We recently chatted with Chef Tom Hunt, an award-winning restaurateur, climate activist, and author of the book Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet. Chef Tom shared lessons that restaurants and home chefs can learn from the coronavirus crisis — and climate-healthy action ideas for us all.
During the lockdowns many people rediscovered local food sources and reduced their carbon footprint. What other climate-healthy changes from this crisis should we keep up?
There's been so many brilliant changes in people’s habits at home, specifically in their eating habits. Around 50% more people were cooking from scratch, which is fantastic. And many more people were buying directly from farms and generally consuming less. This is the way to go.
On a structural level, we’ve seen a shift towards a more direct food system, as the big retail food industry wasn't able to keep up with demand at the beginning of the crisis. This created a shorter food chain which is hugely beneficial for not only the farmers and individuals, but for the health of the local and global economy.
What can home chefs do in the kitchen to help fight the climate crisis?
I believe that we’ve largely lost touch with the origin of our food and the natural world in general, which is greatly contributing to the situation we’re in. My goal is to mend that connection. Learning how to eat well is a brilliant way to reconnect with the world around us.
That’s what my recent book, Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet, is all about. It’s a comprehensive guide to supporting a sustainable food system based on my decade of experience in this field.
I always say, eat for pleasure, eat whole foods, eat the best foods you can. Those are ideas that everyone can get behind. They show that eating sustainably isn’t about making a sacrifice. Indulging in fresh, seasonal, local foods is delicious, satisfying, and affordable — yet also inherently restorative for ourselves and the planet.
Try to eat mostly plants and diversify the plants you eat. Rather than just rice or potatoes, mix it up with spelt or rye. Those alternatives are better for the climate and local ecosystems while also stimulating our curiosity for new tastes and recipes.
What climate opportunities do you see for restaurants during this time?
Many in the industry will have more time on their hands than usual, which provides an opportunity to innovate and reinvent a more sustainable food system for their own practice.
I can add that we’re moving into an era where good sustainability practices are expected from businesses everywhere. From my own experience, I’ve learned we don’t have to take shortcuts on quality or sustainability to make a profit. I’ve been running food businesses focused on sustainability for the last 15 years and I’ve faced my fair share of challenges. But through perseverance and prioritizing people and the planet I've learned we don't have to jeopardize profits in order to be more sustainable.
What can consumers do to help the climate and the industry as they venture back out to restaurants?
When you do go out and eat again, try and go to restaurants that are supporting people and the planet. Try to find restaurants that source their food locally and emphasize sustainability.
Lastly, how have you been staying busy during this strange time?
With my extra time, I’ve been taking our cargo bike out with the baby and pup for my daily exercise. I normally do my weekly shop at the local farmers market, and it’s been wonderful to rediscover my local greengrocer and cheesemonger while walking the dog and getting my own exercise all at the same time.
Of course, I’ve also been working on my podcast The Chef’s Manifesto, focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and I’ve been creating my own cooking videos on Instagram. They’ve been very fun to make, and people have seemed to really enjoy them.
You can find more information about Chef Tom’s book, podcast, and manifesto on his website.