Ingredient by Ingredient
by Hunter Moyes
If I had chosen to pursue an academic distinction, political or environmental science would have been my first choices. Instead, I started down the long road of culinary art after High School. After years of being an aspiring Chef, I have learned more of global politics and environmental science than I ever could have at University – and I’m close to finding a personal recipe for combining the two.
I’ve volunteered my time to social justice and environmental advocacy groups for many years, and I was always encouraged to do so by my family. But it was becoming a Chef that convinced me to involve myself more in the world through advocacy (and activism, in quotation marks) – more than any other force in my life to date.
Through working in kitchens, I’ve befriended political and environmental refugees from all over the world. I once worked with a former accountant from the Philippines who’d fled his country for political reasons. He was a dishwasher; he’d become so because Canada wouldn’t recognize his credentials when he arrived. Needless to say, he did all of the waiters’ taxes, and will retire comfortably as a result. At the same restaurant, I got to know 3 brothers who fled Nicaragua – also for political reasons.
Years later, I was a Cook at an Italian place run by an Egyptian Chef, an Iraqi Sous Chef and a Sri Lankan First Cook – all refugees. When I was an infant in this industry, I worked with Afghani refugees, though I didn’t know what that meant at the time.
Currently, I work with an Argentinian Chef under an Executive Chef from Mexico City who’s made a name for himself in Vancouver using Lebanese food – along with a Prep Cook from Chile (also the descendant of political refugees).
I got to know the world conflict by conflict through colourful co-workers, and ingredient by ingredient through culinary art techniques along the way. Many kitchen jobs, generally speaking – most likely at your favourite restaurant – especially unskilled positions, are filled by refugees that have either fled their home countries because of injustice-related political upheaval or climate change-related environmental upheaval.
Ingredient by ingredient, I became aware of ecology as a Chef. Why is my garlic coming from China? That's a large carbon footprint! Why are my apples coming from Washington State, crossing the border, when I live by an incredible apple growing region? Why are my tomatoes coming from Mexico now instead of Chile? How long has this been frozen? Is this 5 kilogram bag of chicken breast from free range chickens - really? How much chemical cleaner am I using? Could I use vinegar to sanitize half of my kitchen? What’s being harvested right now? Can this local supplier adequately meet my demands for this season? What do people in Nepal eat? Why is cilantro good for cleansing the body of metals? Should I, or should I not, steal a sprig from my neighbour’s rosemary bush? When we run out of fossil fuel energy, can my metropolitan area rely on its local food systems? Not the way things are now!
These are all questions along the way, from loving food, to becoming a Chef, that involve multi-layered answers that contain brilliant yet simple understandings about the world.
Now, years after earning the title of Chef, and after years of being a part of a growing environmental and social justice movement – I am helping Oxfam with their GROW campaign. I believe that hunger is a word that we can stop using one day, and that the key to our survival lies in our ability to understand our individual consumption footprints. As a side – of course – I am a huge fan of community gardens, and any local food development-to-reliance endeavour.
Many people ask the question, "how can I help make the world a better place with my spare time?” Over the years, I’ve come to say, “If you want to change the world, change how you understand your consumption.”
I look forward to supporting Oxfam’s GROW campaign, and any organization committed to using food to promote positive environmental and social justice initiatives.
Hunter Moyes is a Vancouver-based chef