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May 2020 Chefs Manifesto Virtual Global Gathering Day 2

This event was the second day of this 2 day virtual gathering organised by Omved Gardens in collaboration with the Chefs’ Manifesto and SDG2 Advocacy Hub. Find the article about the first day here. On the second day we focussed on enabling chefs to share their experiences from different parts of the world to find out what impact the crisis has had on the restaurants and businesses of the chefs in the Chefs’ Manifesto network – a community of 640+ chefs from 77 countries around the world. We also discussed how they are innovating around the problems to discuss potential solutions to support chefs’ and farmers’ livelihoods.

In many countries, there has been serious impact on food retail, restaurant and food production due to Covid-19. Many have had to contend with a dramatic change in the way that food connects people and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people have been hugely effected. From one side of the globe to another discussing how these issues have impacted and changed the lives of chefs and the food service industry allowed the group to get a clear understanding of the troubles faced and to identify with others experiencing similarly testing times. One of the most poignant and sobering statements came from Chef Arlette Eulert in Latin America who said that people are now more afraid of hunger than they are of the virus and chefs in other parts of the world, developed and developing agreed. Chefs in Latin America have tried to help by opening their restaurants as markets selling local products to consumers; more people are cooking from home and want to be healthy and so are following the content that chefs are generating online.

In India, Chef Radhika Khandelwal explained how food systems in India have struggled to cope with the crisis. Business owners are trying to pay their staff but are struggling enormously with some chefs giving supplies from their own homes to feed their staff. Harvested food has struggled to reach market due to the inability to package the goods and retail shelves and exports have completely stalled which has contributed to a rise in food costs. Some chefs have been managing to produce and sell milk products such as cheese and butter in their restaurants if they have been allowed to open. Chefs have played a big role in educating consumers online on how to avoid waste in the kitchen and people are increasingly understanding the importance of reducing food waste.

In Italy, Chef Cristina Bowerman described the paradox of problems within the food systems there in which people are being encouraged to buy local but nothing is being produced as even the farmers were not allowed to work. This means consumers have had to buy canned and frozen food. With the borders closed, immigrants who make up the majority of farm workers could not enter so seasonal fruits such as grapes and apricots are going off. On the opposite end of the scale, Chef Alva Lim who had a business in East Timor described how as a result of the conflict in the previous decade, the people of East Timor have become resilient; ‘There weren’t any supplies to begin with, so we didn’t expect any supplies to come. This meant that we had to go local.’ This emphasises the importance of a resilient, local food system.

In South Africa, Chef Pinky Maruping described how illegal work is quite prevalent, which is now causing problems for restaurants and chefs who won’t receive money if they aren’t registered. Trying to diversify restaurants is not easy and doesn’t make viable business sense as there are so many regulations in place to offer a delivery service. Pinky and many other chefs who are part of the Chefs Alliance are cooking food to try and help; people are hungry and often the food parcels provided by the government are unhealthy.

In Australia, there is a different situation where many new opportunities in terms of deliveries have sprung up however, this seems to have led to an increase in the consumption of fast food. Chefs are coming together to try and combat this by making convenience food healthier by making simple takeaway menus for restaurants.

Some restaurants have done similarly in UK and US but it is not easy for chefs to diversify themselves and their restaurants so quickly and many chefs have had to learn new skills. We heard from Chef Mary-Sue Milliken in the US who has taken the risk to produce delivery menus for her restaurants, hiring taxi drivers to deliver meals and is now supplying up to 3000 meals a day. She emphasised the fact that uncertainty is one of the worst things affecting chefs right now. Many Chefs feel vulnerable and fluctuate between feeling terrified and at the other extreme, hopeful and inspired.

Chefs on opposite sides of the world have been connecting by cooking in their own homes for the #togetherathome series run by the Chefs’ Manifesto. They have a unified voice and are clear that all Governments have a responsibility to make sure that aid is reaching the right places. The food service industry is one of the industries suffering the most through this crisis and it seems that with many governments around the world, this has gone unnoticed. Chefs are clear, governments need to step up and support supply chain workers and food service workers who are vulnerable. It is clear that throughout the world, food systems are not resilient enough to withstand crises like this pandemic and the total impact that Covid-19 has had on the world’s food systems is yet to be seen.

As consumers, it is important to remember that chefs have an important role in bridging the gap between farm and fork. They know the importance of eating fresh local ingredients with the seasons and they can help educate us on how to cook with the seasons with their recipes and menus. So if you find that your local neighbourhood cafe or restaurant has started to do a takeaway service or selling market goods, let’s support them where we can and eat fresh, local and delicious. As Chef Samuel Monsur from the US said, ‘Independent restaurants have become vehicles for community and it’s great to see that even through this pandemic, restaurants and chefs are still being active and advocating all around the world; this is the time to review policy & legislation.’