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New Research Says Chefs are the Key in Transforming our Food System

In the US in 2018, over 50% of all food spending was spent outside of the house, and yet there is very little research done on the role that chefs play in the transformation of the food system. In a new study by Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences, Leah Richardson and Fredrik Fernqvist shed light on how chefs practicing sustainable gastronomy are positively transforming our food system and motivating people to participate and engage in this movement.

Richardson and Fernqvist collaborated with Chef’s Manifesto’s to recruit ten chefs emerging in sustainable gastronomy from Ireland, India, and Columbia to participate in semi-structured interviews. All chefs were asked questions to assess how they are practicing sustainable gastronomy for food system change. Nine major themes were analyzed that can be divided into two main groups: Change within the food system and Food Democracy.

Change within the food system can be divided into four main groups: Drivers, Actors, Activities, and Outcomes.

  1. Drivers of the food system are defined as reasons why the food system must change. This includes loss of environmental biodiversity, farming practices that destroy the soil, and animal husbandry practices that are bad for the environment.

  2. Actors are defined as those that act on making the changes in the food system. These include chefs, farmers, and consumers.

  3. Activities are the actions that the actors take to make the changes in the food system. The three primary activities identified from chefs include demonstrating deliciousness, educating and engaging audiences, and working with more biodiverse ingredients in the kitchen.

Lastly, the analysis revealed that practicing sustainable gastronomy has three major outcomes. These include changes in values, practices, and behaviors and emerge as results of the drivers, actors, and activities.

The results showed that “food democracy is being practiced and further developed by chefs engaging in sustainable gastronomy”. The practice of food democracy can be categorized into five main principles:

  1. Collaboration toward food system sustainability

  2. Becoming knowledgeable about food and the food system

  3. Sharing ideas about the food system with others

  4. Developing efficacy with respect to food and the food system,

  5. And acquiring an orientation toward community good.

This idea proposes that “chefs need to be recognized as change makers in the food system as dedicated individuals that initiate and facilitate progress toward large-scale transformation in complex systems.”

Our food system is a large contributor to major climate change, food waste, loss of biodiversity, and degradation of land and freshwater. This study has revealed evidence that supports chefs’ role in changing the food system. Chefs are key in “creating sustainable food trends and food values that will influence both consumption and production” and are “practicing sustainable gastronomy and engaging with food democracy” and “changing the food system and making it more sustainable”.

Chefs for Impact is proud to collaborate and work closely with sustainably-minded chefs and food experts in our mission to positively transform our food systems. Click here to learn more about Chefs for Impact’s partners and how they are transforming the food system.

Sources: Leah Richardson & Fredrik Fernqvist (2022): Transforming the Food System through Sustainable Gastronomy - How Chefs Engage with Food Democracy, Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/19320248.2022.2059428


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