June 18 is a day to celebrate sustainable initiatives, small and local producers, seasonal ingredients, the respect for biodiversity, and other factors that contribute to living in a cleaner world.
In an interview for Her Campus, the chef and entrepreneur Luisa Leite talked about her relationship with food, sustainability and these factors in society nowadays. She is the owner and chef of Da Vila, a restaurant in Brazil known for its sustainable gastronomy. Da Vila is a company that started as a factory in the capital of Bahia, but turned into a restaurant, with headquarters in Salvador and in the city of São Paulo. “The restaurant came as a way for us to actually generate experience for people. Because a lot of the things we wanted to provide as an experience, we couldn’t do with off-the-shelf products, in a factory,” says Luisa about the transition of Da Vila’s factory into a restaurant.
Even with the change of establishment, the concept behind Da Vila has always been the same; the ideas of lifestyle, sustainability, and healthy food are the pillars that the company revolves around.
- What is sustainable gastronomy?
Gastronomy means the practice and knowledge related to the culinary art. Sustainability is a way of thinking of different actions in order to create a healthy society and environment, and a driving economy, by thinking about how communities can meet their needs without harming the necessities of future generations’.
Therefore, sustainable gastronomy is a movement that thinks about restaurants beyond its businesses and about the implementation of sustainable actions in its processes. That means that the gastronomic place that follows this movement is concerned about having less negative and more positive impact on the environment, making better use of natural resources and reducing waste in all stages of production.
These concerns are present in many areas when thinking about Da Vila. They are present in the construction of the place for example, in the architecture created to optimize the input of natural light, using local wood, and having a smaller carbon footprint in the construction. But they are also present in the assembly of the menu, when it comes to changing the food options according to the time of the year, torespect biodiversity and the seasonal ingredients, thinking about reusing, having less disposal, composting the organic waste, and others.
Sustainable gastronomy also extends to the management of the restaurant. Therefore, logistics, production cycle, energy use, waste destination, selective waste collection, everything must be taken into account. Another aspect that this movement counts on is the partnership with companies that actually handle their waste in a responsible and sustainable manner.
- How to get more involved with sustainability?
There can be many gateways for this, and Luisa believes food to be the most common one. “My relationship with sustainability came from a very young age, because I’ve always had this closer relationship with food”. She adds, “food is the medium that most directly impacts the environment. Because it is the here and now. Therefore, if we think consciously, and if every time we eat we think about what impact we are having on the environment, it’s already a big difference.”
The chef talks about the mistake people make of thinking about themselves as individual consumers that don’t have the power of change in their hands. She emphasizes the fact that the client is the one who actually dictates the market. We can see that in our reality when analyzing how brands are remodeling and rebuilding themselves nowadays by adding sustainability to their concepts. Many food companies, for example, are increasingly launching healthier products. These actions can prove how much individual changes of lifestyle can impact supply-and-demand and affect the market production focus. “From the moment we transform the way we behave, how we buy, and our means of consumption, we are able to create change,” reiterates Luisa.
- How can we get more people engaged with this movement?
Luisa believes that the richest way of learning is through an example. “I think the first thing is the example, both individual and corporate. Da Vila is much more than talking about what we do differently that’s linked to sustainability, our concern is in fact to be.” She talks about how common it is for the chefs and contributors to end up taking some of the sustainable aspects the brand promotes into their personal life, after working at the company for a while. Many of them start to join a more conscious and healthier lifestyle. Furthermore, she believes that letting the company’s concept shine through in small actions contributes to the customers understanding of sustainability.
- What is society’s food consumption like in the present days?
According to a study made by the United Nations, about 30% of all the food produced in the world in a year is wasted. The math doesn’t make sense when there are 1.3 billion tons of food being discarded and 820 million people suffering from hunger. These extremely high and non-matching numbers reveal why the theme of sustainable gastronomy is so necessary nowadays.
Luisa brought up the studies about the huge amount of food waste. However, she also believes that we are living in a period of transition, searching for the balance between modernity and a healthier way of living. “I think awareness is coming.” She also observes that the current generation has been positioning itself more and more and has been sticking to their beliefs in their actions. The chef believes that this action is a current world need and will bring some great changes to society: “the positioning will increasingly bring this place of truth to businesses, companies, to the behind the scenes and also to the people.”
- How can sustainable gastronomy be applied in our personal lives?
Even though sustainable gastronomy is a movement more focused on gastronomic entrepreneurs, its concepts can be applied in our personal lives. Aspects such as how we can reuse food, reduce waste, cook in healthier ways, and be more in line with the environment, can be taken into consideration and become part of our lifestyle.
We can also think about our carbon footprint and how much natural resources we are consuming as individuals. It’s important to have this knowledge, be aware of our actions, and constantly think about how we could minimize our impacts in the environment.
- Are people actually willing to have more sustainable practices?
The concern about the environment and our planet preservation accompanied by attitude changes is a real necessity nowadays. Still, not many people adhere to the cause of sustainability, and Luisa says her opinion on that: “I think our society is sleeping in the movement of modernity and things often go unnoticed. However, if we start to learn, read about the subject, and listen, it is very difficult for you to let it go unnoticed, because you start feeling responsible.”
She also brings an analysis of how industrialized food is still very much seen as a social status. Historically, the different ways of eating became aspects people used to promote prestige and social status. Many of this paradigm of ultra-processed foods being related to social status has died out, especially in the middle and upper social classes, but for low-income people this is still very much existent. “It’s a change of mindset,” states Luisa, “again, we come to this place of education and awareness.”
- Is sustainability accessible to all different realities?
When we talk about sustainable causes, many people still relate this to an expensive lifestyle, and have in their minds that products made based on these concepts are expensive, although not all that is accurate. What many people see as expensive are, for example, organic products displayed in huge supermarkets that they usually buy food from. However, a sustainable practice doesn’t mean buying an organic product from a big agribusiness, but rather prioritizing a purchase from small local producers.
In addition, Luisa emphasizes that sustainability must be sustainable. That means that sustainability is not a pattern to be followed and a rule to be applied to all individuals, it is, in fact, a study of that community and what fits for that reality. The practice must be sustainable for the individual, for the community, and for the environment at the same time. “It is a balance. Sustainability needs to be sustainable for all spheres,” the chef points out.
- What are the first steps to take towards a more sustainable way of living?
“The first step is education. The first step is the person wanting to learn about the subject,” reiterates the chef. She brings up the importance of studying and going after more knowledge, thus seeking to make a difference and having attitudes that have a foundation behind.
Now, hopefully, we can have a greater understanding of the importance sustainable gastronomy has to society, and celebrate this cause on June 18th, while studying the subject and practicing more sustainable actions in our daily lives!
The article above was edited by Laura Okida.
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