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cabrales

Is Your Approach a Luxury?

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Chef Nischan --

I'd appreciate your views on whether your approach to cuisine, commendable as it may be, is one that could arguably be viewed as being a "luxury" that might be difficult in implement in less economically empowered countries and/or smaller, less financially well-endowed restaurants.

On an arguably separate matter, what are your views on genetically modified food products? Is there a point at which the greater yield from GM crops might be justifiable, in order to make food more available to less affluent countries, even though the integrity of the sourcing and the very nature of the product would be altered? Is there a meaningful sense in which the commoditization and mass-produced nature of food might be justified relative to the food needs of the world as a whole (not that that is necessarily incompatible with smaller "pockets" of integrity with respect to products)? :blink:

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Cabrales, these are outstanding questions, and I have a lot to say on both - but it will take me some time to draft a reply. Give me a day to get back to you.

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Is my approach luxury:

As presented at the restaurant, yes – as are the cuisines of my colleagues. Cooking any upscale cuisine is generally not something the public at large can regularly afford. For those who can cook from the books of Thomas Keller, Alfred Portale, Larry Forgione, etc., my cuisine is as accessible and affordable. The spirit and basic methods are doable for many within the public at large. If someone can afford $125 for a food processor, they can surely spend $65 on a Juice Man juicer. Juicing fresh celery to finish a fish soup is not an expensive endeavor, nor is juicing a sweet potato for a sauce that would traditionally require the sweet potato along with reduced heavy cream. In short, the answer is yes and no – depending on how far you take the methodology.

Genetically modified products:

I see the greater yields argument as a joke when considering the well documented fact that the world is currently producing eight pounds of food per day for every living person. Poor distribution, power-mongering, corrupt regimes, and government greed are keeping these well-proven surpluses from reaching those who need it most. Our current agricultural system, which has now been adopted by developing countries, has driven peasants, who once worked the land to raise their own food, into urban slums. All this because it is profitable for corporate farms and taxing governments to evict peasants from these lands in order to produce volume crops for lucrative export.

Life is cheap in many areas of our world, and the suffering of these peoples has absolutely nothing to do with agricultural yields. Give Somali peasants seeds, a small plot of land and access to water, and they will no longer be hungry nor reliant on countries half way around the world to airlift genetically engineered rice to people who have no access to the water needed to cook it. Rather than spending tens of millions on research to add beta keratin to rice, why not give the Somali peasants land, water and carrots to plant? Interestingly, Somali peasant farmers are now settling in areas like Maine and starting farms to raise the food of their heritage, sans genetic engineering.

I believe some mass production models are here to stay, like convenience foods. I also believe that corporate farms will always be there. The hope lies in making the smell of the coffee strong enough to get them to change the way they treat farmers, original land owners, and the environment. For the organic movement to benefit our food system at large, corporate farming will likely have to play a role.

Still, I believe our world’s governments made a mistake when they turned food into an export commodity. Problems of food supply should be solved through local agriculture with up-scale specialty products becoming the darlings of import/export. We need to be able to share our cultures without requiring people to have to travel great distances. However, this is not the current reason for mass exporting and maximizing yields. We have turned food into international currency and political clout, rather than preserving and respecting it as a basic human right to which every world citizen is entitled. We’ve turned a basic staple of life into a powerful weapon. Shame on us.

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