A sustainable kitchen, for people and planet

21 Aug 2017

A market at Siem Reap A market at Siem Reap, Photo: UNDP Cambodia

We have a pretty good idea of what’s good for us to eat – even if we can’t always resist temptation.  But what’s good for the planet?  How do our food choices affect the world around us?

Adaptive Farms, Resilient Table, is a cookbook with a difference.  It focuses on traditional dishes from six countries including Cambodia, and uses ingredients that are more resistant to climate change.

The book, produced under the Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility, introduces some Khmer classics such as Samla Kako (kako soup), Amok (steam curry) and Num Ansom Chek (steamed banana and sticky rice cakes). The recipes allow for variations based on locally available produce, making it possible to switch away from ingredients that have a high carbon footprint on account of being imported.

It’s not just climate change that is changing what we put on our table. 

In 2012 World Bank study showed that the numbers of people living in poverty are falling in both absolute and relative terms in every continent of the world. This is probably the greatest piece of good news no-one has heard about. In the next 20 years, we expect the size of the global middle class to triple to 4.9 billion, with most of the new arrivals located here in Asia.

What if they all want steak?

Annual meat production is expected to rise from 218 million tons in the late nineties to 376 million tons by 2030. Consequently, it has prompted spikes in the price of grain (in heavy demand as animal feed), accelerated deforestation and pushed farm yields to the limit. Another example of consumer trends is overfishing which affects marine and in-land eco-systems, as well as the social and financial prosperity of individuals who rely on fish for their living. Moreover, crop diversity has decreased by a staggering 75% since the 1900’s despite that to diversify crops contribute to provide nutritious diets, improve capacity of farmers and create resilient and sustainable food systems. As consumers, we need to change our mindsets to chart a more sustainable course in choosing what we eat.

In Cambodia, 70-80 percent of the population depend on the agriculture for a living. Although Cambodians consume 53 kilogrammes of fish per person each year*1, most of the fish come from the Tonlé Sap Lake and the Mekong River. A walk through local markets is evidence for the wide variety of local ingredients available in the country. We believe that if we choose to cook with sustainable ingredients, together we can change the consumption trends that are using up our planet’s biodiversity we and can support local farmers. And most of all, if we are what we eat, there’s something to be said for preserving culinary traditions rooted in local ingredients and spices.   

Message from Ambassador of Canada to the Kingdom of Cambodia

I love Khmer cuisine.  Cambodian food is sophisticated and diverse, based on the great variety of fish, fruit, vegetables and spices from the local environment.   It tells the story of a people who, over centuries, were inspired by the bounty around them. 

Cambodia has a long and heralded traditions in music, dance, weaving, and wood/stone carving.  In addition, of course, there are the Angkorian sites, which bear witness to the innovation and creativity of the Khmer people.  Khmer cuisine is another facet of the richness of Khmer culture.  This cookbook brings key Cambodian dishes (including amok, my favorite) to a wider international audience, but it does so through the lens of environmental sustainability. 

Canada is pleased to be partnering with the UNDP through the Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility.  One area receiving increasing scrutiny is food production.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that one way to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation is to consider more thoughtfully what we eat, including where our food is grown, how far it has to travel to get to our tables, and the greenhouse gases that can result.   Perhaps the popularity of “100 mile diets” in North America is one sign of a growing interest in sustainable, healthy, eco-friendly food.

In selecting Cambodia as one of the six countries for this cookbook, the authors show that great cuisine comes from the happy marriage of local ingredients and local creativity.  It can be good for the environment, good for human health, and absolutely delicious.  For the “foodies” among you who have not yet visited Cambodia, you should plan to visit.  Cambodian cuisine is not yet internationally well-known and that will make discovering it all the more enjoyable.

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