Africa: The Art of Cooking and What You Can Do to Make It More Sustainable


Tips from FAO’s Goodwill Ambassador chefs on how you can buy, cook and eat food that respects the planet

With our modern lifestyles adding more stress on natural resources and a population to feed that will grow to almost 10 billion by 2050, sustainable gastronomy is something we should all keep in mind as we source, cook and eat our food. Sustainable gastronomy means choosing and cooking food in a way that considers all it takes for food to get from fields to our plates, including how the food is grown and transported to what ingredients we choose and where we buy them from.

We talked to two chefs, who also happen to be FAO Goodwill Ambassadors, to understand how we can make our cooking more environmentally friendly.

‘Upcycle’ your leftovers – or buy ‘upcycled’ products

You may have heard of ‘upcycling’ furniture and clothing – but what about upcycling food? Upcycling food means converting items that would ordinarily have been wasted into new products or ingredients. For chef and FAO Goodwill Ambassador for Japan, Katsuhiro Nakamura, this idea of minimising waste is extremely important and is something he always considers in his kitchen.

“You can make anything out of leftovers,” he says. “The ingredients cost nothing, as they would have been thrown away.” In fact, he too has been exploring the idea of ‘upcycling’.

“For ages, I have been asking myself how I can use whole bananas, including their skins.”

This is how he came up with banana confit: candied whole bananas marinated in sugar for a week and dried for a couple of days. “They require a week or more of marination, but they turn out perfectly. All food is a blessing from nature.”

But if you’re not sure about banana confit, what about using old bread? Katsuhiro comments, “Before, if there was bread left over, we would just throw it away. But that is unacceptable now. Now we use it to make pudding.” Why not try this simple recipe next time your bread is a few days old?

Support food producers that support the planet

Even larger companies are beginning to see the benefits of initiatives that commercialise food waste into an upcycled product.

For example, one well-known chocolate producer has replaced refined sugar with cocoa pulp. A significant proportion of the soft, sweet pulp surrounding beans in the cocoa fruit is traditionally wasted in chocolate production. However, the new recipe has the potential to reduce cocoa fruit waste while boosting the flavour of its products with natural sweetness. Another company has created vegetable crisps made from the pulp of fruit and vegetables left over after they have been juiced. For every pound of pulp saved, the company prevents 38 gallons of water from going to waste.

As a consumer, what you buy makes a statement. Choosing upcycled products and looking for producers that sustainably manage waste increases demand and may encourage other producers to do the same.

A healthy relationship with nature

FAO Goodwill Ambassador and chef Rodrigo Pacheco is equally passionate about sustainable gastronomy and avoiding food waste. He runs his own restaurant in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador and makes sure it is as sustainable as possible.

“We cook in a way that nothing is left over. We compost, and we eat fresh,” he says. “We harvest, fish or forage only what we need,” he continues, “and we don’t have a written menu, so it’s easy to adapt to fresh products of the day.”

For him, cooking sustainably is an important game changer in today’s world, helping people re-establish a healthy relationship with nature.

“Chefs and food makers play a crucial role in reconnecting people with the environment. It is our duty to promote the products that best reflect and enable a smarter and more sustainable relationship with the flora of the planet,” explains Rodrigo.

His other top tips for helping the planet are to avoid buying more food than you need and to support farmers markets and local producers.

If you can, grow your own

For Rodrigo, being planet friendly means ‘giving back’ to nature too. “Since we must help nature regenerate, it is important to take this one step further by planting seeds and giving back to nature,” he says.

To do so, he recommends trying to grow your favourite foods yourself, which truly keeps transport and packaging of the food to a minimum! “Even in very limited spaces, you can grow your own,” he says. You don’t need a big garden to start growing your own vegetables – even a window box is enough to grow tomatoes, chilis or fresh herbs.

Rodrigo also suggests preparing as much of your own food as you can to cut down on packaging and plastic waste. Preparing marmalades and pickles can also be a great way to conserve freshly grown fruit and vegetables.