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How Montreal's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

To mark the relaunch of Eater today, the Features team compiled a collection of seventy-two of the best ideas for how people around the world are or how they plan to or how they want to change the world through food. A lot of the ideas are incredibly earnest. Some are ambitious beyond reason. But what they all have in common is a belief that, with hard work and good food, the world is headed in the right direction.

As a local component to this feature, we asked the Montreal community to chime in. So check out the national responses over here and scroll below to see what local thinkers and doers would like to do to change the world through food. Have a suggestion? Add it to the comments.

Sefi Amir, owner, Lawrence and Boucherie Lawrence:
Over the last sixty years modern food production and distribution has become increasingly polarized with a few enormous players ultimately controlling a disproportionately large part of production and processing, and many small and medium sized players only a very small part. Food production, dominated by these biggest of players, affects the world and its inhabitants in a multitude of ways that have significant negative ramifications in the areas of human health and wellbeing, animal welfare, the health of the natural environment, climate change and economic sovereignty. Every time we put food on the table we make a decision to support and sustain one paradigm or another. It’s an overwhelming responsibility that most of us choose to ignore. Using our purchasing power to express preferences in ways more reflective than whether we want chicken or pasta for dinner is an incredibly powerful tool, and the only one that will change the manner in which our food is produced. Every time we buy an anonymous shrink-wrapped chicken breast for $2 a kilo in the supermarket we support a system that abuses the people that raise the animals, pollutes the places where they are raised in huge concentrations, brutalizes farm animals with inhumane living conditions and handling, damages our health and our ability to treat disease through the indiscriminate administration of antibiotics and growth hormones, and erodes the ability of communities to produce varied foods for their own consumption. We spend significantly less of our incomes on food today than we did 30 years ago without acknowledging that the money we’re ostensibly saving we’re actually spending a hundred times over controlling the damage caused by the production of this cheap food. We can change the world with the food we do eat and the food we don’t eat in equal measures.

Normand Laprise, chef/restaurateur, Toqué!, Brasserie T!: I think we can initiate a big change by raising awareness around food waste. Simple and easy habits such as composting could make an enormous difference to the environmental situation we are faced with today. At the restaurant, we’ve been using what we call scraps: parts of a product that aren't usually used like asparagus, carrot or potato peelings, strawberry stems, tomato skin, seeds, etc. With the vegetable peels we can make vegetable glazes. Potato skin makes excellent coffee cream. The stems are now strawberry water or syrup. The tomato can be transformed in oil, powder, sorbet, caramel, jam and so much more! After we’ve used all we can, the rest goes into the compost. By maximizing products we are able to feed more people. This means we also need to buy less. If everybody applied these simple methods, not only food waste would be reduced, but global consumption too. Our grandmothers used to be very conscious about food waste, mostly for monetary reasons, but somehow, with the industry we have now, we’ve lost these good habits. All of this might seem awfully complicated, but it is really a matter of planning ahead. As my former chef de cuisine Charles-Antoine Crête would say: "Buying quality ingredients will get you good quality trims!" A whole product will give you more and without too much effort, you’ve helped build a more sustainable industry. The compost you created with your scraps can help you grow your own food or, if you live in a city where the service is offered, your scraps are taken along with the recycling and the garbage to be used. The packaging you haven’t bought isn’t sitting in a landfill and you’ve also saved a few dollars along the way. The more people who are aware of food waste, the faster we can turn this problem into a solution!

Lesley Chesterman, veteran food critic, Montreal Gazette: My hope is that we could develop less of a throwaway attitude towards food. Wastefulness is a problem, but there's also a general lack of appreciation for what's on our plate and how it got there. We are now so far removed from the act of planting, raising, harvesting and especially slaughtering our food that we take for granted much of what is set in front of us. Instead we have become unrealistically demanding, searching for that pristine peach, that perfectly marbled steak, that rare-breed pork, the highest scored bottle of Bordeaux. We seek out the finest haricots verts, little realizing that they are picked by some of the poorest people on the planet. In the world's top restaurants, the elite enjoy food presented as art instead of nourishment. Today, a chicken is as much a nugget as a bird. We conveniently ignore the fact that deer heart transformed into a tartare once beat inside an animal. Instead we complain that it's too expensive or overseasoned! We have become so disconnected from what we are eating that food is often reduced to the role of fuel we scoop up at the drive-thru or conversation piece we brag about around the office water cooler. For too many of us food is so plentiful, cheap and convenient we have lost our appreciation for the work involved in feeding the masses. My only hope is that we could have greater respect for what we eat, grow more of it ourselves, and stop ignoring the grim realities for the people who toil in slaughterhouses, harvest cocoa, pick tomatoes, spray our fields, or work in fast-food restaurants making cheap food for low wages. We simply don't care. And we should.

Colin Perry, chef/owner, Dinette Triple Crown: When I first started cooking in restaurants, I wanted to try and elevate the food I grew up with, the food of Eastern Kentucky, to something worthy of a restaurant dish. As I have grown as a cook, I realize that not only does that do a disservice to where I come from, but that my culture’s food is more than worthy of the restaurant experience. The food of Eastern Kentucky is one of subsistence farming and survival. The practices of putting up for winter and eating seasonally and fiercely local created a unique cuisine of necessity. And it is delicious. Nothing is wasted, and a meal is made by making the best use of what you have. It would be easy for me to buy what I want, when I want it, and strictly adhere to southern ingredients. It is far more interesting to make the best use of what is available from where I live. We buy local and seasonal as much as possible, and from people we know and trust. We put up thousands of jars of preserves every summer. I talk with my farmers about providing me with the ingredients I want so that I don’t need to bring in products from outside of Quebec. I cook lots of off cuts and offal, because I am proud of the tradition Kentuckians have with them. A lot of the old ways of preserving and eating were almost lost. Many people of my parent’s generation dropped them, as grocery stores and processed foods rendered them obsolete. I see a lot of people of my generation rediscovering them, and I think they will not only survive but flourish in the hands of new chefs. We no longer need to preserve and cure, and stock our larders for the winter, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. The more care and attention we give to the ingredients in our own backyard, the less of a footprint we leave on the rest of the planet. No one is going to single-handedly change the world with food, but if I can get people to eat something they aren’t used to eating, if I can make something delicious with the humble but beautiful ingredients I get in Quebec, then maybe I can point a few other people in the right direction.

Nancy Hinton, chef/owner, À la table des jardins sauvages: I’m less of an idealist than say 15 or 20 years ago as a young chef inspired by Alice Waters and our Quebec version, Anne Desjardins, hanging out with farmers and foragers, embracing Slow Food and Fair Trade, when Quebec terroir cuisine was burgeoning and I was devouring books/documentaries that made me hopeful that life was rosy in the future food world. Real change is slow. The one boring thing I have to say (to everyone in the Western world) is: spend more on your food! In terms of money, percentage of income, time and effort. Peeling your carrots is a minimum. Why spend more? Because it tastes and feels better. Meanwhile, it spurs local economies, bringing everyone closer to the land and community, promotes healthier soil and biodiversity. Once on the bandwagon of quality food that is ethical too, you do not get off no matter how hard you have to work for it.

Mohamed Hage, founder and CEO, Lufa Farms: We want to change the world by growing food where people live and growing it more sustainably. This means using land, energy, and water more efficiently. It means finding a sustainable way to feed the estimated 25% of the global population that will live in cities by 2025. And it means disrupting the traditional supply chain that ships produce over thousands of miles and wastes up to 50% en route. Our concept is to grow food using no new land; capturing rainwater and recirculating irrigation water; using less energy to heat; using no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides; composting green waste on site; and doing all of this close enough to where people live and work that tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, greens, cucumbers, herbs and more can be harvested the same day as delivery and in kitchens by dinner. Urban agriculture is about helping cities worldwide to become more self-sufficient in food production, and we’re demonstrating that it can work on a commercially viable scale.