Recipes for Change

Some foods could change the world, but to find them, look beyond the label

| May 25, 2006

Imagine a society based on food rather than money, where what you eat matters more than what you buy. Chef Jean-Louis Themistocle calls this a 'gastronocracy,' and he's trying to create one in his native Madagascar. As Michael-Oliver Harding of the Montreal Mirror reports, the renowned chef is leaving Montreal to pursue a gastronomic utopia based on environmental and social responsibility.

Through an organization he founded called 'Cuisiniers Sans Frontieres' -- like Doctors Without Borders for chefs -- Themistocle plans to teach people from developing countries about the culinary arts. He hopes that his 350-hour workshop will help unemployed people find jobs in hotels and restaurants. The program also focuses on environmentally sustainable practices like composting.

For those who can't up and move to Madagascar, there are plenty of smaller ways to better the world with green cuisine. 'Every time you buy food,' Anna Lappe writes in Spirituality & Health, 'you're voting for the world you want.' Lappe points out a few concrete steps that people can take, like buying local and fair trade certified foods. Another suggestion: 'Look for '100% organic ingredients.' That's your guarantee that products were made from solely organic ingredients.'

But Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association, warns that conscientious consumers may have to start looking beyond labels. In an interview with Satya, Cummins explains that corporations are 'degrading organic standards [and] bending the rules' to turn a profit.

As an example, Cummins points to Silk, the leading seller of soy milk. Owned by Dean Foods, a $10 billion food conglomerate, Silk is part of a larger trend among corporate organic food sellers outsourcing their farming to China. That means burning tons of fossil fuels to bring 'eco-friendly' products to your local co-op. Plus, some complain that organic food standards are more lax in China. What's more, according to Cummins, Chinese workers are being paid 'slave labor' wages by ostensibly socially responsible companies. Corporate organic food producers may tout their green credentials, but consumers are often duped into contributing to a system of worker exploitation and environmental degradation.

Keeping current on socially responsible foods can be a constant struggle, especially with companies that, according to Cummins, 'deliberately conceal' the origins of their products. But the worthwhile struggle has worldwide implications. 'What you do with your knife and fork,' says Cummins, 'has a lot to do with world peace and justice.'

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