set of knives, allowing me to jump into the cooking classes of my Culinary Sustainability track, without any problems of using utensils that were used with meat and dairy mixtures…and as of now…I have suddenly developed the ambition to become a sustainable farmer and start a Kosher eco-friendly sustainable cattle/poultry farm…or maybe I’ll just stick to food blogging for the time being….
The main image above is from the KSU Farm, where my Organic Agriculture class takes place. Here is a new recipe for Balsami Roasted Peppers. Let me know if you have any questions about culinary sustainability in the comments below.