By Shefali Rai, October 21 2020—
As Canadians, we are used to an abundance of food supply — our grocery stores are fully stocked, home subscription boxes allow us to have chef-curated recipes at home and Amazon Prime does same day delivery on practically anything.
Although this plethora of food and limitless choices seeåms like the ultimate success story for mankind, it turns out this phenomenon may be detrimental to us. As pointed out by Barry Schwartz, who gave a famous Ted Talk on choice, and the widely known Jam Experiment, consumers are more likely to purchase jam when fewer options are presented to them. An excessive amount of choice is causing many negative effects ranging from analysis paralysis — overanalyzing the large number of choices given thereby being paralyzed and making no final decision — to buyer’s remorse. Nevertheless, no one could have predicted that our unlimited access and availability would come to a halt seemingly overnight. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc all over the world, a recent panel of acclaimed chefs discussed this shift in food availability, trends and what our “new normal” with food might look like going forward.
September was Alumni Month at the University of Calgary, and with that Brady Stadnicki, a class of 2015 alum, moderated a webinar with Jenny Burthwright, owner of Jane Bond BBQ, Krish Nair, Dual Executive Sous Chef for the Calgary Marriott and Delta airport Hotels, as well as winner of Chopped Canada Season 3 and Kiran Bissoon, owner of Ki’s Kitchen. These three chefs shared their experiences with COVID-19 and engaged in a necessary conversation about the future of the food industry.
COVID-19 brought about a rapid change in consumption habits, a massive influx of online shopping and empty grocery shelves. The conversation began with how these chefs have adapted with the impacts to the food sector during COVID-19.
Maintaining employees during this time was Burthwright’s greatest challenge. With the loss of the catering side of her business and simplifying her menu to keep up with shortages and delays, Burthwright was faced with unprecedented decisions as a business owner.
Nair faced very similar challenges with the hospitality industry, in addition to now re-gaining trust back from his guests. This sector was struck the hardest and faces a long road to a full recovery, especially with the sudden decline of international guests. With rapid implementations of QR menu codes, mandatory masks, contactless ordering and payment options and rigorous cleaning schedules, Nair ultimately wants his guests to feel safe, comfortable and welcome when visiting his restaurant. All three chefs agree on one thing — these new protocols are here to stay and are part of our “new normal” with the food industry.
Shifting the conversation to how as a society our relationship with food has changed throughout these last few months, Bissoon, a plant-based chef, had some intriguing stories to share. While most of the changes they’ve been forced to implement as chefs and business owners are difficult and downright disheartening, Bissoon finds the silver lining with positive experiences during this time. She notes that, “one of the few good things to come out of COVID is the attention to personal health.” Bissoon noticed an increasing trend towards understanding how food can heal our bodies, especially how it can be used to support our immune system. She is facing a huge influx of people seeking her guidance on topics varying from the significance of organics and grass-fed meat to what exactly does “farm to table” mean?
I had the pleasure of chatting with Kiran Bissoon after the webinar to dive deeper into her expertise on whole foods. During this pandemic, we as students are facing increasing levels of anxiety, worsening insomnia and productivity, and reinforcing habits of reaching for quick and cheap fast food choices. If there’s one crucial takeaway from my conversation with Bissoon it’s that, “gut health is the key to a happy brain.” Right now, that’s good news for us students.
Her breakfast regimen includes combining ingredients such as oats, berries, nuts (i.e. pumpkin seeds, almonds or walnuts), hemp, and flax powder. This creates a concoction that provides a massive brain boost and sustained energy to keep a busy student stay fueled for hours. To save time we have options of batch cooking and freezing our meals or even buying bagged salad mixes for lunch.
“Raw veggies for lunch are challenging to digest and again provide hours of continued energy,” states Bissoon. With the turmoil of COVID-19 here to stay, not much is within our control, but with “78 per cent of our immune cells living in gut bacteria,” Bissoon believes we can aid our bodies with food to work at its optimal level.
Our community as a whole is changing their focus towards whole foods during these uncertain times and any conversation regarding whole and fresh foods needs to consider our Canadian farmers and agriculture policies. This idea of “farm to table” has been gaining popularity as a food movement throughout our country.
“Canada is seen as a global leader in agriculture, with the lowest greenhouse gas footprint in the world,” Brady, Manager of Policy and Programs at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, emphasizes. His views are echoed by Burthwright, who is in full support of a more blended agricultural society, in which she hopes to see more instances of micro-farms and people growing their own food. Alongside Burthwright, is Nair, who says he “always tries to incorporate as many local ingredients in his menu as possible and is a big supporter of local farmers and local suppliers.”
Even with the extra effort and monetary costs of switching to a fully local and sustainable operation, these three chefs are in agreement that advocating to policymakers to increase programs and subsidies for our local and national farmers and suppliers is the way forward. And even though our new normal has shifted, Nair, Bissoon and Burthwright all want this conversation to continue growing so that chefs, policymakers, and even us as students can learn from each other, support our community and gracefully adapt to a more sustainable future.