As a chef, when it comes to produce we search out the best, most delicious and the most sustainable produce that we can source – poultry as example, – we look for the best tasting product that we lay our hands on, usually this means Pasture-raised, or free range chickens that wander the farm, pecking up bugs, worms, grasses and delectable weeds in the sunshine. They are free to wander about in grassy fields as nature intended, allowed essentially to eat what they decide to eat. This “diet” means that the yolks are bright yellow-orange, the shells are hard, and the flavour exceptional.
This also means that these chickens raised for “processing” have a flavor unsurpassed by anything you can purchase at the store. And you can be assured that no chemicals, antibiotics, or hormones were used to raise them. They live a “happy & stress free” life, so that they will perform better for the table, exactly what we as chefs look for in a product. Picture these happy chickens for a moment in you mind, now hold that thought………
As that chef who has spent the time to source that amazing chicken to prepare so that you may wow your guests with your culinary skills, think about its life as well, living in green pastures, in the sunshine, eating a mixed, healthy and varied diet, virtually living stress free so they have maximum flavour.
Now think about the way we have our kitchen teams spend their hours, of which there is generally too many a day, 12 – 15 hours, sometimes more – which sometimes cannot be helped I realise, its not a perfect world – working at a frenetic pace in a confined, hot space, artificially lit with florescent lighting, constant time constraints and pressure points. The constant threat of a verbal barrage if things go wrong, quickly eating left overs and off cuts as you go standing up, or if your lucky, sitting on a milk crate in the rubbish area…….
If that prized chicken were raise in similar condition, we wouldn’t except it, wouldn’t even consider using them if we saw conditions like these for our produce, but we put ourselves though it!
My question is Why? And what can change to make the average kitchen a better more sustainable place for those that work in them?
“In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal consistency. That a person who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and so is motivated to try to reduce the cognitive dissonance occurring, to justify behaviour by changing parts or by adding new parts of the cognition causing the psychological dissonance, and by actively avoiding situations and information likely to increase the psychological discomfort.” (Wikipedia)
For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition).
I know of chefs who have heart attacks at a young age. In my own experience I have been hospitalist with chest pains in the past and suffered from depression & anxiety even though on paper it may have seemed like I was achieving goals,it didn’t feel that way, others that I know rely on alcohol or hard drugs to get them through, once again non sustainable for our future genratetions of chefs
As chefs, I think we all know that ours is hard game, every chef with more than a few years of experience can tell many stories of long hard days worked, countless days of pressure and torturous routine, but how do we change that for the future generations, the next young chefs coming though that need to learn a better way to treat themselves and their teams, to make kitchens more sustainable for the chefs, not just the produce?