Chef Daniel Bravo is busy. Aboard the Rainbow Warrior, the iconic Greenpeace ship travelling around the world to help raise awareness on different environmental issues affecting the region, he adds some mung beans (locally known in the Philippines as munggo) to the ceviche he is preparing for a roomful of students from the School of the Holy Spirit. “This is a traditional Peruvian Latin American dish that is usually prepared with fish,” he explains, “Today, I chose to use the mung bean because planting it helps nourish the soil.” The ceviche, he further explains, is a nutritional symbiotic ecosystem. “By eating this way, we not only nurture the planet, we also nourish ourselves.”
While this kind of mindful eating might seem too esoteric for most, it is definitely an ideology that deserves closer attention. There are more people to feed with rapidly vanishing resources. The current global food system is taking a toll on the planet with resulting issues such as deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion, and steadily increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions looming menancingly ahead. The future is bleak: we are eating ourselves into extinction.
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Chef Daniel believes, however, that we are capable of turning things around by making a conscious choice to eat more ecologically. It is precisely this mindset that prompted him to define his cuisine by means of his advocacy, rather than the usual flavors and textures. “Most people don’t realize that with as something as simple as eating, you can create a ripple effect of changes,” Chef Daniel relates. For instance, because it takes less natural resources to grow vegetables than it is to raise livestock, replacing most of your meat with vegetables and fruits is enough to start a positive chain reaction. “You will benefit the farmer, you will benefit the environment, and you will benefit yourself,” says Chef Daniel, adding that a greater portion of plant-based food in one's diet has additional compelling advantages like better overall health and the decreased risk of obesity, cancer, and hypertension.
While what we eat is important, how it gets to our plate matters, too. As a rule, Chef Daniel says that buying naturally grown local products is always the best way to go. As part of his advocacy, he develops recipes that incorporate ingredients that make the least environmental impact, using ones that are readily available and affordable for everyone. “My grandmother used to say 'a good cook is not the one who can make a fantastic meal with fancy ingredients, but the one who can make a great meal with whatever is available,'” Chef Daniel shares. He goes on to describe a dish he was inspired to create out of algae: “There is always an abundance of them along the shores of coastal communities,” he says, “And, seaweed is one of the most nutritious food for humans.”
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How we produce our food is also another facet that needs to be addressed. Large scale industrial farms, with their aim of growing large amounts of crops efficiently and affordably, damage the environment with their heavy use of chemical additives. As such, supporting small scale farms with sustainable practices would not only cut down the carbon footprint of your food, it would also enrich the lives of farmers, who are often cited as one of the poorest sectors in the general population. Buying local sustainable produce can consequently shine a spotlight on the problems of these sectors. “There is not enough information or input from governments to help small scale farmers,” says Chef Daniel, “You see it happening everywhere, in lesser or greater or bigger magnitude: from the Netherlands, to Australia, to Mexico, to India, it's all the same. We are not given the tools to farm in a more environmental and efficient way, the way nature intended us to farm.”
All these might make the simple goal of a healthy, sustainable diet seem hopelessly complex but it all boils down to a simple premise: the food on your plate touches everything. It's possible for humanity to nourish themselves in a way that maintains the integrity of the environment. “I firmly believe that through food, we can change the world,” says Chef Daniel. What matters is the overall footprint of the choices you make, where a few simple adjustments can make a magnitude of difference. It won't be easy, but, over time, our indiviual choices can help to reshift global priorities.
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Photographs by the author