By Sidharth Sharma, Thali Cafe
Some people say that ‘We’ in the West live in the golden apex of civilisation. We – simply – have never had it so good. We go where we want, when we want to. We can eat what we want, whenever we want it.
Well of course this observation may well ring true, if you are part of the very small and privileged percentile of mankind that can go to their local urban retail zones and buy produce that is stacked neatly and plentifully. Foods that are procured from all over the planet: neatly trimmed runner beans airfreighted in from Kenya, plump red strawberries grown in the desert regions of Israel, Pacific tuna caught by ships using military standard satellite technology. And the best thing about it all is that you can eat any one of these items at any time of the year.
And what right would I have to say that these social commentators would be incorrect in their reflections on the state of the developed world? I strongly doubt that the other countless millions if not billions of the human population are so lucky to eat in and live in this luxurious abandon!
But for me the flip side of choice and convenience are dark and destructive side effects. The often unseen consequences which are the trade-off we make in the name of choice are many: an unsustainably enormous carbon footprint, millions of tonnes of food waste, substandard produce and an ever-increasing reliance on GM seeds and fossil fuel based fertilisers.
Secondly, from a more personal level choice simply brings me unhappiness, irritation and confusion! Why do people need so much choice? Have you ever gone to a restaurant and looked over a menu as long as your arm and still not found anything that appeals? How many times have you had a simple cooked dish in France or Italy and wondered how ridiculously tasty it was and it only included the most basic local ingredients in the recipe? How many times have you been to a supermarket and spent a small fortune on your weekly shopping only to find that those exotic vegetables don’t actually taste of anything in particular and perished in record time.
This all leads me to my fanaticism – less is more.
When I first co-founded The Thali Café many moons ago, my belief was that anyone, regardless of his or her income should have access to good quality, affordable and wholesome food. I also believed that businesses must act responsibly and be led by their values, not just by profit. It is these two core values that guided us in the decisions we make in the running of our company.
Our team had 30 years of combined catering experience between us, and we quickly realised that we had to do something radical if we were to avoid following the same wasteful practices that occur elsewhere in the food industry.
During our time working for other companies we often witnessed perfectly good food being thrown away, while recycling waste was unheard of, and buying fair trade products and seasonal eating were rarities.
We based our menus on the dishes of rural India. People who live in this part of the world eat local, seasonal and often organic food out of necessity.
They recycle as much of their resources as much as they can because they simply can’t afford to waste them. It made complete commercial sense to us to run our business with the same mentality. So we serve a menu at The Thali Café with very few items on it and make sure that the ingredients we use are as fresh and seasonal as possible.
Here in the West, eating in a sustainable way has become so difficult and expensive. It is simply prohibitive for those who survive on low incomes with families to feed. It is a paradox, a modern anomaly that apples for instance, grown in a safe and natural manner, without expensive fertilisers and within the boundaries of our own county, are more expensive then varieties grown in New Zealand and transported more then half way across the globe.
40 years from now, I wonder if those same admirers of human advancement would be saying the same things when oil is scarce? Food inflation will render most of us in poverty, and access to water will be fought over with armed conflict. I wonder instead if they would reflect that those humans who lived in the 18th century on close-to-self-sufficient smallholdings, lived in the apex of human advancement.