Let us start by saying this: vegans, we salute you. The first and foremost thing in our agenda is a drastic reduction in the consumption of industrial, intensively farmed livestock. It is the most important behavioural change we have in our arsenal in the fight against climate crisis, and the rise of veganism is imperative to that purpose.
Samambaia Project is a food fight against climate change. It is a concept borne out of a necessity not only to reduce negative impact of food, but to create positive, meaningful change through the way we eat.
We, however, are not vegan.
This is not provocation, ignorance or apathy. It is a statement of our beliefs.
We believe in a future of food where agriculture is regenerative, integrated and diverse. Livestock is but a fraction of its axis. That means a return to traditional rotation systems, agroforestry, permaculture and conservation grazing - the core values and methods of a pre-industrial system, invigorated by the possibilities modern technology can provide.
The path to this future is convoluted, continuously obstructed and conflicted. Still, we pursue, supporting the initiatives that brave paradigm change and fight for a new normal.
But for us, there is an issue that cannot be ignored: the current system creates an unacceptable and undeniable amount of waste.
We know this might sound like a stupid question, but why is food waste so bad? In our eyes, the impact is threefold: emissions, energy and natural resource efficiency, and social inequality.
One third of the edible parts of food produced globally is wasted. This equates to 1.3 billion tonnes per year.
This waste contributes significantly to the emissions that cause climate change. Food waste decomposes in landfills and emits methane, the same gas as grazing livestock does. Yearly, food waste generates 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases. To put this in perspective, if food waste was a country, it would be third after China and the U.S. in terms of the amount of harmful gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Agriculture demands energy and natural resources - land and water taking the biggest toll. Of the amount of cultivated land in the world, about 28% of it is used for food destined for waste, approximately 1.4 billion hectares of land. This is critical in itself, without even considering the consequences of this land use… deforestation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, a high cost to pay for food that will end up in the bin anyway.
Almost 1 billion people go to sleep hungry every night. Famine leads to chronic undernourishment and malnutrition, which has severe impact on health and cognitive development. It is also one of the main causes of chronic poverty. It seems impossible to justify food waste. Especially when we could feed all of those afflicted by hunger with just a quarter of what is wasted.
We have lost sight of the value of food.
And this is the purpose of Samambaia Project: to cook with food that is deemed to have no value.
As chefs, we use the best tools available to us: our creativity. Our battle is the one within our reach: we tackle food waste at the source.
We cook vegetables our suppliers can't sell because they are too ripe, not ripe enough, not the right size or shape, or the right season. We cook billy goats and bull veals, by-products of the dairy industry that would otherwise be euthanised at birth. We cook retired egg laying hens and dairy cows, who at best, would be destined for pet food. We cook only pullet eggs, the amazingly rich first eggs a hen will lay, discarded because they are too small for industry standards. We cook ray tails, small mussels, small crabs and fish tongues. We cook wild food, that which is foraged or shot. We cook roots, flowers, tops, tails, tongues and ears. We see value where the market does not.
We don't call it food waste. Waste implies rotten, dirty, bad, inedible.
No one in their right mind would look at the produce we use and call it waste.
Committing to this without creating perverse incentives is incredibly hard and we take it extremely seriously. We create our menus according to what our suppliers have and will discard, not the other way round.
It all comes down to accountability. We must be held accountable for the choices we make, every day, every time we eat. Veganism can create perverse incentives if not done with accountability. Ceasing to consume animal products but still empowering producers who apply the same intensive farming techniques to cereal crops like soy, maize and wheat is not fighting climate change. A diet based on quinoa, seitan and avocados is not sustainable - all these crops have dark, and sometimes bloody, stories behind them. Consuming vegan products without being accountable for the impact these products have is simply transferring the focus from one problem to another. It is still propagating a way of life where we're supporting high-yield, high-carbon emitting, biodiversity destructive, unethical, chemical-heavy, intensive forms of production - except in the form of cultivated crops, rather than grazing animals.
When asked why we are not vegan, this is why. We choose not to be. We picked our battle. We're fighting climate change by going further in the fight against food waste. Every main element in every dish in every menu we create, is made from produce that would otherwise be discarded. We work hard to maintain relationships with the suppliers who deviate from their operations to give us these products. We exercise and push our creativity to the limits, constantly having to rethink and adapt to what produce is available. We have moments when we think the battle is a losing one, and it's hard to get back up after you've been shot down. But, we knew what we signed up for. The fight for our planet's survival, against our own extinction, was never going to be an easy one.