The UN General Assembly has designated 18 June as Sustainable Gastronomy Day. The charter says that the decision acknowledges gastronomy as a cultural expression related to the natural and cultural diversity of the world. "Gastronomy is sometimes called the art of food. It can also refer to a style of cooking from a particular region," it points out. "In other words, gastronomy often refers to local food and cuisine. Sustainability is the idea that something (e.g. agriculture, fishing or even preparation of food) is done in a way that is not wasteful of our natural resources and can be continued into the future without being detrimental to our environment or health. Sustainable gastronomy, therefore, means cuisine that takes into account where the ingredients are from, how the food is grown and how it gets to our markets and eventually to our plates."
Over the past few years, incorporating sustainability in the tourism industry has been a focal point across the globe. And this has taken on an urgency after since the pandemic struck. It is now increasingly evident that we cannot continue things the way they have been functioning.
There are several players in the tourism and hospitality sector in India who have been following the principles of sustainable tourism for a while. The RARE India properties, for instance. "Conscious Luxury among the RARE India community extends beyond the obvious and hence also looks at F&B as one of the key components of community engagement, health and earth centeredness," says Shoba Mohan, Founder Partner, RARE India. "To avoid wasteful excesses, many of the hotels in our community adhere to table d'hôte menus or curated to guest choice. This also ensures freshly prepared dishes with seasonal produce of the land around and treated to menus that are local and inspired by family cuisine traditions."
In our two-part series marking Sustainable Gastronomy Day, we speak to people behind some of the best eco stays in India to see how they are incorporating these principles in their properties.
Mr Michel Christmann, Executive Chef, Villa Shanti, Pondicherry
We work with seasonal products, and locally sourced ingredients. We are currently making jams, brioche, bread, paneer, yoghurt, sauces... the list keeps expanding. Soon, we will have our own syrups.
An example of local foods on our menu would be our smoked fish. We get the fresh fish straight from the local fishermen, smoke it and package it ourselves.
At Villa Shanti, we are also trying to protect and rediscover local food cultures. For instance, the creole cuisine of Pondicherry is not widely known. We are hoping to introduce that to our guests. Not only is it important to preserve food culture, but also the techniques that were traditionally used. For example, I have started working with millet seeds and traditional cooking techniques to reduce the use of refined flour. In Tamil households, millet is used as a binder as we would use egg when doing a crème anglaise.
Another example of the relationship between sustainability and food culture is conservation techniques. Most people buy pickles that are from an industrialised process, and are full of additives. Not so long ago, we were making them ourselves. These traditional techniques have been adapted to local produce here, along with seasonality, and home-made methods.
Sustainability is an everyday responsibility that affects every aspect of our lives. Being able to have control over what our guests eat and consume daily is our first priority.