Make a Big Impact with No Impact: Learning to Live More Sustainably from a Chef
Manila, Philippines – At the helm of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) kitchen stands an imposing figure that runs the place like clockwork. Meet Executive Chef Chris Leaning.
His portly stature, thundering laugh, and colourful and immense body art would certainly give one the impression of meeting a giant. Except that this one didn’t roar “fee, fie, foe, fum!” and instead welcomed strangers into his abode with open arms.
“Welcome to the military zone, only we’re in a kitchen,” Chef Chris greeted with an impish smile. “We operate like soldiers here. I act as the general overseeing things, not to mention, taste everything every day. That’s why I can’t get rid of my bilbil (flubby belly).”
“I approve everything: the menu, presentation, size in proteins, price range,” he explained. “I don’t dictate but I show how dishes should be cooked, and I work with the staff on the recipes. I always approve or disapprove everything that comes out of the kitchen.”
All about GeorgeAnd this includes George, the 39-kilo responsibly-caught tuna from San Jose, Antique. George was the star of the show at the recent World Environment Day at the ADB. Chef Chris presented George to diners during the event.
The tuna industry in Asia-Pacific is one of the largest in the world. The 2012 Ecological Footprint and Investment in Natural Capital in Asia and the Pacific, a joint publication by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the ADB, states that the region’s tuna industry is estimated at US$1 billion annually and directly employs more than 6 million people.
In the Philippines alone, tuna fishing serves as an important activity in the socio-economic dynamics of the country. According to a 2012 Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources report, as part of the Coral Triangle, the country’s tuna industry had a net surplus of US$ 616 million in 2010, with 1.5 million people depending on it for employment, livelihood and income. Tuna is also a source of protein in a typical diet for many of the region’s poor.
However, with the alarming rise in tuna production, the ability of reef systems to provide food for coastal populations in the region is predicted to decrease by 50% by 2050. It is in this light that the ADB has collaborated with WWF in the last decade for the responsible and sustainable management of its tuna resources in the region.
Chef Chris is a big supporter of using responsibly-caught tuna and is aware of some of the ills related to unsustainable tuna fishing, which include the accidental catch of other valuable species such as turtles and dolphins through indiscriminate fishing methods.
He even advocated the importance of traceability—being able to trace the tuna’s origins: the name of the fisherman who caught it; where they got the fish from; how it was caught; when it was killed; and who butchered it.
It is through this smart consumer perspective that the ADB started using responsibly-caught tuna.
“When we have functions with high level personalities at the Executive Dining Room, I go to the room and talk to them, explaining about the food on their table,” Chef Chris disclosed. “Especially when they order tuna, I have a little chat about the fish and why the ADB is highlighting responsible fishing.”
No ImpactThe ADB started a No Impact week in March this year, led by the Department of External Relations.
“Its goal is to educate people in the bank on the little things they do that create an impact on a macro perspective: the plastic cups they use, the food they take in or waste,” he explained.
Chef Chris admitted to being reluctant to participating at first. To comply, his team developed new and innovative recipes for that week such as cookies and cheese cakes made of malunggay (moringa). Soon enough, Chef Chris was fully on board. After doing some background reading and realising the benefits of the programme, he saw it as a way to do something different and creative and more importantly, have a positive impact. “By doing this, we can make an impact and the impact is, no impact!” he quipped.
“We’re also helping local people by buying their produce, as well as ensuring food security for our future generation,” he said.
Going localChef Chris and his team began looking at the sustainability of their ingredients. The ADB serves as much as 4,000 meals a day. Prior to No Impact, ingredients used were 42 percent local and 58 percent imported. Mindful of the high carbon footprint of imported items, the team now uses as much as 53 percent local ingredients out of the 800 items in their inventory, while their subcontractors use as much as 75 percent local products.
He is conscious about how items move from “farm to plate,” where plate can mean food, clothes, or any other product.
“Take these chocolate crinkles,” he said, referring to the famous treats being sold at the ADB. “These are made from Belgian chocolates. We also make a local version using local chocolate, which is cheaper. For me, there’s hardly any difference. Some Filipinos think that because it’s Belgian, it’s better. What they don’t know is that the local chocolate is so good that Belgium gets it from the Philippines!”
Chef Chris believes that supporting local produce is not only good for the environment but also good for local farmers as it helps the country’s economy. He also thinks that it’s good for the health.
“Sustainability is not just something you do today, but a lifestyle,” he said. “Use the stairs instead of the elevator. If you use the stairs, there is less power used and is more efficient and cost-effective as you don’t use fossil fuel for electricity. You also get fit in the process.”
Be smart consumersChef Chris’ passion for sustainable food can be summed up in his reaction when asked why he is doing all this: “Do you want your grandchildren to be able to eat beef or fish or pork?”
“It’s as simple as this,” he added. “If we keep on raping our natural resources, there will be nothing left for us, how much more for the next generation?”
As a chef, Chef Chris recognises his unique role in helping influence people’s consumption habits. He is even all fired up to go around schools and attend women’s meetings and trainings to talk not only about health and safety but also about sustainability and its positive impacts.
“I’m living proof,” he said. “I’ve lost four kilos since March. If you eat right, and make lesser or no impact, it will make you fit as well.”