The simple act of eating should nourish the body. However, since the 1950s when food production entered the age of industrialization, the simple act of eating has had unintended consequences.
During their recent session at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, speaking about their new book Manger Est un Acte Citoyen (Eating is an act of civic duty), leading chef Alain Ducasse and his co-author Christian Regouby, Délégué Général (Chief Delegate) of the Collège Culinaire de France, reminded the audience of EHL students that the body needs food for nourishment. However since the 1950s and the age of industrialization, food has become a commercial product.
Instead of nourishing people’s bodies, food production has become big business, ‘nourishing’ corporate revenues and bottom lines.
“We have industrialized food. It was a necessary action to take after the war in the ‘50s. In fact, in France, for example, 150,000 people would die of intoxication per year. Nowadays we are capable of managing that, thanks to the food industry, and the norms and regulations that have been implemented since. However, this food industrialization has turned food into a commercial product. A product for which the aim has become nothing but financial and lucrative (gains),” says Christian Regouby. “Productivity! Agriculture nowadays must be productive for large commercial firms”, but he adds, “agriculture must firstly nourish people before being productive.”
This process of industrialization has led to the use of chemicals and pesticides. Ducasse and Regouby emphasize that more than 232 different toxic chemicals can be detected in our systems and that we have become – as it were – ‘intoxicated’. And intoxication is not only physical, it is also mental, with ads promoting foods that are fatty, salty, sweet and protein-filled. Obesity has become a major health concern for many nations.
There are rules and regulations surrounding food safety and product labeling – and the internet has helped to raise awareness – but is enough being done and is the information clear enough?
Christian Regouby founded the College Culinaire de France, with the help of several renowned French chefs, such as Alain Ducasse, Jöel Robuchon and Anne-Sophie Pic. He has also created the label of “Restaurants et Producteurs Artisans de Qualité”, a form of certification which recognizes the men and women who are striving to produce quality food ingredients and dishes, despite the onslaught of industrialization.
Ducasse often talks about the narrative that restaurateurs should be telling (“In a restaurant, what is the story you’re telling?”). Hospitality is about sharing and about being generous, and Ducasse says these are core concepts for hoteliers and restaurateurs.
“Hospitality is about receiving someone, offering food, offering a place to sleep and caring for that person when they stay at your premises,” he says.
Hospitality therefore connects humans. But such value is lost in the age of industrialization. And food industry lobbyists intend to keep it as such.
Food industry budgets for lobbying amount to billions of dollars each year. Diverse regulations and all sorts of labeling rules have been imposed, but none requires the sort of activism that the designation of ‘Restaurants et Producteurs Artisans de Qualité’ does.
Regouby says although there were offers to finance the launch of the Culinary College’s designation, they were all turned down. Their only financial revenue comes from the adherents themselves, who pay one token euro every day. And together, producers, restaurateurs and chefs, as well as consumers, need to continue fighting for their principles. “When we select a restaurant or a producer to honor him with this designation and request the symbolic contribution, we get asked in return: ‘What will that bring us?’ We answer: ‘Absolutely nothing, it will only give you back what you put into it,’” Regouby says.
“Let’s stop expecting help to come to us. Let’s take matters into our hands. If we share the same values and the same practices, we ought to grow and nurture the vision we have of this profession and of this world.”
In closing, Alain Ducasse and Christian Regouby encourage EHL students to go out into the world with the values they have acquired, the lessons they have learnt, and the convictions they will stand by; to become the best that they can be, to travel often and discover uncharted territories, and still be true to their roots. For they represent the future and the power is in their hands.